The Birthright

  • Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Parashat Hashavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion

This parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.



This shiur is dedicated in memory of Chana Friedman (Chana bat Yaakov u'Devorah) A"H on her 11th yahrzeit.


Dedicated in memory of my sister, Szore Rivka Kitay, of Lakewood, New Jersey, whose fifth yahrzeit will 
fall on the 6th day of Kislev this year - from those who remember her


On this day, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, we dedicate this parasha shiur in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev.  May the world-wide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.




The Birthright

By Rabbanit Sharon Rimon


Bereishit 25:


(29) Yaakov cooked a stew, and Esav came from the field, and he was faint.

(30) And Esav said to Yaakov: "Let me gulp, I pray you, some of that red, red (ha-adom ha-adom), for I am faint" – therefore his name was called "Edom."

(31) And Yaakov said: Sell your birthright to me this day.

(32) And Esav said: Behold, I am about to die; of what use is the birthright to me?

(33) And Yaakov said: Swear to me this day. And he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Yaakov.

(34) And Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and arose and went on his way, and Esav spurned the birthright.


The story of the sale of the birthright is one of the strangest stories in all of the Torah. Why does Yaakov want to buy the birthright? Can a birthright really be 'bought' or 'sold'? Is Yaakov exploiting Esav's weak state, forcing him to sell the birthright against his will? There are many more questions, which we shall not list here, but they will be addressed further on.


Meanwhile, let us consider our first question: Why does Yaakov want to buy the birthright? What special status does the firstborn possess, that is worthy of a person exerting himself in order to acquire it? Clearly, the birthright accords the firstborn extra rights. This is reflected in the ancient laws of many peoples,[1][1] but the Torah, too, recognizes the special status of the firstborn and commands a father to bequeath a double portion to him:


"If a man has two wives… and the firstborn son is [born] of the less loved, then it shall be, on the day he bequeaths to his sons that which he has, he cannot show preference to the son of the better loved [wife] over the son of the less loved [wife], who is the firstborn. Rather, he must acknowledge the firstborn son of the less loved wife, to give him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his." (Devarim 21:15-17)


These instructions address the rights of a firstborn son who is born of a less-loved wife. In this context we are told that "the right of the firstborn is his" – i.e., the firstborn has extra rights with regard to the inheritance. This would seem to be a simple and obvious matter, practiced among all nations, with no need for a special commandment. The Torah merely emphasizes that even the firstborn son of a wife who is not the father's most beloved, is still entitled to the same rights.

What are the rights of the firstborn? "To give him a double portion." The Ibn Ezra explains (on Devarim 21:17):


"'To give him a double portion' – He should take two portions. If, for example, there are three sons, they should calculate as though they were four, and [the firstborn] takes two portions. If there are two sons, they should calculate as though they were three, and so on."


The "right of the firstborn," entitling the firstborn to a double portion of the inheritance, was not unique to Am Yisrael, but was practiced throughout the ancient world. In the code of law dating from the Middle Assyrian period, we find (tablet B1):[2][2]


"When brothers are dividing their father's estate… the firstborn son shall choose and take two portions as his portion, and thereafter his brothers, in turn, choose and take theirs…."


In light of this, Yaakov may seek the birthright because of the extra rights that it confers, as the Ibn Ezra suggests in his commentary on verse 31:


"The birthright means that he takes a double portion of his father's wealth. Some opinions maintain that the firstborn always retains a superior status in relation to the younger; [the latter] must stand up in his presence and serve him, as a son does to his father."


Despite the simplicity of this explanation, it leaves us with a great many questions. If it is money or honor that is at stake here, why does Esav spurn the birthright; why is he so easily induced to sell it?[3][3] Furthermore, why do we not see, later on, that Yaakov indeed received greater honor or more property? And more fundamentally – is this what Yaakov was interested in? Is this an accurate portrayal of Yaakov – a profit-seeker who exploits his brother's near-starvation to acquire status and property for himself? Surely not: just one verse earlier he is described as a "simple man dwelling in tents"! In addition, we must ask ourselves: why does the firstborn merit a greater portion of the inheritance, and a more highly respected status? Is this an arbitrary state of affairs with no particular significance, or is there some reason for it?


