I was surprised by the popularity of my previous question about Kain and Abel, but msh210 mentioned that that wasn't so special and indeed, we find another example in the open text of the Torah that a non-firstborn not only brought sacrifices but served as a priest (Ber 14:18) - Malchitzedek, aka Shem Ben Noach:

וּמַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן וְהוּא כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן׃

And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High.

The Jer. Targum says: "וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מַלְכָּא דִירוּשְׁלֶם הוּא שֵׁם רַבָּא הֲוָה כָּהִין עִילָאָה:" - "Melchizedek, the King of Jerusalem, he's Shem, was High Priest".

As my previous question explained, before the tribe of Levi was designated for the High Service, the firstborns were assigned that role. However, once again, Shem wasn't Noach's firstborn, as per Rashi in Ber. 10:21, but Yefet was. So even if we assume that Abel was able to bring sacrifices because they were personal, Malchitzedek actually serves as a priest (unclearly what exactly though).

I admit that I don't fully understand the idea of serving G-d before the Matan Torah and Mishkan, etc, but I think the question is legitimate.

How those two facts can be reconciled?

  • Shem was a priest to hashem. It could be that Yefet was a priest to a different god.
    – Lo ani
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 23:15

1 Answer 1


Bamidar Rabbah 4:

וַיַּעַשׂ ה' אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם, בִּגְדֵי שֶׁבַח הָיוּ, וְהָיוּ הַבְּכוֹרוֹת מִשְׁתַּמְּשִׁין בָּהֶם...מֵת נֹחַ וּמְסָרָן לְשֵׁם, וְכִי שֵׁם הָיָה בְּכוֹר וַהֲלוֹא יֶפֶת הָיָה בְּכוֹר ... וּמִפְּנֵי מָה מְסָרָן לְשֵׁם מִפְּנֵי שֶׁצָּפָה נֹחַ שַׁלְשֶׁלֶת הָאָבוֹת עוֹמֶדֶת מִמֶּנּוּ.

"G-d made for Adam and his wife leather garments and he clothed them." They were special garments and the firstborns would perform divine service while wearing them ... Noach died and they were passed on to Shem. But was Shem a firstborn, surely Yefet was the firstborn? ... Why were they passed on to Shem? Because Noach saw the lineage of forefathers descending from him.

Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 8 disputes the assertion that Shem was not a firstborn:

נח מסר לשם ונכנס בסוד העיבור ועיבר את השנה ונקרא כהן וכי שם בן נח כהן היה אלא ע"י שהיה בכור והיה משרת ביום ובלילה לפיכך נקרא כהן

Noach passed on the tradition to Shem: he was initiated into the secret of the calendar, and intercalated the years and was called a Kohen. But was Shem son of Noach really a Kohen? Rather, because he was the firstborn and carried out divine service day and night he was called a Kohen.

  • Thank you very much. Again, those (esp. the second) Midrashim just retreat from/invalidate the original statement that Shem wasn't the FB. I have to get used to not taking those statements seriously :(. But the first is more interesting and I'm gonna ask another question on this logic soon, about Yaakov and Eisov.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 10:13
  • Wait, how do you understand the first Midrash - did Noach appoint Shem as his firstborn, passing the rights of Avodah or just gave him the garments to pass to Abraham and on?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 10:15
  • Sounds like he passed on the right/duty to carry out the avodah to Shem - the Midrash talks about Shem bringing korbanot (based on the identification of Shem with Malkitzedek)
    – Joel K
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 10:27

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