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E3. Commemorating Pidyon HaBen.    [Make a Comment]

We are to first sanctify and then ceremonially redeem our firstborn son from priestly service.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 13:1-2 (Maimonides RP79; Meir MP53; Chinuch C18)
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Set aside for me all the firstborn. Whatever is first from the womb among the people of Isra'el, both of humans and of animals, belongs to me."

Exodus 13:10-15 (Maimonides RP81, RP82; Chinuch C22, C23)
Therefore you are to observe this regulation at its proper time, year after year. When ADONAI brings you into the land of the Kena'ani, as he swore to you and your ancestors, and gives it to you, you are to set apart for ADONAI everything that is first from the womb. Every firstborn male animal will belong to ADONAI. Every firstborn from a donkey, you are to redeem with a lamb; but if you choose not to redeem it, you must break its neck. But from people, you are to redeem every firstborn son. When, at some future time, your son asks you, 'What is this?' then say to him, 'With a strong hand ADONAI brought us out of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery. When Pharaoh was unwilling to let us go, ADONAI killed all the firstborn males in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of humans and the firstborn of animals. This is why I sacrifice to ADONAI any male that is first from the womb of an animal, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.'

Exodus 22:28-29(29-30)
You are not to delay offering from your harvest of grain, olive oil or wine. The firstborn of your sons you are to give to me. You are to do the same with your oxen and your sheep - it is to stay with its mother seven days, and on the eighth day you are to give it to me.

Exodus 34:19-20 (Meir MP55, MP56)
Everything that is first from the womb is mine. Of all your livestock, you are to set aside for me the males, the firstborn of cattle and flock. The firstborn of a donkey you must redeem with a lamb; if you won't redeem it, break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you are to redeem, and no one is to appear before me empty-handed.

Numbers 3:40-51
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Register all the firstborn males of the people of Isra'el a month old and over, and determine how many there are. Then you are to take the L'vi'im for me, ADONAI, in place of all the firstborn among the people of Isra'el, and the cattle of the L'vi'im in place of the firstborn of the cattle belonging to the people of Isra'el." Moshe counted, as ADONAI had ordered him, all the firstborn among the people of Isra'el. The total number of firstborn males registered, a month old and over, of those who were counted, was 22,273. ADONAI said to Moshe, "Take the L'vi'im in place of all the firstborn among the people of Isra'el, and the cattle of the L'vi'im in place of their cattle; the L'vi'im are to belong to me, ADONAI. Since there were 273 more firstborn males from Isra'el than male L'vi'im, in order to redeem them, you are to take five shekels [two ounces] for each of these (use the sanctuary shekel, which is equal to twenty gerahs). Give the redemption money for these extra people to Aharon and his sons." Moshe took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the L'vi'im; the amount of money he took from the firstborn of the people of Isra'el was 1,365 shekels, using the sanctuary shekel. Moshe gave the redemption-money to Aharon and his sons, in keeping with what ADONAI had said, as ADONAI had ordered Moshe.

Numbers 18:15-17 (Maimonides RP80, RN108; Meir MP54, MP55, MN109; Chinuch C392-393)
"Everything that comes first out of the womb, of all living things which they offer to ADONAI, whether human or animal, will be yours. However, the firstborn of a human being you must redeem, and the firstborn of an unclean beast you are to redeem. The sum to be paid for redeeming anyone a month old or over is to be five shekels of silver [two ounces], as you value it, using the sanctuary shekel (this is the same as twenty gerahs). But the firstborn of an ox, sheep or goat you are not to redeem; they are holy - you are to splash their blood against the altar and make their fat go up in smoke as an offering made by fire, as a fragrant aroma for ADONAI."

Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (Maimonides RP79; Chinuch C18)
"Every year you must take one tenth of everything your seed produces in the field, and eat it in the presence of ADONAI your God. In the place where he chooses to have his name live you will eat the tenth of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and sheep, so that you will learn to fear ADONAI your God always."

Luke 2:22-32
When the time came for their purification according to the Torah of Moshe, they took him up to Yerushalayim to present him to ADONAI (as it is written in the Torah of ADONAI, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to ADONAI") and also to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the Torah of ADONAI. There was in Yerushalayim a man named Shim'on. This man was a tzaddik, he was devout, he waited eagerly for God to comfort Isra'el, and the Ruach HaKodesh was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Ruach HaKodesh that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah of ADONAI. Prompted by the Spirit, he went into the Temple courts; and when the parents brought in the child Yeshua to do for him what the Torah required, Shim'on took him in his arms, made a b'rakhah to God, and said, "Now, ADONAI, according to your word, your servant is at peace as you let him go; for I have seen with my own eyes your yeshu'ah, which you prepared in the presence of all peoples - a light that will bring revelation to the Goyim and glory to your people Isra'el."


