The Torah in Parashat Vayechi tells of Yaakov’s famous proclamation that Yosef’s two sons – Efrayim and Menashe – would have the status of tribes, like Yosef’s brothers (“Efrayim u-Menashe ki-Reuven ve-Shimon yiheyu li” – 48:5). What this meant, essentially, is that Yosef received a double share of the Land of Israel, as his descendants constituted two separate tribes, and not just one, like each of his brothers’ descendants did. As explained in Sefer Divrei Hayamim I (5:1), Yaakov transferred the privileges of the firstborn from his oldest son, Reuven, who forfeited these privileges due to his sin with Bilha (Bereishit 35:22), and transferred the privileges to Yosef. As a firstborn receives a double portion of the estate, Yosef received a double portion of Eretz Yisrael.
The reason why the privileges were transferred specifically to Yosef, seemingly, is because although he was the second youngest of Yaakov’s sons, he was the oldest child of Rachel. Rachel and Leah were Yaakov’s primary wives – the other two being concubines – and thus once Leah’s firstborn, Reuven, was deemed unworthy of the privileges of the firstborn, they were naturally transferred to Rachel’s firstborn, Yosef.
The Gemara, however, in Masekhet Bava Batra (123a), presents an additional reason, drawing an analogy to a generous man who adopted an orphan child and raised him. As an adult, this orphan became wealthy, and he decided to share his fortune with his generous adopting parents. The Rashbam explains that Yaakov was like a helpless orphan in the sense that he had no access to food due to the famine conditions in Canaan, and he was taken in and supported by Yosef, much like a couple taking in and caring for an orphan child. Therefore, when Yaakov became “wealthy” – meaning, when he needed to decide to whom he would allocate the double share taken away from Reuven – he chose to grant this “wealth” to Yosef.
Rav Chaim Elazary, in his Mesilot Chayim, notes that this comparison between Yaakov and an orphan child is striking. When a family adopts an orphan, this is an act of pure kindness and generosity, sharing their material blessings with somebody who has done nothing to deserve it. In Yaakov’s case, however, he was Yosef’s father and raised him for seventeen years. Certainly, he rightfully earned the support which Yosef gave him (for the precise same number of years – seventeen). How, then, could the Gemara compare Yosef’s support of Yaakov during the famine to a family that takes in an orphan child?
The answer, Rav Elazary suggests, is that the Gemara speaks of Yaakov’s perception, how he viewed the support he received from Yosef. Of course, it was natural for Yosef to take on the responsibility of feeding his elderly father who suffered the ravages of drought. But from Yaakov’s perspective, he was just an orphan child generously supported by Yosef. He did not feel any sense of entitlement, that this was something he rightfully deserved. In his humility, he did not expect or demand anything from his son. From his viewpoint, Yosef owed him nothing.
Yaakov’s example teaches us to avoid the tendency to feel entitled to other people’s generosity. We should help and give to others without demanding or expecting favors in return. Rather than focusing on what others ought to be doing for us, we should strive to follow the model of Yaakov, who never felt entitled to Yosef’s graciousness and viewed it as undeserved benevolence.