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P4. Sanctifying & Redeeming the Firstborn Son    [Make a Comment]

We are to sanctify and then ceremonially redeem our firstborn son from priestly service.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Exodus 13:1-2 (Maimonides RP79; Meir MP53; Chinuch C18)
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Set aside for me all the firstborn. Whatever is first from the womb among the people of Isra'el, both of humans and of animals, belongs to me."

Exodus 34:19
Everything that is first from the womb is mine. Of all your livestock, you are to set aside for me the males, the firstborn of cattle and flock.

Numbers 3:40-51
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Register all the firstborn males of the people of Isra'el a month old and over, and determine how many there are. Then you are to take the L'vi'im for me, ADONAI, in place of all the firstborn among the people of Isra'el, and the cattle of the L'vi'im in place of the firstborn of the cattle belonging to the people of Isra'el." Moshe counted, as ADONAI had ordered him, all the firstborn among the people of Isra'el. The total number of firstborn males registered, a month old and over, of those who were counted, was 22,273. ADONAI said to Moshe, "Take the L'vi'im in place of all the firstborn among the people of Isra'el, and the cattle of the L'vi'im in place of their cattle; the L'vi'im are to belong to me, ADONAI. Since there were 273 more firstborn males from Isra'el than male L'vi'im, in order to redeem them, you are to take five shekels [two ounces] for each of these (use the sanctuary shekel, which is equal to twenty gerahs). Give the redemption money for these extra people to Aharon and his sons." Moshe took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the L'vi'im; the amount of money he took from the firstborn of the people of Israel was 1 (365 shekels)

Numbers 18:15-16 (Maimonides RP80; Meir MP54; Chinuch C392)
"Everything that comes first out of the womb, of all living things which they offer to ADONAI, whether human or animal, will be yours. However, the firstborn of a human being you must redeem, and the firstborn of an unclean beast you are to redeem. The sum to be paid for redeeming anyone a month old or over is to be five shekels of silver [two ounces], as you value it, using the sanctuary shekel (this is the same as twenty gerahs)."

Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (Maimonides RP79; Chinuch C18)
"Every year you must take one tenth of everything your seed produces in the field, and eat it in the presence of ADONAI your God. In the place where he chooses to have his name live you will eat the tenth of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and sheep, so that you will learn to fear ADONAI your God always."

This Mitzvah #P4 is formulated by joining together two commandments (directed to Israel) that were priesthood-related - the second reversing the first. Subsequent to God having saved the firstborn sons of the Israelites when He slew the firstborn males (both sons and cattle) of the Egyptians (Exodus 11:4-6), He declared that all firstborn of the womb belonged to Him (Exodus 13:1-2, 34:19; Numbers 3:13). We understand that to mean that each Israelite family was to sanctify their firstborn son (i.e., dedicate him to be a cohen), to serve God in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). After Moses rebuked the Israelites for worshiping the Golden Calf and only the Levites stepped forward to repent (Exodus 32:25-29), God took the priesthood away from the Israelites and gave it to the Levites (Numbers 1:49-53, 3:12), appointing the sons of Aaron to serve as cohanim in place of the firstborn sons of the Israelites (Numbers 3:10). He did this, not by revoking His previous commandment to sanctify each Israelite firstborn son, but by commanding that each Israelite family redeem their firstborn son from priestly service by paying a Levitical cohen five shekels of money (Numbers 3:40-51, 18:15-16).

Because underlying this Mitzvah #P4 are commandments with which Levites they can no longer comply, I could easily have omitted #P4 as being obsolete. I chose not to do so, however, because (1) the ceremony of Pidyon HaBen (redemption of the firstborn son) is universally performed among the Orthodox and many others of the Jewish people today, and (2) Yeshua's consecration (and possibly His simultaneous Pidyon HaBen) is recorded in Luke 2:22-32.

Here is how sanctification and the Pidyon HaBen ceremonies are accomplished today. There is no special ceremony for sanctifying the firstborn son, although circumcision may be thought of as a sanctification of all male Jewish children; the firstborn is simply assumed to be specially sanctified. Regarding the Pidyon HaBen: When the firstborn son of a Jewish family (not a cohen or a Levite) is 30 days old, he is taken to a Levitical cohen who receives the money equivalent of five shekels from the father, and then proceeds to bless the child with the Birkat Cohanim (the Priestly Blessing, i.e., the Aaronic Benediction). Since Temple shekelim are no longer in use, their equivalent value in silver is substituted - either special coins made for the purpose or, in the U.S., five pre-1936 silver dollars (26.73 grams of 90% silver).

This Mitzvah #P4 is based upon Scriptures that assume a functioning Temple priesthood (and there is none today). Nevertheless, I believe it is important for Messianic Jews to comply ceremonially in the classical Jewish way for three reasons: (1) without it, there is no closure regarding the priestly status of firstborn male Israelites beyond their general Jewish identity; (2) without it (and one or two other functions reserved for cohanim), there is ambiguity regarding the continuing priestly status of today's descendants of Aaron (i.e. Levitical cohanim); and (3) there is value in our being in solidarity with the rest of the Jewish world on this. I do not, however, believe that failing to comply with this Mitzvah #P4 in this New Covenant age is sin.

The ceremony of Pidyon HaBen only has meaning when performed within non-Levitical Jewish families. Although it is traditionally the responsibility of a firstborn son's Jewish father, in Messianic Jewish families it may also be performed by his Jewish mother or by himself when he comes of age. The Pidyon HaBen has no historic or spiritual value at all for Gentiles, and no New Covenant parallel.

Commentators:
Although Meir quotes Scripture that speaks of our need to sanctify the firstborn of men and animals, his remarks refer only to kosher animals, of which we are to say: "This is hereby holy." He says that if we do not consecrate a firstborn kosher animal it is, nevertheless, holy. He also says that because there is no Temple, the firstborn animals must be left to graze until they develop a defect, and must then be given to a cohen. Regarding the Pidyon HaBen, Meir confirms that it is to be performed after thirty days by families who are neither cohanim nor Levites and, if a firstborn son has no father, he must redeem himself after he comes of age; Chinuch says this also of a son who has a father, but the father does not redeem him. Maimonides and Chinuch agree with Meir on all matters, and specifically state that the Pidyon HaBen is to be performed by the father - not by the mother. Both Maimonides and Chinuch state that the consecration of cattle is to occur only in the Land of Israel, whereas Meir is silent on that.

NCLA: JMm JFm (non-cohanim); KMi KFi GMi GFi

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