Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sanctify to Me All Firstborn Males

"Sanctify to me all firstborn [males] that open the womb of the children of Israel" (Exodus 13:2.)  "And you shall surely redeem the firstborn male (Numbers 18:16.)

Photo by Sheindel Shapiro

The first pidyon haben (ceremony of the redemption of the first born) I ever attended was my son’s. At twenty-two, I had been to the usual complement of Jewish lifecycle events: baby naming, brit milahs, bar and bat mitzvah, some weddings, but never this. In fact, my son’s was the first pidyon haben in the family for at least three generations. Although my husband and I are both firstborns, neither of us had the ceremony, me because I’m female, and he because his mother is the daughter of a Levi. My mother was doubly disqualified, as both a female and a C-section baby; my father was a second-born and grandson of a Kohen. My mother-in-law was not a firstborn and was the daughter of a Levi, and my father-in-law was the second son in his family.
Before the ceremony, we women draped our jewelry over and around the baby.  The mound of jewelry is meant to show the Jewish women’s love for G-d’s commandments and stand in contrast to our refusal to donate our jewelry to the construction of the Golden Calf.
Photo by Sheindel Shapiro

Along with the festive meal, we distributed “party favors” of garlic cloves and sugar cubes for attendees to take home.  Our sages equate eating from the pidyon haben feast with the spiritual benefit of fasting for eighty-four days!  We want to share this huge spiritual power with as many as possible, so we give garlic and sugar, ingredients that last, and can flavor large batches of food. So, if you’re lucky enough to have received one of these, don’t save it as a souvenir; use it!
It was over two decades before I had occasion to attend another pidyon haben. 
If you're looking for pidyon haben coins -- or are a coin collector -- see here and here.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea they made special coins for this. Very cool!