Sept. 8, 2020

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz on Exodus 13:2 – “Primogeniture”

Mark is delighted to welcome his friend, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, to the podcast today. Rabbi Steinmetz has been a congregational Rabbi for nearly 30 years and has previously served pulpits in Montreal, Quebec, and Mount Vernon, New York. Currently, he is the Senior Rabbi at KJ, the legendary Modern Orthodox Synagogue on New York’s Upper East Side, and he also has a blog which Mark strongly recommends, where he explains complex Jewish concepts and their very practical significance in videos and essays that can be consumed in 3 minutes or less. The passage that he has primarily chosen to discuss today is Exodus 13:2, along with others which also deal with primogeniture.

Rabbi Steinmetz begins by explaining what primogeniture is and why he selected these passages to discuss. He and Mark immediately identify the difference between the law and the narratives concerning it in the Bible and take an extensive look at how to reconcile the two. Sibling rivalry, the privilege and responsibility of the first born, and the choice of the Jewish people as God’s first born, are also discussed in detail, as is the intensity which destiny can bring to sibling relationships. The Rabbi’s lessons regarding mankind are shared, including a heartwarming account of a community’s care for one another, and the concept of justice and kindness working together. As Mark states, his good friend Rabbi Steinmetz possesses the remarkable ability to ‘distill Jewish wisdom so succinctly and so profoundly simultaneously’, and this ability is on full display here today in this most enlightening episode.

Episode Highlights:

  • What primogeniture is and why Rabbi Steinmetz selected these passages about it
  • The contrast between the law and the narratives regarding primogeniture in the Bible and how to reconcile them
  • The concern surrounding sibling rivalry within the Bible
  • The privilege and responsibility of being the first born
  • The Jewish people as God’s first born
  • How the intensity of destiny can affect sibling relationships
  • The lessons Rabbi Steinmetz has learned about mankind
  • His story of a community coming together to help each other heroically
  • Justice and kindness


“Primogeniture was the concept that basically drove the ancient world, and in comes the Bible and…it seems like they’re all essentially fired.”

“The great puzzle here is the Bible seems to assert a unique status to the first born, both in terms of their sacred status as well as their financial status…and…the entire Book of Genesis seems to undermine that particular concept.”

“They need to take care of the younger siblings.”

“If the children of Jacob can’t get along, or can’t figure out how to get along, then the tribes are never going to get along, and that’s a real problem.”

“It’s about responsibility. I want you to assume that responsibility.”

“The Bible is saying the first born may have been understood to have privilege, but really what’s important is that the first born needs to have responsibility.”

“There is a sense that this child now, just because they’re first born, needs to think about others and take care of others and needs to have, and has, a sacred task in life.”

“We can all be the first born.”

“You never fully understand the heart of another human being.”

“We still have this profound sense of responsibility that there is more that we could do, and that there’s always more that we could do.”

Exodus 13:2 “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.”


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