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Naso 5769

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! If you are Jewish, firstborn, male, whose parents are neither Cohanim or Levites and your mother didn't have a previous miscarriage ... and you were born in the usual manner, not by ceasarean section - you are required to be redeemed from a Cohen. This mitzvah goes back 3,321 years ago during the Exodus from Egypt.

Before the transgression of the Golden Calf, the firstborn sons were designated to be the Cohanim (priests) for the Jewish people. "For every first born among the children of Israel is Mine ... I consecrated them to Myself on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt" (Numbers 8:17). However, since they - and the males of every tribe except the tribe of Levy - were involved in the incident with the Golden Calf, the priesthood was taken away from them. It was instead given to the descendants of Aharon from the tribe of Levy. "Now I take the Levites instead of every firstborn among the Children of Israel" (Numbers 8:18).

Even though the firstborn lost their positions, they were still consecrated to the Almighty for all time; they require a pidyon, a redemption, of their holiness. "You shall redeem every firstborn of your sons" (Exodus 34:20). Our tradition teaches that in the time of the Final Redemption the firstborns will be returned to the position of Cohanim.

The ceremony is called a Pidyon HaBen, Redeeming the Son. The father is required to redeem his son on the 31st day. Until the age of 13, the father is responsible to redeem the son. After that, the son is required to redeem himself. A Cohen told me of a celebration where the son, the father and the grandfather all had their redemption ceremonies, one following the other.

Though it is a rare celebration, it is a very festive and spiritual celebration. It takes place during a seudas mitzvah, an obligatory festive meal. One gathers at least a minyan, 10 Jewish males over 13 years old who wash their hands and eat bread. Now that the meal has begun, the ceremony takes place.

The baby is brought in on a silver tray adorned with jewelry from the attending women. This is done to beautify the mitzvah. The father presents the baby to the Cohen and declares that the baby is the first born to his mother according to all of the requirements of the Torah. The Cohen then asks the father, "Which do you prefer - to give me your first born ... or to redeem him for five shekels as the Torah obligates you?" The father declares, "I wish to redeem my son and I give you the value of his redemption as I am required to do by the Torah."

The father then takes 5 silver coins (some Cohanim have a custom to use 6 coins to make sure that the amount of silver exceeds the minimum requirement of 117 grams) and recites the following blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the redemption of the son." Then he recites a second blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time."

The Cohen accepts the money, makes a verbal declaration that the child is redeemed and blesses him with the traditional blessing of the Cohanim: "May the Almighty make you like Ephraim and Menashe. May the Almighty bless you and safeguard you. May the Almighty shine His countenance upon you and be gracious unto you; May He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace."

The Cohen returns the child to the father, takes a cup of wine and makes the blessing over the wine. And then everyone continues with their meal.

The Kabbalah tells us that attending a Pidyon HaBen is equal to 84 fasts - which atone for many transgressions! The question the Cohen asks the father "Which do you prefer - the baby or the money?" is on one hand rhetorical and on the other hand a very deep question. There is NO WAY a father is going to or allowed to give his son to a Cohen. However, there is a very powerful question that every parent should keep in mind - "Which do you prefer - your child or spending more time in the office?" We as parents must always be aware that our children come first before all our other desires and responsibilities.

For more on "Pidyon HaBen" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

This week's portion includes further job instructions to the Levites, Moshe is instructed to purify the camp in preparation for the dedication of the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary.

Then four laws relating to the Cohanim are given: (1) Restitution for stolen property where the owner is deceased and has no next of kin -goes to the Cohanim. (2) If a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, he brings her to the Cohanim for the Sotah clarification ceremony. 3) If a person chooses to withdraw from the material world and consecrate himself exclusively to the service of the Almighty by becoming a Nazir (vowing not to drink wine or eat grape products, come in contact with dead bodies or cut his hair), he must come to the Cohen at the completion of the vow. (4) the Cohanim were instructed to bless the people with this blessing: "May the Lord bless you and guard over you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His Countenance upon you and give you peace."

The Mishkan is erected and dedicated on the first of Nissan in the second year after the Exodus. The leaders of each tribe jointly give wagons and oxen to transport the Mishkan. During each of the twelve days of dedication, successively each tribal prince gives gifts of gold and silver vessels, sacrificial animals and meal offerings. Every prince gives exactly the same gifts as every other prince.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

During the twelve days of the dedication of the Tabernacle the heads of the twelve tribes each brought an offering. Although the offerings of the leaders were the same, the Torah repeats each gift with all of its details. The Torah never uses an extra word or letter unless it is coming to teach us a lesson about life. What lesson can we learn here?

The Ralbag, a 14th century French Biblical commentator, informs us that the lesson for us to learn is that we should not try to outdo another person in order to boast or feel superior to him. We should keep our focus on the accomplishment, not on our egos.

The goal in spiritual matters is to serve the Almighty, to grow as a person and not to seek honor or to compete with anyone else. Competition has its motivating factor, but one-upmanship has no place in fulfilling Torah principles. One should fulfill mitzvos with pure intentions.

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With Deep Appreciation to

Iris Raderman

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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Copyright Rabbi Kalman Packouz 2009

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