Speed Torah: Whose Birthright? Five Sources, Five Chevrutas, Five Minutes A Piece.

How this was set up: These sources were printed single sided with one source per page. (The last source takes up two pages). At a long table with chairs on either side, I put a copy of one of the five sources at each pair of seats facing each other. Participants took a seat, and read and discussed the source. At five minutes I yelled "switch" and everyone shifted left; those at the end went to the other end of the table. That way everyone got a new source and a new partner every five minutes. Note: this way only works if the number of pairs is evenly divisible by the number of sources. If that is not the case for you, then the easiest way to do this is to make a stack of sources at each seat, and have people switch seats and then move on to the next source. So, in that scenario everyone would be learning the same source at the same time, but would still be learning a new source with a new partner each time. I instructed participants to introduce themselves to their partners. This could obviously be done with longer time per source, and with more or fewer sources depending on the audience. PLEASE NOTE: This source sheet contains the name of God. If you print, please treat appropriately.


Context: Eisav comes in from the fields hungry and asks for or demands lentil soup. Yakov says he will give it in exchange for Eisav's birthright as the first born. Years later, when Yitzchak is dying, In cooperation with his mother Rivka, Yaakov dressed as Eisav in order to get his father Yitzchak to give Yakov the blessing due to Eisav the first born. Yitzchak blessed Yaakov thinking that Yaakov is Esav. Esav comes for his blessing, and Yaakov says he already gave it. The text then says:

כִּשְׁמֹ֤עַ עֵשָׂו֙ אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֣י אָבִ֔יו וַיִּצְעַ֣ק צְעָקָ֔ה גְּדֹלָ֥ה וּמָרָ֖ה עַד־מְאֹ֑ד וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְאָבִ֔יו בָּרֲכֵ֥נִי גַם־אָ֖נִי אָבִֽי׃

When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried loudly and bitterly, and said to his father, “Bless me too, Father!” (Translation of midrash adapted from Avivah Zornberg's Genesis: The Beginning of Desire)

(ד) כִּשְׁמֹעַ עֵשָׂו אֶת דִּבְרֵי אָבִיו (בראשית כז, לד), אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא כָּל מִי שֶׁהוּא אוֹמֵר שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וַתְּרָן הוּא יִתְוַתְּרוּן בְּנֵי מְעוֹהִי, אֶלָּא מַאֲרִיךְ אַפֵּיהּ וְגָבֵי דִּילֵיהּ, זְעָקָה אַחַת הִזְעִיק יַעֲקֹב לְעֵשָׂו, דִּכְתִיב: כִּשְׁמֹעַ עֵשָׂו אֶת דִּבְרֵי אָבִיו וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה, וְהֵיכָן נִפְרַע לוֹ בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (אסתר ד, א): וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדוֹלָה וּמָרָה."

"When Esav heard the words of his father..." Rabbi Channah said, all who say that the Holy One Blessed Be He overlooks misdoings will himself be overlooked. He is merely long-suffering, but ultimately collects His dues. Jacob made Esav cry out, as it is written "when Esav heard the words of his father, he cried out loudly and bitterly

( וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדוֹלָה וּמָרָה), and where was he punished for it? In Shushan the capital, Where it says "and he [Mordecai] cried a loud an bitter cry (וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדוֹלָה וּמָרָה) [after hearing that the Jews of Shushan and beyond would be killed]

Questions for discussion:

  • Does this midrash change the way you think about what happened between Yakov, Eisav, and Yitchak? How?
  • Does it change the way you feel about the origin story of the Jewish people?
  • Should we feel guilty or bad that our ancestors engaged in trickery?
  • Who is being punished here, for what act, why?
  • Why is the punishment meted out centuries later in Shushan?
  • Should there have been a punishment at all?

Context: This is a midrash on the verse describing the killing of the first borns in Egypt. (Shmot 12:29.

וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּחֲצִ֣י הַלַּ֗יְלָה וַֽיהוָה֮ הִכָּ֣ה כָל־בְּכוֹר֮ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַיִם֒ מִבְּכֹ֤ר פַּרְעֹה֙ הַיֹּשֵׁ֣ב עַל־כִּסְא֔וֹ עַ֚ד בְּכ֣וֹר הַשְּׁבִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּבֵ֣ית הַבּ֑וֹר וְכֹ֖ל בְּכ֥וֹר בְּהֵמָֽה׃

In the middle of the night the LORD struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.