This Mitzvah is formulated by joining together two commandments (directed to the Israelites) that were priesthood-related - the second reversing the first. Subsequent to God having saved the firstborn sons of the Israelites when He slew the firstborn males (both sons and cattle) of the Egyptians (Exodus 11:4-6), He declared also, that all firstborn of the womb belonged to Him (Exodus 13:1-2, 34:19; Numbers 3:13). We understand that to mean that each Israelite family was to sanctify its firstborn son (i.e., dedicate him to service in the Tabernacle and later the Temple). After Moses rebuked the Israelites for worshiping the Golden Calf and only the Levites stepped forward to repent (Exodus 32:25-29), God took the priesthood away from the Israelites as a whole, and gave it to the Levites (Numbers 1:49-53, 3:12), appointing the sons of Aaron to serve as cohanimi in place of the firstborn sons of the Israelites (Numbers 3:10). He did this, not by revoking His previous commandment to sanctify each Israelite firstborn son, but by commanding that each Israelite family redeem their firstborn son from priestly service by paying a Levitical cohen five shekalim of money (Numbers 3:40-51, 18:15-16).

Because underlying this Mitzvah are commandments with which Levites can no longer comply, I could have easily omitted it as being obsolete. I chose not to do so, however, because (1) the ceremony of Pidyon HaBen (redemption of the firstborn son) is performed among many Jewish people today, and (2) Yeshua's consecration (and possibly His simultaneous Pidyon HaBen) is recorded in Luke 2:22-32.

There is no biblically specified ceremony for sanctifying the firstborn son today, although circumcision may be thought of as a sanctification ceremony for all male Jewish children, with the firstborn of them assumed to be specially sanctified. Today, when the firstborn son of a Jewish family (not a cohen or a Levite) is 30 days old, he is taken to a Levitical cohen who receives the monetary equivalent of five shekalim from the father, and then proceeds to bless the child with the Birkat Cohanim (the Aaronic Benediction). Since Temple shekalim are no longer in use, their equivalent value in silver is substituted - either special coins made for the purpose or, in the U.S., five pre-1936 silver dollars (26.73 grams of 90% silver).

It is obvious that this Mitzvah is based upon the assumption of a functioning Temple priesthood that does not exist today. Nevertheless, I believe it is important for Messianic Jews to comply ceremonially in the universal Jewish way for three reasons: (1) without it, there is no closure regarding the priestly status of firstborn male Israelites beyond their general priestly identity as Jews; (2) without it, there is ambiguity regarding the continuing priestly status of today's descendants of Aaron (i.e. Levitical cohanim); and (3) there is value in our being in solidarity with the rest of the Jewish world on this. I do not, however, believe that failing to comply with this Mitzvah in this New Covenant age is sinful.

The ceremony of Pidyon HaBen only has meaning when performed within non-Levitical Jewish families since historically, the Levites were not redeemed and did, therefore, serve in the Temple. Although the ceremony is traditionally the responsibility of a firstborn son's Jewish father, in Messianic Judaism it may also be performed by his Jewish mother or by himself when he comes of age. The Pidyon HaBen ceremony has no historic or spiritual meaning at all for Gentiles.

Classical Commentators

Meir states that the Pidyon HaBen is to be performed after thirty days by Jewish families who are neither cohanim nor Levites and, if a firstborn son has no father, he must redeem himself after he comes of age; HaChinuch says this also of a son who has a father, but the father does not redeem him. Maimonides and HaChinuch agree with Meir on all matters, and specifically state that the Pidyon HaBen is to be performed by the father - not by the mother.

Meir quotes Scripture that speaks of our need to sanctify the firstborn of kosher animals as well, of which we are to say: "This is hereby holy." He says that if we do not consecrate a firstborn kosher animal it is, nevertheless, holy. He also says that because there is no Temple, the firstborn animals must be left to graze until they develop a defect, and must then be given to a cohen. Both Maimonides and HaChinuch state that the consecration of cattle is to occur only in the Land of Israel, whereas Meir is silent on the matter.

NCLA: JMm (non-cohen) JFu KMi KFi GMi GFi

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