Who’s On First?: Behukotai 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you believe there are qualities inherent in firstborn children that differentiate them from other children? If so, what are they? Or do you know many firstborns who depart from what they’re “supposed” to be?

As the book of Leviticus comes to a close, special rules are specified for the sacredness of firstborn animals brought as offerings:

The Pitch: “A firstling of animals, however, which – as a firstling – is Adonai’s, cannot be consecrated by anybody; whether ox or sheep, it is Adonai’s. But if it is of impure animals, it may be ransomed as its assessment, with one-fifth added; if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold as its assessment.” – Leviticus 27:26-27

Swing #1: “With regards to firstlings, as with tithes, [Moshe] Weinfeld argues that [the Priestly biblical source] considers sanctity an inherent quality of the animal. Thus, he argues, Leviticus 27:26 views a firstling as holy by virtue of birth; consequently, humans cannot make it holy by consecration or ‘secularize it by redemption,’ which is specifically forbidden in Numbers 18:17.” – Peter T. Vogt, Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reappraisal

Swing #2: “The conflicting laws on the firstling reflect historical development. Originally sacrificeable firstlings were entirely incinerated on that altar as burnt offerings [Exodus 13:15] … The priestly laws, however, prescribe that the meat of the sacrificed firstling is a priestly perquisite. … Finally, Deuteronomy revokes both laws, by declaring that the meat of the sacrificed firstling belongs to its owner.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27

Swing #3: “A first-born, whether unblemished or blemished, may be proscribed. How can it be redeemed? They estimate what a man would give for this first-born in order to give it to the son of his daughter or to the son of his sister. Rabbi Ishmael says: one verse says, ‘[All first-born males] you shall sanctify,’ (Deuteronomy 15:19) and another verse says: [‘The first-borns among beasts] no man shall sanctify it’ (Leviticus 27:26). It is impossible to say: ‘You shall sanctify,’ since it was said already: ‘No man shall sanctify,’ and it is impossible to say: ‘No man shall sanctify,’ since it is also said: ‘You shall sanctify’? Therefore resolve [thus]: you may sanctify it by consecrating its value [to the owner], but you may not sanctify it by consecrating it to the altar.” – Arakhin 8:7

Late-Inning Questions: Does the confusion over what to do about firstborn animals reflect a confusion of how to categorize firstborn humans? Should birth order matter? Or should we evaluate people individually, rather than how they compare to their siblings?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, is almost upon us, and this year, we’ll be learning Torah with Congregation Dor Tikvah. Join us Sunday, June 9th, in Ashley Harbor. First, we’ll gather at the home of Patti & Mickey Bagg for Minha/Ma’ariv at 6:30PM, and then we’ll walk to the home of Arlene and Peter Rosenthal at 7:00PM for wine, cheese, and a bit of Torah by the lake!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of siblings, Hank and Tommie Aaron have the most combined home runs by sibling big-leaguers, with 768. Of course, Hank hit 755 of them …

Shabbat Shalom!