Ancient sources suggest that the firstborn received extra rights because he bore greater responsibility. The firstborn bore the yoke of providing for the household, together with the parents. Upon the death of his parents he would take upon himself the role of head of the family. It was for this reason that he received double - to compensate him for his extra investment of effort.[4][4]


            If this is so, then when Yaakov purchases the birthright he not only acquires rights, but also – and more importantly - takes on obligations. Therefore, it would seem that the birthright means something more significant to him than extra rights with regard to the inheritance, or honor.


            Let us examine the story of Yaakov and Esav from the beginning. While they are still in their mother's womb, Rivka receives a prophecy, "God said to her: Two nations are in your belly, and two peoples shall separate from your innards. The one people shall prevail over the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger" (25:23). This prophecy declares, at the very dawn of the lifetimes of Yaakov and Esav, that they are not two regular babies; they are not merely two individuals, but rather two nations. And these two nations will live in conflict with one another.


            The behavior of these two brothers is of critical importance, because they are the progenitors of the two nations that will issue from them. The relations between Yaakov and Esav are not merely personal; they are maintained on the national level.[5][5]


            The parasha goes on to tell us about these two nations:


"The boys grew up, and Esav was a proficient hunter, a man of the field, while Yaakov was a simple man, dwelling in tents." This is not a description of two individuals, but rather an essential depiction of qualities inherent in their respective personalities, destined to characterize the nations that will issue from them." (25:27)


Esav is a "proficient hunter, a man of the field." His occupation is hunting: he shoots arrows, casting fear over man and animals. He kills. He is a man of the field; he is not a man of the home. He does not occupy himself with settling the world, establishing a home, sowing and planting.[6][6]


Yaakov, in contrast, is a "simple man, dwelling in tents." The Sages, and Rashi in their wake, explain that Yaakov sat and studied Torah, with Shem and Ever as his teachers. The Ibn Ezra and the Rashbam explain that the verse means "dwelling in a tent, with flocks" – i.e., a shepherd. Either way, Yaakov is portrayed as a gentle person, a civilized person, wholeheartedly honest and with integrity – the opposite of Esav.


            The story of the birthright follows immediately after the description of the essence of Yaakov and of Esav, and it seems to be a continuation of that fundamental characterization that differentiates between them. As we read the story, we can almost imagine the scene. Esav arrives home, back from the field. He is a burly, masculine type, filthy and tired after a day of chasing after prey. He finds Yaakov at home, cooking stew. The situation, as described in the text, highlights the difference between these two brothers. We now understand the significance of the expression "a hunter"; we have a sense of how he looks at the end of the day, and how he behaves. At the same time we behold Yaakov, dwelling in the tent, preparing stew – dinner for the family. Esav, tired and famished, asks Yaakov to give him food. His whole request expresses vulgarity: "Let me gulp, I pray you" – the expression connotes feeding an animal; it testifies to gluttony and haste. "From that red, red [stew]" – he does not even mention the dish by name, so eager is he to gulp it down. The repetition of the word "adom" likewise speaks of his haste, as the Rashbam explains:


"The way of a person who is in a hurry is to repeat himself when asking something of someone else. He is tired and hungry, and is saying, as it were, 'Quickly, give me something to eat!'"


Esav refers to the stew as "adom," because its red color catches his eye, and he repeats it twice. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments: "The color tempts him no less than the food itself. It reminds him of the blood of a dying animal, the object of his desire, as he pursues it in the field."


            At this moment there is a slight pause in the narrative, and the Torah inserts a comment: "Therefore his name was called 'Edom.'"


            Esav is called 'Edom' because of this story. This narrative, describing Esav's desire for the red stew, bestows the name 'Edom' upon the name of the nation that will descend from him.


            The giving of a name is significant; it testifies to a person's essence. The essence of Esav is "adom" – the redness of killing, of hunting, and the burning haste – reflected in Esav's haste to consume the lentil stew. The color red symbolizes burning, and it is for this reason that it is so characteristic of Esav and of the nation that issues from him.


            By commenting here, in mid-narrative, with regard to the name Edom, the Torah reminds us to pay attention to the fact that this is not a minor story of merely personal significance, but rather bears national significance; it is a story that characterizes Esav.


            Following this important comment, the text once again takes up its narrative:


"Yaakov said: Sell your birthright to me this day."


