of redeeming the firstborn.
1. The Torah describes three
types of firstborn with various laws applicable to them – the firstborn of a
man, the firstborn of a bull or another domestic kosher animal and the
firstborn of a donkey. To redeem the firstborn of a man, five silver shekels
are given to a cohen. The firstborn of a bull was
brought as a korban in the Temple.
The firstborn of the donkey is redeemed with a sheep that was presented to a cohen. If the owner did not want to redeem the firstborn
donkey, it was killed and it was forbidden to derive any enjoyment from its
meat. According to the teachings of Kabbalah, the three types of firstborn
represent three types of people as well as three stages in one person’s life.
There are some people that are always looking for physical pleasure, like a
donkey. Interestingly, the word donkey in the holy tongue is “Chamor” coming
from the word “Chomer” – physical. Other people are always working hard, trying
to assemble wealth and property; they are compared to a bull pulling a hard
load. At last, some people are not running after physical pleasures and work
just enough to support themselves, spending their spare time in spiritual
pursuits – they are the true people. An average individual goes through these
three stages throughout his lifetime. When he is young he looks for physical
pleasures, once he grows older he starts working hard trying to increase his
bank accounts and only when he becomes old does he start thinking about the
true meaning of life.
2. Regarding the firstborn of
the kosher animals, since we don’t have the Temple, they can not be brought as korbanos.
For this reason, the Jewish farmers sell a part of the pregnant animal to a
non-Jew so that if the firstborn will be male it will not have the holiness of
3. The laws of firstborn donkey
are kept the same way today but since most people don’t own donkeys we will not
discuss the details.
4. The firstborn child is
redeemed from a cohen with the equivalent of 5
shekels. In America
people usually give five silver dollars since their weight is not less than 5
shekalim. They cost about $30. The firstborn boy has to be redeemed only if the
following conditions are fulfilled:
- The father of the child is
not a cohen or levi.
- The mother of the child is
not a daughter of a cohen or levi. (Note, that
sometimes a daughter of a cohen may lose her holiness
and then her son will need to be redeemed. Therefore a Rabbi needs to always be
- The child was born naturally,
not through cesarean.
- Before the birth of the child
the mother did not have any miscarriages. (In some cases of prior miscarriages
the child might still need to be redeemed and in each case a Rabbi should be
5. The firstborn is redeemed on
the 31st day after birth. If this day falls on Shabbos or Holiday,
the firstborn is redeemed on the next day. If the father did not redeem his
child, he needs to redeem himself once he grows up.
6. It is a mitzvah to hold a
festive meal on the day of the redemption.