A man holds a donkey foal (baby donkey) after the ceremony of “The Redemption of the First Born Donkey,” or “Pidyon Peter Chamor” in Hebrew. Jerusalem, March 28, 2013.
A firstborn donkey must be redeemed by a sheep, which is given to the Kohen. If this redemption is not performed, we must break the foal’s neck.
And when God takes you into the land of the Canaanites, the land He promised to give you and your ancestors, you must give Him every firstborn male. Also every firstborn male animal must be given to God. Buy back every firstborn donkey by offering a lamb. But if you don’t want to buy the donkey back, then break its neck. (Exodus 13:11-13)
“While the firstborn of a kosher animal is sanctified, and the firstborn of most non-kosher animals have no sanctity whatsoever; the donkey has an intermediate status. It is not sanctified, but it must be redeemed,” writes the OU’s Rabbi Asher Meir, who continues:
The commandment to redeem the firstborn of a donkey hints that even among the impure and wicked, who seem to be ruled y their basest instincts and have no external signs of righteousness there are those who are pure at heart and can be redeemed. The donkey has neither cloven hooves nor chews its cud and hence has no signs of purity. In this case even the firstborn itself is not inherently holy but merely has a potential to be redeemed in the service of holiness; the firstborn donkey may be redeemed with a sheep but need not be.
However, truly wicked drives can’t be in themselves good. They can be redeemed, that is transformed, into holiness, as symbolized by the redemption on the sheep; if this redemption is not performed, then they need to be utterly stamped out, symbolized by the breaking of the neck.