            Yaakov observes Esav's behavior. He has been observing it for some time, but at this moment, as Esav enters from the field and demands food – quickly, he suddenly experiences a flash of understanding: Esav's behavior is so vulgar, and so unworthy of the firstborn of Yitzchak's household!


            As mentioned above, the firstborn is meant to lead the family when the patriarch passes on, and he is meant to continue his father's path. But in this case it is clear to Yaakov that it is impossible for Esav to be Yitzchak's successor. This is not the way of the tradition of Avraham and Yitzchak.


            Yaakov asks Esav to sell him the birthright. What is Esav's response?


"Esav said: Behold, I am about to die; of what use to me is the birthright?"


            Esav has nothing but scorn for the birthright. He attaches no value to it.


            Why does he hold the birthright in such low esteem?


Some of the commentators explain that because he is a hunter, Esav's life is perpetually in danger; he could die at any time. Therefore he believes that he has nothing to gain from the birthright.


            However, there seems to be something deeper to this: not only is Esav in perpetual danger, but his whole outlook is one of "Behold, I am about to die" – meaning something similar to, "Kill cattle and slaughter sheep, eat meat and drink wine; eat and drink for tomorrow we die" (Yishayahu 22:13). The lust for the hunt and for meat to eat is a profound trait; it expresses spiritual emptiness. There is no spiritual or ethnical significance to this world; ultimately we all die, so we may as well eat – i.e., enjoy the pleasures of this world as much as possible.


            Yaakov understands that such a person is not worthy of continuing the heritage of Avraham and Yitzchak, who devote their entire lives to imbuing this world with spiritual and ethical meaning, by means of cleaving to God.


            However, it is not only Yaakov who senses that the birthright is not suited to Esav. Esav himself feels the same way. He has no understanding of the value of the birthright, and therefore he asks, with disdain, "Of what use to me is the birthright?" For this reason he is prepared to sell the birthright to Yaakov, and he does it with great ease. The sale of the birthright for a lentil stew testifies to the insignificance of the birthright in Esav's eyes. He is prepared to sell the birthright for something of little value – a lentil stew. Moreover, for the sake of momentary bodily pleasure, he sells the birthright, which is a meaningful, spiritual matter. This testifies to Esav's essence: he lives with the motto, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."


            Hence, Yaakov is not exploiting Esav's momentary weakness, nor does he deceive him. He proposes a deal that is profitable for both of them: Yaakov wants the birthright; Esav does not want it. The sale is acceptable and desirable for both of them. It gives expression to the worldview of each of the brothers.


            The story concludes as follows: "Yaakov gave (Ve-Yaakov natan) Esav bread and the lentil stew." The usual format for a sentence in the Torah that describes actions in the past in accordance with the order of their occurrence is to employ the verb in the future tense, with the "conversive vav" (turning the future tense into past), followed by the subject of the sentence. For example, "Yitzchak loved (va-ye'ehav Yitzchak)"; "Yaakov cooked (va-yazed Yaakov)"; "Esav came (va-yavo Esav)"; "Esav said (va-yomer Esav)," etc. Here, the order is reversed: "Ve-Yaakov natan." A sentence in this form means that the action in question took place previously.[7][7] Thus, we conclude that Yaakov fed Esav even before the sale of the birthright! Esav sold the birthright not in a moment of weakness, out of hunger, but with a full stomach and a mind at rest.[8][8] The continuation of the verse emphasizes this: "He ate and drank, and got up and went, and Esav spurned the birthright." After eating and drinking, when he is no longer weary and faint, and when his mind is at rest, Esav gets up to go, despising the birthright. He does not regret the sale, but rather rejoices over it: of what use to him is the birthright? Esav does not sell the birthright on a momentary, hungry, weary whim. He sells it to Yaakov because it is meaningless to him. To the extent that Yaakov values and desires the birthright, so Esav scorns it and seeks to divest himself of it.


