For One Day Only: $1=$4, Thanks to Matching from BIG Donors
Freedom is not free. There is a price to pay.
When God spared the Jews from the death of the firstborn, the price was and still is that all firstborns, bechorot, belong to God. “On the day that I struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified every firstborn in Israel for Myself, from man to beast they shall be Mine.”
There are three categories of bechorot.
The first is the human bechor. Every son, firstborn to his mother, belongs to and has to be redeemed by God’s representative, the kohen, through the pidyon haben ceremony in which the father, or the bechor himself, purchases the firstborn back from the kohen for 5 sela’im coins. The determining factor as to whether a person is a bechor requiring pidyon haben is if he is the firstborn of his mother, not his father.
Accordingly, a son first born to a woman who married a man who already had a son from a previous marriage is a bechor for the purpose of requiring pidyon haben even though he is not a bechor for the purposes of receiving a double portion in his father’s estate for which privilege, the determining factor is being the firstborn of the father.
The second type of bechor is the firstborn offspring of certain kosher animals. The male cow, sheep or goat firstborn to its mother belongs to the kohen and is known as bechor behemah tehorah. It acquires the status of bechor at birth and, unlike the human bechor who is redeemed, the bechor behemah tehorah is actually offered on the outer altar as a korban. Contrary to other animals that have to be declared holy before they are offered as a sacrifice to God, the bechor behemah tehorah automatically assumes the status of an offering, a korban, without having to be declared holy, even though there is a mitzvah for its owner to do so.
The korban bechor behemah tehorah belongs to the less holy category of kodashim kalim, and is therefore free from the many restrictions that apply to the holier forms of sacrifice known as kodshei kodashim, holy of holies. Accordingly, the korban bechor may be slaughtered anywhere within the Temple courtyard and not exclusively in the northern part. The blood of the korban bechor was applied by sprinkling it once on the altar. Except for those parts, (the fat, the kidneys and the liver known as the eimurim) which were burned on the altar, the korban bechor was eaten entirely and exclusively by the kohanim.
Unlike kodhsei kodashim that could only be eaten within the confines of the Temple Courtyard, the korban bechor could be eaten anywhere in Jerusalem. Unlike kodshei kodashim, which could only be eaten during the day of its slaughter until midnight, the korban bechor could be eaten during the day of its slaughter, throughout the following night and through the next day until nightfall.
As soon as it is born, the bechor behemah tehorah, even today, is automatically considered kodesh, sanctified to the kohen. As such, it may not be slaughtered for food, shorn for its wool or worked in any way. It can only be used as a korban. This presents a problem. Today, in the absence of the Temple, the animal cannot be sacrificed. It would have to be left out to pasture. But the risk of somebody erring and using this sanctified animal for secular use is high. Accordingly, the rabbis have devised a way whereby the bechor behemah tehorah today, will not be born in its sanctified state.
This is achieved by selling a part ownership in the mother, before the birth of the firstborn, to a non-Jew. Since it is only the firstborn of an animal owned solely by a Jew that renders the firstborn sanctified, it follows that if the mother is partially owned by a non-Jew, the firstborn is not considered holy at birth and is free for secular use. In view of the fact that there is a difference of opinion among the Rishonim as to how a non-Jew acquires from a Jew property in an animal, (according to Rashi, the payment of money alone is sufficient and according to Rabbeinu Tam the animal must be pulled along) the Rema requires that the non-Jew both pay money and pull the animal along.
The third category of bechor and the only non-kosher animal to achieve this status is the petter chamor, the firstborn offspring of a donkey, provided it is a male. Because the donkey is a non-kosher animal, it is not eligible to be offered up as a korban. Rather, it must be redeemed by exchanging it with a sheep or goat of any gender belonging to the owner of the donkey. Following such redemption, the donkey no longer has the status of a bechor and may be used by its owner for any purpose as if it never was a bechor. The sheep or goat for which it was exchanged and given to the kohen also possesses no sanctity and the kohen may use it for any purpose unrelated to the Temple. Alternatively, if the owner of the donkey possesses no sheep or goat with which to redeem the donkey, he may redeem it with anything of value equal to the value of the donkey.
According to certain commentators, the donkey is singled out for the status of a bechor because it was a vehicle for the transport of material possessions. In fact, we are told that when the people of Israel left Egypt, they had no time to harness wagons but loaded all their possessions on donkeys. If we wish to avoid turning ourselves into a vehicle that merely transports wealth from person to person and from generation to generation, and if we wish to leave this world with some spiritual heritage of our own, we must demonstrate our recognition of the source of our wealth by giving up some of our possessions to the service of God.
Raphael Grunfeld’s book “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Judaica bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.
Any comments to the writer are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author:
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
17th of Tammuz: Beginning 3 weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
With Ruth, The Torah seems to be stating that children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of parents
Without a foundation, one cannot hope to build a structure.
Question: Should we wash our hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or by pouring water from a vessel with handles three times, alternating hands? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning upon awakening. What are the rules pertaining to young children? What is the protocol if no vessel is available? Additionally, may we dry our hands via an electric dryer?
This Land Is ‘My’ Land
‘[If The Vow Was Imposed] In The Seventh Year…’
The Shulchan Aruch in the very first siman states that one should rise in the morning like a lion, implying that simply rising form bed requires strength of a lion, in line with the Midrash.
Attempts to interpret the message of Hashem in the absence of divine prophecy ultimately may twist that message in unintended ways that can lead to calamitous events.
Suddenly, the pilot’s voice could be heard. He explained that this was a special day for those passengers on board who lived in Israel.
If the sick person is thrust into a situation where he is compelled to face his sickness head on, we who are not yet sick can encourage him by facing it with him.
All agree that Jews ARE different. How? Why? The Bible’s answer is surprising and profound.
What’s the nation of Israel’s purpose in the world? How we can bring God’s blessings into the world?
“Is there a difference between rescuing and other services?” asked Ploni.
To my dismay, I’ve seen that shidduch candidates with money become ALL desirable traits for marriage
Israeli physician Dr. Yuval Rabinovich reviews possible reasons ‘why we have never met aliens.’
Widening “Highway 1″ has unearthed the church, oil lamps, a mosaic floor and mother-of-pearl shells.
Bennett preached unity, but Herzog scolded him for crossing the “red line” in the elections.
Iran tried to buy UN-banned products in the Czech Republic but was caught and stopped, Reuters reports exclusively.
Special needs artists showed their talent at Jewish Children’s Museum on Mother’s Day in New York.
The test was planned, but the Defense Ministry is mum on details.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/bechorot-the-price-of-freedom/2011/11/17/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: