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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bo


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The "bookends" of our Sedra revolve around children. In the second pasuk, Hashem tells Moshe that He is performing these miracles "so that you may relate them in the ears of your son & your son’s son…..& know that I am Hashem."
Then, just a bit later, Moshe tells Paro in no uncertain terms: "With our youngsters, & our elders, we shall depart; we shall go with our sons & with our daughters."

The end of our Parsha digresses a bit from the Exodus narrative to list the Halachot of the Pidyon Ha-Ben, the Redemption of the First-Born (of both humans & animals). Though this Mitzva connects to the fact that the Hebrew 1st-born
were saved in the last plague, & initially were the ones who administered the service in the Mishkan, the Torah’s overriding rationale for this ritual is, "When your child will ask you (at the Pesach Seder), ‘What is all this?’ you will answer him, ‘With a strong arm G-d took us out of Egypt."

The emphasis, it seems crystal-clear from all this, is squarely on ensuring that the younger generation steps up & takes its rightful place as the next link in the chain.

Today, sadly, we do not (yet) have a Bet HaMikdash, & so neither the first-born nor the Kohanim conduct the offerings. Nevertheless, we are careful to recognize the Kohanim among us, & we still maintain the ritual of the Pidyon Ha-Ben. But part of that ritual is quite perplexing. It includes a dialogue that is held between the father of the first-born boy, & a Kohen.

The Kohen asks the father: "What do you prefer: that you give your child to me (presumably to serve in the Bet HaMikdash), or that you redeem him with 5 silver coins?"

The father then answers, "I wish to redeem my son," & he hands the money to the Kohen.

Does this make any sense at all?! If the father chooses NOT to redeem his son, would the boy then "belong" to the Kohen? Where – how – would he serve? Why doesn’t the father just redeem his son, as the Torah prescribes,
without this seemingly superfluous conversation?

But here’s the point: The Kohen - as spiritual leader - is asking the father, as he is just beginning his family: "What are your priorities? What matters most to you in life – the kid, or the kesef?!"

Many fathers leave for work early, before the kids get up, & return late at night, when they are already asleep, hardly seeing their young children. Asked why they do this, they invariably say, "I’m doing it for my kids!" But our children need us – physically alongside them, hands-on, face-to-face.

As we leave Egypt & begin our eternal adventure as a nation, G-d asks us not to be enslaved by work or wealth, but to free ourselves to raise our family. That, undoubtedly, is our most "redeeming" quality.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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