            What is the birthright that Esav scorns and that Yaakov desires? A birthright that Esav is happy to forego is certainly not one that bestows wealth and honor. It must be a birthright of altogether different significance. The birthright, as we saw above, gives the firstborn not only rights, but also a significant level of responsibility with regard to the family, as the Abarbanel explains:


"Yaakov said to Esav: The firstborn son takes the place of his father, and he is entrusted with leading the household when the father becomes weak and old… You, Esav, do not act thus; you are always out in the field, you have no concern for what is going on at home. I am a young, suffering boy; I have to serve my father in his illness, to prepare stew that he might eat. As if that is not difficult enough, you come from the field like an angry bear, asking me – like a glutton – 'Let me gulp, I pray you,' as though I must prepare [food] for you, too!… Therefore, please choose: If you wish to be the firstborn, take over the running of the household and taking care of its needs, in place of our father, and let the entire yoke rest upon you. If you do not wish to take it on, leave the birthright for me, and I shall do everything, and I shall feed you as the firstborn gives his younger brothers… Then Esav considered this and said: I myself do not choose to walk in the way of my fathers, who prided themselves on dwelling at home… Let Yaakov take upon himself all the responsibility for the household, and taking care of its needs and preparing them. And so it was that he [Yaakov] immediately gave Esav bread and lentil stew, as the elder brother gives the younger to eat…."


However, this interpretation is still deficient. We are not speaking here of two regular, individual brothers, but rather of Yaakov and Esav, who are "two nations." Hence it seems that there is something deeper that lies behind this birthright. Indeed, the Abarbanel does not suffice with the above explanation. He also writes:[9][9]


"This was an attempt to inherit the blessing of Avraham, that God blessed him, namely the exclusivity of Providence for him and his descendants… This was the money and riches that Yitzchak inherited from his father Avraham, and this is the money, riches, and treasure that he will bequest to his children, not other possessions… Yaakov believed that this Divine inheritance could not be shared between him and Esav together, since not only did they have different natures, but also their natures and personalities were the polar opposites of one another. Yaakov was a God-fearing man, loving God's commandments dearly, and he was therefore worthy of inheriting the Divine destiny. But Esav was a man of evil ways, with no fear of God. He did not believe in God's Providence, nor did he seek His closeness. How, then, could he be the inheritor of the Divine heritage? …Yaakov knew that Esav would not suffer because of this [sale], since he did not believe in that destiny and did not desire that heritage, as it is written, 'Of what use to me is the birthright?' …And Esav pondered and said to himself: If I put aside the way of my forefathers, of what profit is it to me that I be called their firstborn? For this birthright would not be to inherit assets… and even if it were concerned with spiritual goodness – I do not believe in it, or in the destiny of Avraham. Hence, of what use to me is the birthright? …Thus it becomes clear that Yaakov sought the birthright solely because of the matter of the Divine destiny, because he saw that Esav did not believe in it…."


The birthright that Yaakov wants to receive is the one that involves the right to receive the blessing of Avraham. This blessing is not material, but rather spiritual: special closeness to God, and the inheritance of the land, which is God's land. Yaakov was aware of the spiritual importance of the blessing, and therefore he sought to receive it. Esav, in contrast, was not worthy of this blessing, nor was he at all interested in it, because he did not follow the path of his forefathers.


            The transfer of the birthright from Esav to Yaakov was a process arising from the actions of both brothers. Yaakov bought the birthright: not for lentil stew, but with his actions – by being a "simple man, dwelling in tents," continuing the path of his forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak. Esav sold the birthright by choosing to be a hunter, a man of the field, a person unworthy of inheriting the blessing of Avraham. The sale described in our parasha is not a sudden, unexpected act, but rather the final development in a process, expressing all that has happened thus far.


            It is possible that in fact, Yaakov had no need to buy the birthright at all. It would have come to him naturally, by virtue of his actions, and because of Esav's unsuitability. Even though Yaakov is not the firstborn, his actions – and those of his elder brother – bring about a situation in which he will receive the blessing of Avraham. This conclusion, arising from our analysis here of the story of Yaakov and Esav, also arises from a review of all the stories of the "firstborns" in Sefer Bereishit.


            The first story reflecting this theme is that of Kayin and Hevel. Kayin was the firstborn, but Hevel – his younger brother – is the one whose sacrifice is accepted by God. Apparently, this sacrifice and its acceptance were significant in God's eyes – and therefore in the eyes of Kayin and Hevel, too: "God responded to Hevel and to his offering, but to Kayin and to his sacrifice He did not respond." The verse emphasizes that what was involved here was not only the acceptance of the sacrifice, but something much deeper: an indication of which path is acceptable to God. It is for this reason that it pains Kayin so deeply that Hevel's sacrifice is accepted while his own is not. Kayin is certain that he, as the firstborn, is more worthy, but it turns out that God does not endorse his path. Even after Hevel's death, the meaningful continuation of the world is not through Kayin, but rather through a different son – Shet.


