Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Redemption of a Fifth-Generation First-Born Son

והעברת כל-פטר-רחם לה', וכל פטר שגר בהמה אשר יהיה לך הזכרים לה'. וכל-פטר חמר תפדה בשה ואם-לא תפדה וערפתו, וכל בכור אדם בבניך תפדה. והיה כי-ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה-זאת, ואמרת אליו בחזק יד הוציאנו ה' ממצרים מבית עבדים.  ויהי כי-הקשה פרעה לשלחנו, ויהרג ה' כל-בכור בארץ מצרים מבכר אדם ועד-בכר בהמה, על-כן אני זבח לה' כל-פטר רחם הזכרים וכל-בכור בני אפדה.

                                                                                                             שמות י"ג יב-טו

And you shall set aside for G-d the first of all wombs, and every first-born of your animals, the males shall be for G-d. And you shall redeem every first-born donkey with a lamb, and if you do not redeem it, you shall break its neck, and your first-born sons, you shall redeem. And when it comes to pass that your son asks you “What is this?” and you shall say to him “By the strength of His hand, G-d brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And it came to pass that when Pharaoh would not send us out, G-d slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of man to the first-born of beast. Therefore I sacrifice the first-born male animals and my first-born sons I redeem." 
                                                                                                   Shemot 13, 12-15

So commands the Torah. We redeem our first-born (to the mother) sons, whom we "owe" to G-d because he did not kill them in Egypt. In Bamidbar 18, 15 the Torah tells us that this is to be done when the child is one month old and that the price of redemption is five silver sheqalim. The rabbis later clarify that this mitzvah is only relevant if neither parent is a Kohen or a Levi, so the chances of a redemption ceremony in any Jewish family is probably not much more than forty percent.

The ceremony (called pidyon haben) is highlighted by the kohen asking the father if he wants his son or the five sheqalim and the father says that he wants to redeem the child. This is followed by two blessings by the father, several verses by the kohen and wine. Then everyone eats. And perhaps someone speaks.

The first-borns are in red.

My late father was a first-born, as am I. So when my first-born son's first born son became a father last month, the baby is a fifth-generation first-born to be worthy of a redemption ceremony. The kohen was one of my grandsons rabbis in his Lakewood yeshiva. There were about forty people in attendance. I made last minute plans to be there - unannounced - but it didn't happen. (See my next blog for that story.)

The kohen for both my father and me was my grandfather's brother-in-law, Uncle Harry Katz. I didn't really know him, my only memory was from going to his shiv'a when I was ten. As it happens, one of Uncle Harry's two granddaughters lives about an hour drive from Lakewood, so I asked her to join us. She was planning to but when my plans were aborted, she decided to skip it. (Rhoda is named for her grandmother, Uncle Harry's wife, who was named for our second-great-grandmother Rivka Feige Pikholz.)

The baby is named for his mother's paternal grandfather whose first yahrzeit was the day of the pidyon.

My trip was aborted, but I told them that I fully intend to attend the pidyon of first-born number six in twenty-five years.

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