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    Reuben: Birthright, royalty & priesthood – Vayyechi

    Reuben & his brothers, by Colijn de Coter, c.1500

    The end of Sefer B’reshit sees Jacob pondering on and depicting each of his children.

    In the Torah text, Reuben is called “my firstborn (bechori), my strength (kochi), the first of my power (s’eit)”.

    The Targum Onkelos says that Jacob expected that Reuben would have been endowed with the birthright, the priesthood and royalty, but these privileges were lost because Reuben had not behaved properly.

    Rashi thinks the priesthood is suggested by the word s’eit (literally “raising”) which alludes to raising one’s hands in the priestly blessing, and “strength” denotes royalty. What about the birthright? Rashi does not give an explanation.

    Ibn Ezra seems to think that the idea of the firstborn underlies all the leadership roles which Jacob refers to. In Biblical culture and elsewhere in history, being the firstborn imports a special status in family and public life. It is not easy for the firstborn or for parents who are not yet experienced enough to know how to handle their first child.

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