Israel Is God's Firstborn

Parshat Shemot quotes God as telling Moshe in Exodus 4:22, “Israel is My son, my firstborn.” After being raised as the adopted son of Pharoah’s daughter, Moshe’s fugitive status didn’t do a lot for his self-confidence. However, HaShem’s telling him that Israel was the firstborn son of God, and that Pharoah must let him go, ended the conversation.
Moses removing his shoes at the burning bush (Dominico Fetti - Wikimedia Commons)Moses removing his shoes at the burning bush (Dominico Fetti - Wikimedia Commons)
Moses removing his shoes before the burning bush (Dominico Fetti - Wikimedia Commons)
Before anyone questions Moshe’s credibility on this subject, we should first take a brief look at Moshe’s role and status in the modern world. According to tradition, the great lawgiver wrote the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Only through Moshe do we know about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, or even the Ten Commandments. Moshe laid the foundation for all biblical prophets who followed him. Since the Hebrew Bible is often considered the foundation of Western civilization, the person of Moshe stands tall among important historical figures.
Parshat Shemot is not the first time in the Torah that sons of God are mentioned. Genesis 6:2-4 mentions sons of God producing children with the daughters of men. Since this reference is prior to the birth of Jacob and his bringing forth the nation of Israel, it cannot be talking about Israel. It is often interpreted to be a reference to some kind of super or heavenly beings who were attracted to earthly women.
Heavenly beings' producing children by earthly women was not unique to Judaism or Christianity. Such beliefs permeated the ancient world and they often had common threads. Of course, such beliefs often evolved over time and various versions sometimes even underwent name changes as the belief systems passed between cultures.
Zoroaster is one example. He lived in northeast Iran or northern Afghanistan after 1,700 BCE and is believed in some interpretations of his life to have been born of a virgin; began his ministry at age 30; was the Word made flesh; cast out demons and performed miracles; and taught about heaven, hell, resurrection, judgment, salvation, and the apocalypse. In addition, a “second coming” is expected to begin a golden age.
Dionysus in another example. In some versions, he is said to have been born of a virgin; was placed in a manger; rode on a donkey in a triumphal procession; turned water into wine; was identified with a lamb; was called savior, anointed one, sin bearer, and only begotten son; and rose from the dead. He was worshipped by Mycenean Greeks perhaps as early as 1,500 BCE. These themes seem to have been relatively common in the ancient world.
Moshe was different and so are Jews. No Jew ever worships Moshe or claims that he was born of a virgin or was half man and half God. Instead, HaShem chose the nation of Israel as His firstborn son. Such a designation presents us with huge responsibilities and unfortunately too often makes us the target of many. Other nations' perpetual opposition to our very existence certainly keeps us on our toes and propels us ever higher and further.
Our little, persecuted, backwater of a nation is God's firstborn son. That’s Israel alright. We are a nation of know-it-alls that defines chutzpah to the modern world. Yet we are so insecure that many of us are afraid to claim our own sacred land that was bequeathed to us by an Infinite Being who was not ashamed to accept as His firstborn son the descendants of shepherds, dreamers, prophets, and poets.
When it comes to sons of God, mythology has thrown some tough competition our way. How should we proceed? As starters, we should seek peace, but refuse to lie down and die so terrorists can rip our families apart. Israeli scientists are in the process of creating treatments and cures for all kinds of diseases. Our physicists through the universal language of mathematics are defining the nature of space-time and reality itself. Media and communication, compared to ancient methods, are nearly miraculous in their capabilities. Even the nature of the aging process itself is being researched by Israeli scientists in hopes of postponing the ravages of old age.
Can the human mind even imagine the truly impossible that cannot be accomplished under the right conditions? If HaShem thinks that Israel is up to the task, He certainly knows more than we do. Whether the magic is performed by HaShem or the wonders of Israeli science, it should be marvelous. Let the miracles begin for the sake of all mankind.
Yoeli’s Mandate: Leave your mark, make a difference for the good, and do your part to make sure that they never again devour Jacob or make his habitation waste.
You may write to Yoeli Kaufman at [email protected]