By the Bray of Fundie
As a follow up to this post I offer a digest about what the Mefarshim say re: these P'sukim:
כב וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, בְּנִי בְכֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל.22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh: Thus saith the LORD: Israel is My son, My first-born.כג וָאֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ, שַׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנִי וְיַעַבְדֵנִי, וַתְּמָאֵן, לְשַׁלְּחוֹ--הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הֹרֵג, אֶת-בִּנְךָ בְּכֹרֶךָ.23 And I have said unto thee: Let My son go, that he may serve Me; and thou hast refused to let him go. Behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born.'--
In no particular order:
Ibn Ezra: As a Bekhor is a firstborn so too the ancestors of the Hebrews were the first to worship Me (sayeth HaShem). I love them and have compassion for them as a father would a son who serves him. You took (usurped) them as eternal slaves and so I will kill your bekhor.
Hamek Davar (Netzi"v of Volozhin): HaShem is not messaging a commoner but a King. A Kings sons are all princes, not mere sons, and his eldest is not a mere prince, but the Crown Prince. This position/office has significance even while the father Pharaoh lives. The Crown Prince is groomed for his assumed primogeniture succession by assisting his father in administration of the kingdom and in matters of state.
The Hebrews are MY crown Princes (sayeth Hashem). They assist me in administering MY Kingdom. (cp. Haamek Davar on the verse of
ג אַף חֹבֵב עַמִּים, כָּל-קְדֹשָׁיו בְּיָדֶךָ; וְהֵם תֻּכּוּ לְרַגְלֶךָ, יִשָּׂא מִדַּבְּרֹתֶיךָ.
3" Yea, He loveth the peoples, all His holy ones--they are in Thy hand; and they sit down at Thy feet, uplifted by leading". tamtzis : A Jews actions has far greater effect, for better or worse, on world affairs than all the geopolitical machinations of the non-Jews combined).
Thus the threat of Makkas Bekhoros is not one of visiting a personal tragedy for the Egyptian Pharaoh as a man, but to undermine his Kingdom as a King...tit for tat for his undermining the Kingdom of Heaven by enslaving the Divine Kings Bekhor/ Crown Prince. This is one King threatening another Kings err ...kingdom.
Rashi P'shat One: Bekhora is an expression of greatness and preeminence, not a literal expression of first in a chronological birth sequence. We find a precedent for this simile in the verse of: (Psalms 89:28) כח אַף-אָנִי, בְּכוֹר אֶתְּנֵהוּ; עֶלְיוֹן, לְמַלְכֵי-אָרֶץ. =28 "I also will appoint him first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth" describing David's preeminence among ANE Kings:
Rashi P'shat Two: This verse is a reference to Yisrael/Yaakov the Historical personage not the nation that sprung from his loins. It is as if HaShem is speaking through Yitzchaks larynx. (Gur Aryeh dryly comments, "so it would not be HaShem's Bekhor that we are referring to but Yitzkhaks") To use Rashi's idiom "Here G-d G-d affixes his signature (the seal of G-d is truth) on the sale of the primogeniture by Esav to Yaakov." [So much forYaakovs heel-grabbing and amoral approach to business ethics!]
Why this would be included in a warning to the Egyptian Pharaoh who, at first glance, doesn't seem to have a horse in the race of the Yaakov Esav primogeniture dispute, remains a mystery.
Rashi concludes; HaShem is unlike a flesh and blood king relying on an element of surprise to wreak vengeance on his enemies. This is the last of the strikes/plagues yet he warns Pharaoh about it first. Why? because G-d is more interested in the repentance of evildoers than in vengeance.
Ay... we don't find that Moshe actually delivered this message to Pharaoh in his first meeting or at all. At the very earliest, according to some readings of the Midrash /Rashi, he alluded to the plague of the firstborn when warning Pharaoh about the plague of Hail. Another unsolved mystery.
Qedusha-Havdala...have you gotten yours today?
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