Pidyon HaBen – הבן פדיון
By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
The first and best of all things belong to HaShem. This is true even of the firstborn of children. Originally, it was intended that the firstborn would serve as the priests and ministers to HaShem. However, during the sin of the golden calf, the firstborn participated in the sin while the Levites did not. When Moshe came down from Mount Sinai and saw what was happening, he smashed the tablets and he issued everyone an ultimatum: “Who is on HaShem’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him”.
Bamidbar (Numbers) 8:11-19 And Aaron shall offer the Levites before HaShem for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of HaShem. 12 And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto HaShem, to make an atonement for the Levites. 13 And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto HaShem. 14 Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine. 15 And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering. 16 For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel; instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me. 17 For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel. 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.
Only the tribe of Levi came to the side of HaShem. At that point, HaShem decreed that each family’s first-born would forfeit their “Kohen” status, and henceforth all the Kohanim would come from the tribe of Levi. I have written more extensively on this subject in a study titled: PRIESTS.
Bamidbar (Numbers) 3:44-50 And HaShem spake unto Moses, saying, 45 Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am HaShem. 46 And for those that are to be redeemed of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites; 47 Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:) 48 And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons. 49 And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them that were redeemed by the Levites: 50 Of the firstborn of the children of Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and threescore and five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:
Which brings us to the mitzva of Pidyon Ha’Ben. Since the firstborn child is technically a “Kohen” whose potential cannot be actualized, he has to be replaced, so to speak, by a Kohen from the tribe of Levi. This is accomplished by the father of the baby offering the Kohen a redemptive value of five silver coins for the boy.
Ordinarily, the Pidyon HaBen is performed, for the newborn boy, on the 31st day (the day of birth being the first day) of his life; however, the ritual cannot be performed on Shabbat because it involves the exchange of money. The performance of the mitzva involves buying him back, for five shekels, from a Kohen. This redemption price, for the firstborn, was set at five shekels for each of two hundred and seventy-three surplus firstborn Levites, as we saw in Bamidbar (Numbers) 3:46.
The mitzva of Pidyon HaBen applies to a relatively small number of Jews. It applies only to the firstborn male child if it is born by natural childbirth. Thus, if a female is the firstborn, no child in the family is subject to the ritual. If the first child is born by Caesarean section, the ritual does not apply to that child (nor, according to most sources, to any child born after that child). If the first conception ends in miscarriage after more than forty days' term, it does not apply to any subsequent child. It does not apply to members of the tribe of Levi, or children born to a daughter of a member of the tribe of Levi.
Pidyon HaBen for an adopted boy is determined by the status of the birth parents, not by that of the adoptive parents. The child's status as a Kohen, a Levi, a Jew, and a firstborn are all determined by reference to the birth parents.
Since the mitzva of Pidyon HaBen appears in context of the termination of the ten plagues and the ensuing exodus from Egypt, it serves as a spiritual model for redemption. We are commanded to redeem our firstborn son because HaShem, our Father, redeemed us from our bondage in Egypt. Indeed, following the Torah’s lead, Chassidic commentaries and Kabbalistic works discuss the mitzva of redeeming the firstborn in connection with our own final redemption, whose future description is likened by the prophets to the exodus from Egypt, “Like the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show you wonders”.
The material in this section I learned from my brother Yisroel Killian.
Lets delve into the sources to begin to understand the points above. Lets begin by examing a crucial passage from the Nazarean Codicil:
Luqas (Luke) 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Yeshua, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) 24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
From the above passage we see that Yeshua was a firstborn who opened Miriam’s womb. We also see that ‘they’, i.e. His parents, Miriam and Yosef, brought Yeshua to Jerusalem in order to perform the mitzva of Pidyon HaBen. (As an aside, they also went up to Jerusalem to present the offerings for Miriam’s purification.)
Yosef, the biological father of Yeshua HaMashiach was responsible for the mitzva of Pidyon HaBen. So, how do we know that Yeshua’s biological father was involved in the Pidyon HaBen of Yeshua? To answer this important question, we need to examine the Oral Torah because the details for the performance of every mitzva are found, exclusively, in the Oral Torah. We learn in the Oral Torah that only the biological father could perform this mitzva:
Eiruvin 27a … are women liable to perform every positive precept the performance of which is not dependent on a specified time? Are there not in fact [the precepts of] the study of the Torah, propagation of the race and redemption of the son each of which is a positive precept the observance of which is not dependent on any specified time and women are nevertheless exempt [from their observance]?
