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Firstborn Blues

Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

This week's portion teaches us about the special role of firstborns in Biblical times. They had certain unique privileges - as well as special obligations. That's the way it is even today; a firstborn, or any kid as he gets older, is going to find that his responsibilities grow side by side with new privileges he receives. It's important to focus on the positive side of this and remember that it's all a normal, healthy part of growing up.


In our story, a girl sees how being firstborn has its downs - and ups.


Did you know that sometimes being first means being last? I looked around, green with envy, at my younger brother and sisters - boy did they have the easy life, just taking it easy and playing around all day while I was stuck slaving away at all my homework and chores. Was it my fault that I was the firstborn?

I was still fuming from the phone call I had gotten earlier in the day from my friends Maya and Jen. They were off to the zoo, and wanted me to come along. Actually it wasn't their call that got me mad - I really wanted to go, and was happy they thought to invite me. It's just that when I asked my mom if I could go with them, she reminded me that I hadn't finished my homework (actually I hadn't even started it, but that's besides the point...), and not only that, but that instead of going with my friends, I had to stay in and babysit these little brats all afternoon while my parents went out!

"But Mom, it's not fair!" I protested, "Why am I the one who always has to do everything?"

I knew already what she was going to say, and sure enough she told me: 'Because I was the oldest." It always came down to this - since I was the firstborn, I was getting stuck working hard while my brother and sisters got away with doing nothing.

My mom must have noticed how upset I was, because she put her arm around me and tried to explain. "Paula, I know you have extra responsibilities because you're the oldest, but remember you also have a lot of extra privileges..."

"Like what?" I asked.

Mom smiled and explained that she and Dad were in a rush to get to their appointment on time, but if I thought about it, she was sure that I would realize that it was true, and we could talk about it more after they got home in the evening. With that, she kissed me goodbye, and they were out the door - and I was stuck, as usual.

Well I settled in and tried to make the best of it. I put on my favorite CD and the music was starting to make me feel a little better, when suddenly it stopped. My sister had turned it off. "Hey, what's going on?" I asked.

She told me that she wanted to listen to something else.

"Just wait a minute," I said "You seem to be forgetting the rules around here - that I'm the one who gets to choose what we listen to first." I put my disc back in and thought I heard her grumble something about how she wished that she was the oldest. Why would she possibly want that?

I started to dig through the mountain of homework that was waiting on my desk. I typed out my book report on Mom's computer. It was sure a lot easier than writing it out by hand. I noticed three pairs of eyes peeking in from the doorway. I guess the little kids were interested in watching since I was the only one in the family that my parents allowed to use the computer, or even to go into the office when they're not home.

"It's not fair! I wish I was the oldest instead of her," said my little brother.

"Yeah!!" chimed in the others, shaking their heads.

That was a joke. Didn't they know how much of a better deal they had?

We ate a quick supper - of course I chose what we were going to eat - when I noticed the hour was getting late. "Okay, bed time!" I declared.

But the kids started protesting. "Why do we have to go to bed so early, when you get to stay up as late as you want?" my sister complained.

"Because I'm the oldest, that's why." Then it dawned on me. Maybe I really did have certain privileges the others didn't. Suddenly having to babysit once in a while didn't seem quite as unfair.

I finally got everyone to sleep when I heard the door open. My parents walked in, and my mom sat down next to me on the sofa and looked ready to have a heart-to-heart talk. "Now Paula, about what we were saying before I had to go..."

"It's okay Mom," I smiled. "I think I understand what you mean. Being oldest works both ways, right?"

She seemed happily surprised that I was okay with it. I guess she expected me to still be on my usual warpath about having to babysit. But I just figured it was all part of the firstborn deal. You know, maybe part of being older is that you start to understand a few new things about life, too.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Paula feel at first about being the first-born?
A. She didn't like it, and felt like all it meant was a lot of extra work.

Q. How did she feel about it in the end?
A. She felt better about it, because she saw that while it was true she had to do more, she got more because she was oldest, too.

Ages 6-9

Q. Do you thing Paula would have been happy if she had gotten the same deal as her younger siblings?
A. Definitely not. She looked at them and felt jealous of what seemed like an easier, carefree life. But if she only had their limited privileges, even if it meant less responsibilities, she would feel very childish and bored. A person really only feels good inside when life is just challenging enough - not too hard, but not too easy either.

Q. Why do you think the older one gets the more responsibilities he has?
A. In general, one's responsibilities go hand in hand with his abilities. As we get older, we can do more. Therefore, it is only natural that more is expected from us. But even if it may not feel like it, this is a positive thing, as it proves that we are growing, and becoming more and more capable.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What is the sign of a great person - his amount of privileges, or his responsibilities?
A. Superficially, it might seem that the more privilege one has the greater one is, but this is an illusion. By that standard, an infant would be the greatest of all, because people constantly wait on him hand and foot, and demand nothing in return. True greatness is found in one who is willing and able to take on more and more responsibility. This is especially true in the spiritual realm, where a Tzaddik, or Spiritual Master, is willing to take on the responsibility not only for his own well being, but also selflessly devote himself to help bring good to the entire world.

Q. Older siblings often do have it more difficult than their younger counterparts. They often have to 'go it alone' and pave the way for others. In what way do you think this might positively impact their character?
A. Among other benefits, it helps to forge an independence and endurance that other, more protected siblings may lack. This hard-earned trait is a valuable tool to help a person forge through life's challenges and accomplish great things.


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