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.
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