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What is the origin of Pidyon Haben?

by Rabbi Pinny Lew

  

Library » Mitzvot » Pidyon Haben | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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"For every firstborn of the Children of Israel became mine, of man and livestock; on the day I struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself. I took the Levites in place of every firstborn among the Children of Israel."1

"...but you shall surely redeem the firstborn of man...Those that are to be redeemed - from one month shall you redeem according to the valuation, five silver shekels by the sacred shekel; it is twenty gera."2

G-d originally designated the firstborn as those who would carry out the priestly duty in the Tabernacle. Shortly after receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people collectively committed idolatry by serving the Golden Calf. The firstborns lost their sacred privilege and became unworthy of performing the priestly functions.

Shortly after receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people collectively committed idolatry by serving the Golden Calf. The firstborns lost their sacred privilege and became unworthy of performing the priestly functions
There were two segments of the Jewish people who did not take part in the worship of the golden calf; the entire tribe of Levi and the women. When the Mishkan was completed, G-d commanded that the Levites replace the firstborns. At that time, there were 22,273 firstborn Israelites and only 22,000 Levites.

Those Israelite firstborn men for whom a Levite could not be found to "exchange" with, had to redeem themselves by giving 5 silver coins to a Kohen (also from the Levite family). Today, all Israelite male firstborns are redeemed in such a manner.

Reprinted with permission from Mikvah.org.

See also "What are the conditions that require a Pidyon Haben?" and "When is the Pidyon Haben ceremony done?"

Footnotes

  • 1. Numbers 8:17-18.
  • 2. Numbers 18:15-16.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Pidyon Haben

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Levite
A descendant of Levi, son of Jacob. The Levites were the teachers and spiritual leaders in the Land of Israel. They had various responsibilities in the Holy Temple, including choir and orchestral duties.
shekel
(pl. Shekalim) Currency used in ancient Israel. [Modern Israeli currency also carries the same name.]
Tabernacle
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
Levi
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.