            After the Flood, the world continues through Noach. Noach has three sons – Shem, Ham and Yefet. Clearly, Shem is the chosen son: he receives from Noach the blessing of closeness to God (see Bereishit 9:18-29), and it is his dynasty that produces Avraham, who is chosen by God. But was Shem the firstborn? While all the genealogical lists mention Shem first, and hence it would appear that he was in fact the eldest son, in 10:21 we read: "To Shem, too, were children born… he, the brother of Yefet, the elder." Rashi explains that Yefet was the eldest brother. The Ramban, too (on verse 10:1) explains that the list of Noach's descendants begins with the descendants of Yefet, because Yefet was the eldest. Thus, we see once again that the chosen son was not the eldest.


            Avraham, likewise, was not the firstborn. While the Torah mentions him before the other sons of Terach – "These are the generations of Terach; Terach bore Avram and Nachor and Haran…," the Gemara (Sanhedrin 69b) explains that Avraham was the youngest son, and is mentioned first only because of his importance. How does the Gemara deduce this? From the sons of Noach. There, Shem is mentioned first, despite the fact that he is not the firstborn. From this the Gemara concludes that the genealogies of families listed in the Torah appear not in order of birth, but rather in order of importance.


            The story of Avraham being chosen by God is not the last time that there is a choice. Sefer Bereishit continues to address the issue of chosenness, and in a much clearer and more overt manner. Avraham's eldest son is Yishmael. While Yishamel is not born of Sara, he is still Avraham's firstborn. He is banished from Avraham's house (Bereishit 21) in the wake of Sara's demand: "The son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak." Sara understands that what is involved is a significant battle over the inheritance. The conflict is not an economical one, but rather a fundamental, essential one. Sara, observing Yishmael's base behavior, demands that the handmaid's son should not be one of Avraham's inheritors. He is unworthy of it. He is a "wild man, whose hand is against everyone, and everyone's hand is against him" (Bereishit 16:12); he cannot succeed Avraham. God agrees with Sara, and tells Avraham, "Your seed shall be called through Yitzchak."


            The next instance of chosenness involves Yaakov and Esav. Both are sons of Yitzchak and Rivka; they are twins, but even while still in the womb it is clear that there is a difference between them. It is clear that one of them will be chosen, and the one who is chosen will be the younger brother, as Rivka is told through prophecy: "The elder shall serve the younger" (Bereishit 25:23).[10][10] Indeed, further on, Yaakov buys the birthright from Esav, and eventually also receives Yitzchak's blessing.


            In Yaakov's family, once again, the firstborn son – Reuven – is not the one who is chosen. Yehuda and Yosef receive the blessing and the leadership of "Bnei Yisrael."[11][11] And in Yosef's own family, the younger son is once again chosen: Yaakov deliberately crosses his arms so that his right hand rests upon the head of Ephraim, the younger brother, and he gives him the more important blessing (48:13-20).


            One of the most important themes of Sefer Bereishit is the matter of Divine chosenness. Throughout the Sefer we grapple with the question of who is chosen. Who is God choosing to represent God's way in the world? And throughout the Sefer, the one who is chosen is not the firstborn. The entire Sefer teaches that the physical fact of being the eldest does not automatically ensure the right to the firstborn blessing. God chooses the person who is worthy of receiving the blessing. God's blessing is given on the basis of merit, not chronology.


While the Torah does recognize the status of the firstborn and his rights – as we saw above, in Devarim 21 – this is so only on the personal, limited level. In Sefer Bereishit, where the question concerns the essential representative of God's way in the world, there is no preference for the biological firstborn. Rather, God chooses the person who is most worthy, and it is only this choice that leads to the special blessing: the blessing of God's closeness and of inheriting the land.


            Seemingly, God could work things out in such a way that the most worthy individuals, the chosen ones, would be born first in their families, thereby sparing all the inheritance-related conflicts between brothers that we read about. Instead, we see that the opposite is consistently the case: the firstborn always turns out not to be worthy of the blessing; the one who is chosen is always a younger brother. This fact is not coincidental. It seems that the Torah seeks to convey an important message: God's selection of a certain person is not automatic; it is not because of his birth as his father's firstborn, but rather because of his suitability to serve as God's chosen – his suitability to receive the special blessing. Therefore, God creates a situation in which those suited to be chosen are specifically not the eldest, so that their selection will be clear and meaningful.


