One of the beautiful things of Learning Biblical Hebrew is the connection between the words that have the same root. Today, we will discuss the connection between the first born (Hebrew: בְּכוֹר) and the first fruits (Hebrew: בִּכּוּרִים). Cain was the first born in the Hebrew Bible, as we can read in Genesis 4:1-5-
"וְהָאָדָם, יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ; וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן, וַתֹּאמֶר, קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-יְהוָה. וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת, אֶת-אָחִיו אֶת-הָבֶל; וַיְהִי-הֶבֶל, רֹעֵה צֹאן, וְקַיִן, הָיָה עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה. וַיְהִי, מִקֵּץ יָמִים; וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, מִנְחָה--לַיהוָה. וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם-הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ, וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן; וַיִּשַׁע יְהוָה, אֶל-הֶבֶל וְאֶל-מִנְחָתוֹ. וְאֶל-קַיִן וְאֶל-מִנְחָתוֹ, לֹא שָׁעָה; וַיִּחַר לְקַיִן מְאֹד, וַיִּפְּלוּ פָּנָיו"
"And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell."
Though Cain was the first born, and he was the worker of the ground, the gift that he gave to The Lord wasn't from the first fruits of the ground unlike his brother, who gave to G-d an offering from firstlings of his flock.
The first born in the Old Testament didn't deserve the honor and respect that he should have been given. Maybe the only situation that the first born was the chosen one appears in the story of Abraham
,the one that came to the promise land, as we can read in Genesis 11:26-32-
"וַיְחִי-תֶרַח, שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר, וְאֶת-הָרָן. וְאֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת תֶּרַח--תֶּרַח הוֹלִיד אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר וְאֶת-הָרָן; וְהָרָן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-לוֹט. וַיָּמָת הָרָן, עַל-פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתּוֹ, בְּאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים. וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם וְנָחוֹר לָהֶם, נָשִׁים: שֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם, שָׂרָי, וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-נָחוֹר מִלְכָּה, בַּת-הָרָן אֲבִי-מִלְכָּה וַאֲבִי יִסְכָּה. וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי, עֲקָרָה: אֵין לָהּ, וָלָד. וַיִּקַּח תֶּרַח אֶת-אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ, וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-הָרָן בֶּן-בְּנוֹ, וְאֵת שָׂרַי כַּלָּתוֹ, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ; וַיֵּצְאוּ אִתָּם מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-חָרָן, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם. וַיִּהְיוּ יְמֵי-תֶרַח, חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיָּמָת תֶּרַח, בְּחָרָן"
"And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran."
This assumption about Abraham relates to the fact that he comes as the first name in the list of Terah's sons. However, in other cases that we can see in the Old Testament the first born wasn't the chosen one: Isaac wasn't the first born, but the second; Jacob was the second also after Esau; Judah was the fourth one; Joseph was the first born of Rachel, but Jacob blessed the second son as we can read in Genesis 48:14-19-
" וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם, וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר, וְאֶת-שְׂמֹאלוֹ, עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה: שִׂכֵּל, אֶת-יָדָיו, כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה, הַבְּכוֹר. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיֹּאמַר: הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו, אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק--הָאֱלֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי, מֵעוֹדִי עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל-רָע, יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-הַנְּעָרִים, וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי, וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק; וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב, בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ. וַיַּרְא יוֹסֵף, כִּי-יָשִׁית אָבִיו יַד-יְמִינוֹ עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם--וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינָיו; וַיִּתְמֹךְ יַד-אָבִיו, לְהָסִיר אֹתָהּ מֵעַל רֹאשׁ-אֶפְרַיִם--עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה. וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אָבִיו, לֹא-כֵן אָבִי: כִּי-זֶה הַבְּכֹר, שִׂים יְמִינְךָ עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ. וַיְמָאֵן אָבִיו, וַיֹּאמֶר יָדַעְתִּי בְנִי יָדַעְתִּי--גַּם-הוּא יִהְיֶה-לְּעָם, וְגַם-הוּא יִגְדָּל; וְאוּלָם, אָחִיו הַקָּטֹן יִגְדַּל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְזַרְעוֹ, יִהְיֶה מְלֹא-הַגּוֹיִם"
"And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head. And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations."
Another beautiful word game between the first born and the preference and the choices of the father appears in Deuteronomy 21:15-17-
" כִּי-תִהְיֶיןָ לְאִישׁ שְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים, הָאַחַת אֲהוּבָה וְהָאַחַת שְׂנוּאָה, וְיָלְדוּ-לוֹ בָנִים, הָאֲהוּבָה וְהַשְּׂנוּאָה; וְהָיָה הַבֵּן הַבְּכֹר, לַשְּׂנִיאָה. וְהָיָה, בְּיוֹם הַנְחִילוֹ אֶת-בָּנָיו, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יִהְיֶה, לוֹ--לֹא יוּכַל, לְבַכֵּר אֶת-בֶּן-הָאֲהוּבָה, עַל-פְּנֵי בֶן-הַשְּׂנוּאָה, הַבְּכֹר. כִּי אֶת-הַבְּכֹר בֶּן-הַשְּׂנוּאָה יַכִּיר, לָתֶת לוֹ פִּי שְׁנַיִם, בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יִמָּצֵא, לוֹ: כִּי-הוּא רֵאשִׁית אֹנוֹ, לוֹ מִשְׁפַּט הַבְּכֹרָה."
"If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his."
As a Biblical Hebrew teacher, every day is a revelation to me. This word play came to my eyes due to my dear students.
Have a blessed week, Eli