מִבְּכֹר פַּרְעֹה, הוּא נִשְׁתַּיֵּר מִכָּל הַבְּכוֹרוֹת, לְקַיֵּם מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: "וְאוּלָם בַּעֲבוּר זֹאת הֶעֱמַדְתִּיךָ...." "עַד בְּכוֹר הַשְּׁבִי", הַשְּׁבוּיִים לָמָּה לָקוּ? לְפִי שֶׁהָיוּ שְׂמֵחִים בְּכָל גְּזֵרוֹת שֶׁגָּזְרוּ מִצְרִים עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, הֲדָא הוּא דִּכְתִיב: שָׂמֵחַ לְאֵיד לֹא יִנָּקֶה (משלי יז, ה). וְלֹא תֹּאמַר שְׁבוּיִים בִּלְבַד, אֶלָּא אַף עֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: עַד בְּכוֹר הַשִּׁפְחָה אֲשֶׁר אַחַר הָרֵחָיִם, שֶׁהָיוּ מְשֻׁעְבָּדִין לָרֵחָיִם. עַד בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה, שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמְרוּ, יִרְאָתֵנוּ קָשָׁה, שֶׁלֹּא שָׁלְטָה בָהֶם פֻּרְעָנוּת.

Only the firstborn of the Pharaoh remained alive in fulfillment of the verse However, it was for this that I raised you up (Exod. 9:16). ... Unto the firstborn of the captives (Exod. 12:29). Why were the firstborn of the captives punished? Because they had rejoiced in the decrees promulgated against Israel. Hence it is written: He that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished (Prov. 17:5). You must not be of the opinion that only the captives reacted in that manner, for the slaves and handmaidens did likewise, as is said: Even unto the firstborn of the maidservants that is behind the mill (Exod. 11:5); that is, even those who were legally bound to the millers. Even their firstborn cattle were destroyed lest the people assert: “Our deities are powerful, and that is why punishment was imposed upon them (and not upon us).”

Questions for discussion:

  • Is Macat Bchorot (the plague of the killing of the first borns) ethical?
  • Is there a difference between the killing of First born Egyptians and other nations? Between first born Egyptians and first born captives of the Egyptians?
  • Is this explanation of why first borns were killed convincing? Sufficient?

Context: This is the commentary of Ibn Ezra (Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, 11th-12th century Spain) on the first verse of Parshat Korach (Bamidbar 16:1), which describes the uprising of Korach, Datan and Aviram, and their followers against Moshe and Aharon. It is one of many commentaries about WHY they rose up.

וַיִּקַּ֣ח קֹ֔רַח בֶּן־יִצְהָ֥ר בֶּן־קְהָ֖ת בֶּן־לֵוִ֑י וְדָתָ֨ן וַאֲבִירָ֜ם בְּנֵ֧י אֱלִיאָ֛ב וְא֥וֹן בֶּן־פֶּ֖לֶת בְּנֵ֥י רְאוּבֵֽן

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—children of Reuven

ויקח קרח. זה הדבר היה במדבר סיני כאשר נתחלפו הבכורים ונבדלו הלוים, כי חשבו ישראל שמשה אדונינו עשה מדעתו לתת גדולה לאחיו, גם לבני קהת שהם קרובים אליו, ולכל בני לוי שהם ממשפחתו. והלוים קשרו עליו בעבור היותם נתונים לאהרן ולבניו. וקשר דתן ואבירם בעבור שהסיר הבכורה מראובן אביהם ונתנה ליוסף.

“And Korah took” This is the matter that was in the wilderness of Sinai that the First borns were replaced and the Levites were separated, that the Israelites thought that Moshe our Leader did it according to his own thought to give greatness to his brother, and also to the sons of Kahat that they are close to him, and all of the Levites that they are his family. And the Levites are connected to him and on behalf of this they were given to Aaron and his sons. Datan and Aviram were connected because the first born privilege was removed from Reuven their father and given to Yosef.

Questions for discussion:

  • Why talk about first born privilege as being removed and conferred to others rather than getting rid of the idea entirely?
  • Should birth order confer leadership rights? Priesthood rights?
  • Can you empathize with Korach? With Datan and Aviram? Why or why not?

Context: The first section (Shmot excerpt) comes from the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf. The story of the golden calf is followed by instructions on building the Mishkan (Tabernacle) The second (Bamidbar excerpt) comes from early in the book of Bamidbar. Aaron becomes the first Cohen Gadol (high priest).

( (כה) וַיַּ֤רְא מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם כִּ֥י פָרֻ֖עַ ה֑וּא כִּֽי־פְרָעֹ֣ה אַהֲרֹ֔ן לְשִׁמְצָ֖ה בְּקָמֵיהֶֽם׃ (כו) וַיַּעֲמֹ֤ד מֹשֶׁה֙ בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מִ֥י לַיהוָ֖ה אֵלָ֑י וַיֵּאָסְפ֥וּ אֵלָ֖יו כָּל־בְּנֵ֥י לֵוִֽי׃ (כז) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָהֶ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שִׂ֥ימוּ אִישׁ־חַרְבּ֖וֹ עַל־יְרֵכ֑וֹ עִבְר֨וּ וָשׁ֜וּבוּ מִשַּׁ֤עַר לָשַׁ֙עַר֙ בַּֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְהִרְג֧וּ אִֽישׁ־אֶת־אָחִ֛יו וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵ֖הוּ וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶת־קְרֹבֽוֹ׃ (כח) וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֥וּ בְנֵֽי־לֵוִ֖י כִּדְבַ֣ר מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיִּפֹּ֤ל מִן־הָעָם֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא כִּשְׁלֹ֥שֶׁת אַלְפֵ֖י אִֽישׁ׃ (כט) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֗ה מִלְא֨וּ יֶדְכֶ֤ם הַיּוֹם֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה כִּ֛י אִ֥ישׁ בִּבְנ֖וֹ וּבְאָחִ֑יו וְלָתֵ֧ת עֲלֵיכֶ֛ם הַיּ֖וֹם בְּרָכָֽה׃

