Parshas Korach.


The laws 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 firstborn.


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 consulted.)

- 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 asked.)


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.