"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." (Numbers 8:17-18)
"...but you shall surely redeem the firstborn of man...Those that are to
be redeemed - from one moonth shall you redeem according to the valuation, five
silver shekels by the sacred shekel; it is twenty gera." (Numbers
G-d originally designated the firstborn as those who would carry out the
priestly duty in the Mishkan (Sanctuary). 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 Cohen
(also from the Levite family).
Today, all Israelite male firstborns are redeemed in such a manner.
Who Needs to be Redeemed?
A father is obligated to redeem his son who is a firstborn to his mother. If
the mother is the daughter of a Levite or a Cohen, or the father is a Levite or
a Cohen,a 'redemption' is not needed.
If the mother is a daughter of a Cohen but married a non-Jew, the son still
needs to be redeemed.
A child born through a cesarean birth does not need to be 'redeemed'.
If a daughter is born first, then no redemption of a subsequent male child is
Regarding a firstborn son that comes subsequent to a miscarriage or an
abortion, a competent rabbi should be consulted.
Who and When?
According to the Babylonian Talmud the obligation to redeem the son falls
mainly upon the father and according to the Jerusalemite Talmud, the mitzvah
falls mainly upon the son; this difference has practical application in cases
where the father neglects to redeem his son. (Likutei Sichos, Vol II, p.
The obligation to redeem the firstborn son is the father's. If the father
fails to do so or he cannot, the Beth Din (Jewish Court) does it.
A firstborn male who reached adulthood and has not been redeemed is obligated
to redeem himself.
A child is not considered "established" until the thirtieth day after his
birth. Therefore, a Pidyon Haben should take place on the thirty-first day. If
it was done before that time, he is still not redeemed.
One should not wait beyond the thirty-first day. If the father waits beyond
that time, he has transgressed a positive mitzvah for each day of delay.
It is preferable to have the Pidyon Haben during the daytime. However, if the
thirty-first day after the birth has passed, the Pidyon should be made as soon
as possible, even at nighttime.
One does not redeem his son on Shabbos or Yom Tov. During Chol Hamoed (the
intermediary days of Yom Tov) the Pidyon can take place.
The Torah says the child can be redeemded for five Selaim. Today it is
acceptable to use five US silver dollars. This amount may be given to the Cohen
in silver or the equivalent thereof (except land, servants, check, paper
currency or a promissory note of debt owed to the father). If he redeemed with
any of these, the redemption is deemed invalid.
The act of Pidyon Haben is one that inspires G-d's blessing to all who
participate in the celebration of the mitzvah. It is for this reason that one
shares food from the Pidyon Haben meal with others. Some choose to do this with
cloves of garlic and pieces of sugar as both have the ability of giving taste to
more food, thereby enabling many others to participate in the mitzvah and its
The women are not forgotten. It was they who abstained from the golden calf.
They would not even allow their husbands to take the slightest amount of their
jewelry for sinful purpose. They take an active part in the Pidyon Haben by
adorning the baby on his way to the Cohen with their golden jewelry. (This
jewelry is returned after the ceremony).
Our sages have taught that partaking in the meal of a Pidyon Haben serves as
a substitute for eighty-four voluntary fast days of penance. This is alluded to
in the fact that the first two letters of the word "pidyon" have the gematria
(numerical value) of 84. This can also be seen by reading into a rare word in
the Torah found only when the Torah discusses Pidyon Haben. The Torah writes
when talking about a pidyoN "the money of the pidyoM" (Numbers 3:49). This word
can be read in Hebrew as Peh Daled Yom - 84 Days.
The mitzvah is unique in that it takes place in the course of the celebratory
meal, not before it.
The mitzvah qualifies for the blessing Shehecheyanu to be recited - at a bris
(according to Ashkenazi custom) Shehecheyanu is not said.
The meal of Pidyon Haben is classified as a "Seudas Mitzvah" - mitzvah
Procedure at a Pidyon Haben:
The father brings the firstborn before the Cohen and the five Selaim of
silver or its equivalent and informs him that the child is a firstborn, the
first issue of the womb of his Israelite mother and says to him: "My Israelite
wife has borne me this firstborn son."
The Cohen asks him: "Which would you rather have - your firstborn son or the
five selaim which you are obligated to give me for the redemption of this your
The father replies: "I want this, my firstborn son and here you have five
sela'im which are required of me for the Redemption." As the father gives the
Cohen the redemption money, the father says: "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d,
King of the Universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded
us concerning the redemption of a son. " And then he says: "Blessed are You,
L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and
enabled us to reach this occasion."
Some observe the custom of preparing a festive meal in honor of the
redemption of the firstborn. If there is wine, the Redemption ceremony is
performed during the meal after the blessing over bread. The Cohen recites a
blessing over wine immediately after the Redemption.
If there is no wine, the Redemption is performed before the meal and the
Cohen recites a blessing over another beverage.