Kiddushin 29a ‘To redeem him.’ How do we know it? — Because it is written, and all the firstborn of man among thy sons shalt thou redeem. And if his father did not redeem him, he is bound to redeem himself, for it is written, [nevertheless the firstborn of man] thou shalt surely redeem. And how do we know that she [his mother] is not obliged [to redeem him]? — Because it is written, thou shalt redeem [tifdeh] [which may also be read] thou shalt redeem thyself [tippadeh]: one who is charged with redeeming oneself is charged to redeem others; whereas one who is not charged to redeem oneself is not charged to redeem others. And how do we know that she is not bound to redeem herself? — Because it is written, thou shalt redeem [tifdeh], [which may be read] thou shalt redeem thyself the one whom others are commanded to redeem, is commanded to redeem oneself: the one whom others are not commanded to redeem is not commanded to redeem oneself. And how do we know that others are not commanded to redeem her? — Because the Writ saith, ‘and all the firstborn of man among thy sons shalt thou redeem’: ‘thy sons’, but not thy daughters.
From Yeshua’s Pidyon HaBen we learn several very interesting things:
The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds differ on the question of upon whom the Torah places the responsibility of redeeming the firstborn son: the father or the firstborn himself. According to the Talmud Bavli, the responsibility is the father’s (and this is how we rule). However, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the responsibility is placed on the firstborn himself. It is only because he is too young to perform the redemption himself, at a month old. Therefore just as a baby cannot circumcise himself, the son is unable to redeem himself and thus the Torah temporarily gives the obligation to the father. But, once the firstborn son is old enough the responsibility reverts back on him to redeem himself if his father has not yet done so.
Because of the parallel between the mitzva of Pidyon HaBen and the redemption from our present exile, we may interpret the difference between the Talmuds as representing two opinions regarding the question of “Who holds the key to redemption?” In other words, who is responsible for acting in order to redeem us from our current exile, HaShem or we, the Jewish people?
When the son is young, both Talmuds agree that the responsibility is the father’s because the son is unable to redeem himself. This was the state of the Jewish people at the time of the exodus from Egypt. We were very young, the nation had just been born, and there was no possibility of us freeing ourselves from Egypt. As a people, we did not have any merits of our own and therefore HaShem redeemed us with Heavenly strength alone.
Now, after the giving of the Torah, following thousands of years of ups and downs during which the Jewish people have matured, and continue to mature, we have come to the point where the dispute between the two Talmuds is relevant. Does the responsibility to redeem us from our current exile still belong to our father, HaShem, as the Talmud Bavli holds. Or, is it now our responsibility (and the father’s responsibility is over)?
As noted earlier, halachically we rule according to the Talmud Bavli and the obligation is upon the father. Thus, if the son snatches the mitzva, as it were, and performs it before his father has a chance to, it sounds like he acted in rebellion, what the Talmud describes (in relation to the redemption) as a forceful aliyah. In which case, the son is obligated to compensate his father.
However, if it is the case that the key and responsibility for redemption is placed in our hands, why wait another moment!? The moment it becomes possible, we must redeem ourselves. It might be that the Jewish people are in such a downfallen state that we are like a premature firstborn (which in Hebrew is called “a fallen one,” נפל) that cannot yet be redeemed, in fact, it would be dangerous to try and perform the redemption then. But, the moment we are able to rise up, the moment we are no longer considered premature, we must we must seize the opportunity and as the verse states, “As I have fallen, I have risen”.
* * *
This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
Comments may be submitted to:
Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian
4544 Highline Drive SE
Olympia, WA 98501
Internet address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web page: http://www.betemunah.org/
Return to The WATCHMAN home page
Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: email@example.com
 Shemot (Exodus( 13:1-2, Shemot (Exodus) 24:5 with Rashi.
 Shemot (Exodus) 32:26
 Bamidbar (Numbers) 3:11-12
 A child is not considered fully "established" until he is has survived his first month. Therefore, a Pidyon Haben should take place on the thirty-first day of the child's life.
 Bamidbar (Numbers) 3:44-50
 Micah 7:15
 The Rema ( יו'ד ס' ש'ה סעיף י ) quotes a Rivash that says, the father cannot assign a שליח – an agent, to redeem his son from the kohen.
 That women are exempt is deduced from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:19, ‘And ye shall teach them your sons’ but not your daughters.
 Cf. Yebamot 65b.
 Shemot (Exodus) 13:13 and Kidushin 29a.
 Shemot (Exodus) 13:13
 Though ‘among thy sons’ is explicitly stated, the verse may imply that a father is bound to redeem his son only, but the daughter must redeem herself when she grows up.
 Shemot (Exodus) 34:20.
 The poskim argue about whether others (a rabbinic court or perhaps a third party - see below) can redeem the son if his father has not done so. The Ma'adanei Melekh (=Divrei Chamudot) commenting on the Rosh in Bekhorot (8:17) believes, like the Shulchan Arukh, that in the absence of a father the only available option is for the son to redeem himself.
 From the teachings of Harav Titzchak Ginsburgh
 Ketubot 111a
 Micah 7:8