            Let us now return to our parasha and the story of the sale of the birthright. If the birthright has no relevance to the mater of chosenness and God's blessing, then what need is there for this entire narrative? Why must Yaakov make the effort to buy the birthright if the firstborn in any case enjoys no preference with regard to Divine chosenness and blessing?


            It seems that the sale of the birthright expresses a different perspective: in order for Yaakov to receive the blessing, he must acquire the birthright. He must become the firstborn.

Seemingly, an analysis of the story would lead us to conclude that it presents, in the clearest and sharpest possible manner, the fact that being the eldest does not entitle one to preference with regard to being chosen and blessed by God. Even if Esav would swear that he was selling the birthright, and even if Yaakov were to pay a very dear price, Yaakov cannot acquire from Esav the biological fact of being born first – this Yaakov knows, and it is not this "birthright" that he is buying. Yaakov seeks to buy the real "birthright" – the leadership of the family, representing the continuation of the path of Avraham and Yitzchak: guarding and observing "the path of God, to perform righteousness and justice." This birthright is not given automatically to the firstborn, but rather is acquired through actions. It is this birthright that Yaakov "buys" – not with a pot of lentil stew, but rather by virtue of his actions; by virtue of his spiritual suitability for this special task.


            The story of the sale of the birthright presents a picture of Esav, who is not worthy of being chosen, nor interested, and therefore despises that birthright. In contrast we observe Yaakov who is interested in this true birthright, which is Divine chosenness, and he makes an effort to "buy" it.


            The story of the sale of the birthright symbolizes the transfer of the birthright from Esav to Yaakov as arising from the essence of these two brothers. The fact that the birthright can be acquired testifies to the fact that being born first does not automatically mean that a person is worthy of receiving God's blessing. To receive His blessing, one needs to be spiritually suited and worthy, to invest effort, and to seek to "acquire" the true birthright.



Translated by Kaeren Fish

[1][1]     Gershon Brin, "The Firstborn in Israel in Biblical Times" (doctoral thesis).

[2][2]     This quotation appears in "Law and Society in the Bible," by Ziva Maximov (Hebrew), published by ORT, chapter 2.2.

[3][3]     The Ibn Ezra answers this question by asserting that at this time Yitzchak did not have much property, and therefore Esav was prepared to forego a double portion. See his commentary and that of the Ramban, who disagrees.

[4][4]     Gershon Brin, "The Firstborn in Israel in Biblical Times"

[5][5]     See: Rav Mordekhai Breuer, "Pirkei Bereishit," part II, chapter 24 – Yaakov and Esav.

[6][6]     See at length Rav Breuer, pp. 489-494. Rav Breuer expands our understanding of Esav's character, as compared with Kayin and Yishmael. All three were hunters involved in killing, not occupied with settling the world. Therefore they are not worthy of dwelling in the Promised Land, and therefore do not receive the blessing of the land.

[7][7]     For instance, on the verse "Adam knew Chava, his wife" (Bereishit 4:1), Rashi comments: "'Adam knew (ve-ha'adam yada)' – prior to the matter discussed above – before he sinned and was removed from the Garden of Eden. And likewise the pregnancy and birth. If the text were to read, "Va-yeda ha-adam," it would sound as though he had children after he was banished.

[8][8]     See Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch's commentary.

[9][9]     In his commentary this explanation is mentioned first.

[10][10]   Admittedly, the language of the verse is not unequivocal; the nature of Hebrew grammar allows for the opposite understanding: "rav – ya'avod tza'ir," i.e., "The elder shall be served by the younger." Still, it is clear that this is a secondary exegetical possibility; the plain meaning is that the elder will serve the younger. See Radak ad loc.

[11][11]   The brothers listen to Yehuda and sell Yosef at his suggestion (Bereishit 37:26-27); Yaakov entrusts Binyamin to Yehuda, and not to Reuven (Bereishit 42:37 and 43:8-14); in Yaakov’s blessings to his sons (chapter 49) it is clear that Reuven does not receive the most significant blessing, while leadership is clearly bestowed upon Yehuda and Yosef, too, receives a special blessing; Yosef receives a double portion in the inheritance of the land (48:5-22).