(25) Moses saw that the people were out of control—since Aaron had let them get out of control—so that they were a menace to any who might oppose them. (26) Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come here!” And all the Levites rallied to him. (27) He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Each of you put sword on thigh, go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay brother, neighbor, and kin.” (28) The Levites did as Moses had bidden; and some three thousand of the people fell that day. (29) And Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves to the LORD this day—for each of you has been against son and brother—that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”

(יא) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (יב) וַאֲנִ֞י הִנֵּ֧ה לָקַ֣חְתִּי אֶת־הַלְוִיִּ֗ם מִתּוֹךְ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל תַּ֧חַת כָּל־בְּכ֛וֹר פֶּ֥טֶר רֶ֖חֶם מִבְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהָ֥יוּ לִ֖י הַלְוִיִּֽם׃ (יג) כִּ֣י לִי֮ כָּל־בְּכוֹר֒ בְּיוֹם֩ הַכֹּתִ֨י כָל־בְּכ֜וֹר בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֗יִם הִקְדַּ֨שְׁתִּי לִ֤י כָל־בְּכוֹר֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מֵאָדָ֖ם עַד־בְּהֵמָ֑ה לִ֥י יִהְי֖וּ אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃

(11) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (12) I hereby take the Levites from among the Israelites in place of all the first-born, the first issue of the womb among the Israelites: the Levites shall be Mine. (13) For every first-born is Mine: at the time that I smote every first-born in the land of Egypt, I consecrated every first-born in Israel, man and beast, to Myself, to be Mine, the LORD’s.

Questions for discussion:

  • Do the leviim deserve to get the role of the first borns? Why or why not?
  • Should the role of Aharon in the sin of the golden calf factor in to who gets roles in the mishkan or beit hamikdash?
  • What is the role of the plague of the first borns here?

Jacob and Esau, 2006
Chromogenic print
38 X 48 inches

Context: Adi Nes is a photographer living and working in Israel: From Jack Shainman Gallery: “My staged photographs are oversized and often recall well-known scenes from Art History and Western Civilization combined with personal experiences based on my life as a gay youth growing up in a small town on the periphery of Israeli society.” says Nes in an interview at the Israeli Center in San Francisco.... In the Bible Stories series, Nes elaborates on the plight of homeless people and reinforces their human quality by connecting them with immensely powerful biblical imagery. ... In one of the most striking photographs, Abraham and Isaac are portrayed as being homeless. In Nes' staged rendition of these two seminal biblical figures, Abraham is depicted pushing Isaac in a shopping cart filled with recyclable plastic bottles." Below are verses possibly linked to this scene.

וַיָּ֥זֶד יַעֲקֹ֖ב נָזִ֑יד וַיָּבֹ֥א עֵשָׂ֛ו מִן־הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה וְה֥וּא עָיֵֽף׃ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֗ב הַלְעִיטֵ֤נִי נָא֙ מִן־הָאָדֹ֤ם הָאָדֹם֙ הַזֶּ֔ה כִּ֥י עָיֵ֖ף אָנֹ֑כִי עַל־כֵּ֥ן קָרָֽא־שְׁמ֖וֹ אֱדֽוֹם׃ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִכְרָ֥ה כַיּ֛וֹם אֶת־בְּכֹֽרָתְךָ֖ לִֽי׃ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר עֵשָׂ֔ו הִנֵּ֛ה אָנֹכִ֥י הוֹלֵ֖ךְ לָמ֑וּת וְלָמָּה־זֶּ֥ה לִ֖י בְּכֹרָֽה׃ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֗ב הִשָּׁ֤בְעָה לִּי֙ כַּיּ֔וֹם וַיִּשָּׁבַ֖ע ל֑וֹ וַיִּמְכֹּ֥ר אֶת־בְּכֹרָת֖וֹ לְיַעֲקֹֽב׃ וְיַעֲקֹ֞ב נָתַ֣ן לְעֵשָׂ֗ו לֶ֚חֶם וּנְזִ֣יד עֲדָשִׁ֔ים וַיֹּ֣אכַל וַיֵּ֔שְׁתְּ וַיָּ֖קָם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וַיִּ֥בֶז עֵשָׂ֖ו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָֽה׃ (ס)
Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished”—which is why he was named Edom. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” And Esau said, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.

Questions for discussion:

  • What does this photo evoke for you?
  • Who is the third person in the photo? How does his presence change the story?
  • Do your sympathies change if you imagine Esav and Yakov as homeless? What about if you imagine one of them as homeless?
  • Why stage this photo this way?
  • Are the verses here the right verses for this photo?