The Mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the First Born)

Sponsored by Myrna and Mel Halickman in honour of their son Isaac, completing his Fellowship in Cardiology.


Right after the tenth plague, Makat Bechorot, the death of the first born Egyptians, God laid claim to all firstborn Jewish boys. In Parshat Bo, Shmot 13:2, God commanded Moshe “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, of man and beast, is mine.”

At the end of Parshat Korach, Bamidbar 18:15-16 God emphasizes to Aharon what makes the Kohanim different from the rest of the Jewish people including the details of the Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born)  and the role of the Kohen in the ceremony. God commands Aharon: “Every first issue of a womb of any flesh that they offer to God, whether man or beast, shall be yours; but you shall surely redeem the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of an impure beast shall you redeem. Those that are to be redeemed- from one month shall you redeem according to the valuation, five silver shekels by the sacred shekel…”

Rabbi Saadya Gaon comments that the words “ach pado tifdeh”, “you shall surely redeem” implies that the child must be redeemed (the Kohen cannot try to keep the baby, he must return him to his father).

According to the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 305:24, if the firstborn was delivered by a caesarian section and therefore did not “open the womb”, then that baby is still considered firstborn, but he is not redeemed (there is no Pidyon HaBen for him).

The Gemara in Bechorot 48a explains that the Torah commands the Pidyon HaBen to be done at 30 days since that is when the baby is out of serious danger and is considered a person.

The Pidyon HaBen is celebrated with a festive meal. The baby is usually brought out on a silver tray and bedecked in jewelry.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 29a points out that if a father did not redeem his son at thirty days, the father would still be obligated to redeem his son even after he grows up. If the father never redeems his son, then the obligation lies on the son to redeem him self when he grows up (but by then he will be too big to be brought in on a silver tray!)

The Pidyon HaBen reminds us that our children are gifts from God and should not be taken for granted.