Thursday, 25 May 2017

Bava Batra 123: Firstborn Birthrights, Priests and Inheritance

The Gemara discusses the double portion of the firstborn.  There could be a number of ways to actualize a double portion.  The considerations might be different if there were five brothers or only two brothers involved in the inheritance.  

The rabbis consider the experiences of our forefathers - for example, Joseph.  Although he was not the firstborn son, he was offered the birthright, which included all of the rights of the firstborn son.  Many potential prooftext are offered to demonstrate that Joseph's portion was double the property received by one of the inheritors (his brothers).

We are privy to the rabbis' discussions about why Joseph received his brother's birthright.  Is it because Joseph gave so much to his father Jacob that Jacob felt he must repay Joseph in this way?  Is it because of Reuven's earlier sin that Jacob gave the double portion to Joseph?  Rabbi Yonatan is said to have shared a parable:  In Genesis we learn about our fathers, Jacob, Joseph. But Leah's son with Jacob should have been given the birthright.  It was because Leah pleaded for Joseph - that she prayed, we are told - that allowed her to have Joseph first.  But Rachel's resulting patience and humility warranted Joseph receiving Jacob's birthright. 

And more - when Leah was sitting at the road, she heard predictions that she would marry an older son of Lavan and Rebecca would marry the younger.  When asking about them, she was told that the young son was dwelling in tents but that the older son  was an evil man who robs people.  She cried so much in prayer that her eyelashes fell out and her eyes became weak.  Further, the Gemara recounts the plotting of Jacob and Rachel to marry.  The rabbis go on to describe Rebecca's modesty through her deeds in assisting Leah to marry Joseph, which included signs that kept Leah's identity secret throughout the wedding.

The Gemara wonders if both Dinah and Joseph had twins, for the word et before their names when describing their births would suggest the birth of another person as well.  This would help us to understand why the count finds the people of Israel one short of their described number of 70 people in Joseph's family who descended to Egypt.   Or perhaps that person was Amram's wife Yocheved, who was born in Egypt but was conceived outside of Egypt.  Jacob is said to have seen, prophetically, that he had to leave Egypt when is son Joseph was born.  

Our daf ends with a new conversation.  The Gemara notes that priests who were firstborn were entitled to double portions as well.  Priests did not own land, and so their property included the gifts that were given to them.  Thus a double portion might include twice the choice parts of an animal.  

The Gemara confirms that a firstborn priest would only be entitled to that which his father possessed before his death.  One of the examples used is that of a cow who gives birth.  A double portion might translate into double the money earned when the cow is milked and the calf is sold.  The Gemara also considered protocol when the animal is found, or when the animal is leased and not in the priest's possession.