Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pidyon HaBen - Redeeming the First Born

Last night I attended my fourth ever pidyon haben (redemption of  31 day old baby). That's actually alot. Some of the other adults at the ceremony had only been to two.
The event was especially exciting for me, because my son was the Kohen who redeemed the baby (more on that later).
A pidyon haben is a pretty rare occurrence. The new baby's grandfather (my mechutan - my daughter-in-law's father) said he heard that about 1 in 50 Jewish babies is eligible for a pidyon haben. That sounds low to me. I would have said 1 in 1000.
First of all, it's only for boys. That lets out half the population.
Next, it's only for first borns (of both parents). That lets out all subsequent births and some births of second marriages. 
Then, the baby has to have been a regular non-Caesarian birth. It also has to be the child of an Israelite - not a child or grandchild of a Kohen or Levi.
You get the idea...rare.
The source of the pidyon haben comes from a recent portion of the Torah. When the children of Israel left Egyptian slavery, the first born of each family was supposed to be a Priest in the service of Hashem. But then when Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, the masses grew fearful that he had died, and the built a golden calf to worship and "revel" before.
Upon his descent Moses saw the terrible desecration and called, "Who is for the L-rd, fool ow me!!" The tribe of Levi stood beside him for the sanctification of G-d's Name. On that day the tribe of Levi was reconfirmed as a tribe dedicated to holiness. And the people unfortunately forfeited their right to send their first born to serve Hashem.
Because a Kohen must now take the place of every first born (with the above conditions), the father of the baby must redeem the child - in essence paying the Kohen to take his place. 
The fee is five silver coins, totaling 110 grams of silver.
There are special sets of silver coins that are sold in Israel, and, I guess, abroad, that are made just for a pidyon haben. 
My son took the baby, who was lying on a pillow draped with gold and jewelry. Being a 21st century Kohen, he pulled out his I-Phone and read the service, along with the  proud father, right off the phone. (What a world!)
According to the Aish HaTorah website, "The father attests to the fact that this is indeed his first-born son. The Kohen then asks the father: 'Which do you prefer, to give me your first born or to redeem him?'"
Then the father redeems his son. My son has been honored with the mitzvah of Kohen at a pidyon three or four times, B"H, and he's never been given the baby instead of the coins.
The baby redeemed, the parents overcome with joy and emotion, we ate a delicious dinner.
But the ceremony is not just a nice dinner. It is a serious event. It says in the book of Shemot (Exodus) 13:13, "And you shall redeem every human firstborn among your sons." 
Every first born Jewish male that fits all the conditions must have a pidyon haben. Even if someone is an adult, if he discovers that he never had a pidyon haben, he must consult a local rabbi immediately.

Mazel tov to the little redeemed man, Yonatan Oze, his parents, grandparents and great-grandmother. May they have much nachas from him for many years to come.
I thank Hashem for giving me the zechut (merit) to see my son act as Kohen at a pidyon haben. May my husband and I merit seeing him, as well as his brother, acting as Kohanim in the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), soon in our day.

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