Pidyon Haben-Redemption of the First Born

The Power of Kiddush Hashem-Sanctifying Hashem’s Name

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

I already wrote about the birth of my first grandson, Shmuel and his Bris-Circumcision [see “My First Grandson”].

Now, since he was the firstborn son of his Mother, Shmuel also had the privilege of having a Pidyon Haben-Redemption of the Firstborn.

When he became a month old his father had to redeem him by giving at least five biblical silver shekels to the Kohen [between 5-7 silver dollars].

Hashem commanded Moshe, [Shemos-Exodus 13:2] “Sanctify for Me every firstborn, the first issue of every womb among the Children of Israel, both of man and of beast, is Mine.”

In the commentary of the Artscroll Siddur [p.235 in Nusach Sefard] it says “ The Torah has taught us that Hashem laid claim to all firstborn Jews at the time that He slew the firstborn Egyptians….”

He also brings from the Sefer Hachinuch [Mitzvah 18],

“This mitzvah teaches man to dedicate his very first achievements to G-D. Although firstborn children, like first fruits, are the culmination of much yearning, labor, and sacrifice, and it is human nature to want them for oneself, the Torah wants us to recognize that they are a gift from G-D and should be dedicated to His service. Thus, man redeems his firstborn.”
On 21, Tammuz, 5765-July 28, 2005 we had the festive occasion at Yeshivas Neveh Zion. Of course, they wouldn’t let me, the grandfather, get away without speaking [actually, I wouldn’t let them get away without having me speak]. There were also two other distinguished speakers, Rabbi Nisson Kaplan, the officiating Kohen, and Rabbi Peretz Tarshish. I will share with you some of the insights that were spoken about.

First I thanked Yeshivat Neveh Zion. It goes without saying that after being in the Yeshivah for almost 28 years, I had the opportunity to make many of my simchos-festive occasions there. [I also saved a lot of money this way]. Then I spoke about the topic of Kiddush Hashem-Sanctification of Hashem’s Name.

We saw that the firstborn received a special kedusha-sanctity. In fact, the Daf Yomi [world-wide program of learning one page of Gemoro-Talmud a day] of the day of the Pidyon Haben was Shabbos 87. The Gemoro there says, 87b that the Kohanim started officiating at the service about a year after they left Egypt. Rashi [s.v. Rishon LeKehuna] points out that till then the firstborns officiated. Now, the question is, what did they do to deserve such a special sanctity?

The Sefer-“Tuvicha Yabiu” Vol I p. 216, in the name of the Chofetz Chaim, and the Sefer “Chochmoh U’Mussar” from Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv [the “Alter of Kelm”], Vol II p.344-45, both say the same amazing point.

The answer is, that the Firstborn did absolutely nothing. Hashem killed out all the Egyptian Firstborn by Himself. However, since the Kiddush Hashem could not have come about only by the death of the Egyptian firstborn, but also by the fact that the Jewish firstborn did not die, consequently a great Kiddush Hashem occurred by the passive fact that the Jewish firstborn remained alive. This is why they merited a special sanctity. [I added as a side point, that this answers why the sanctity was given to the the actual firstborns who existed during the Exodus. But why was the sanctity extended to the firstborns of the subsequent generations? No Kiddush Hashem came about through them!

It could be that the answer lies in the Sefer Hachinuch. It says in Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 18 that by every Pidyon Haben “…we remember the great miracle that Hashem did concerning the Egyptian Firstborn, that He killed them and saved us from their hands." So, in fact, every time we have a Firstborn son we sanctify Hashem’s name by remembering the miracle of the Firstborn of Egypt. That is maybe why they also receive a special sanctity].

The “Chochmo U’Mussar,” wrote this point in a letter to the legendary Baron Rothschild, and stressed that certainly one [like Baron Rothschild] who actively makes a Kiddush Hashem through his money and actions will certainly merit to much greater reward and sanctity.

Then he goes a step further [I must give special credit to Rabbi Krohn’s tape on Kiddush Hashem. Through that tape I was referred to many of the sources listed here]. The following I also saw in the “Kedushas Levi,” by the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Berditchiver in the Klalei Hanisim, and in “Emes L’Yaacov,” by Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky,ztl. p. 159-160.

They bring an amazing Gemoro in Sanhedrin 96b that tells us, “…the great- grandchildren of Sisera learned Torah in Yerushalaim! The great- granchildren of Sancheirev taught Torah in public. And who were these great teachers? Shmaya and Avtalyon! The great-grandchildren of Haman learned Torah in Bnei Brak!….”

This is quite puzzling. These men were three of the cruelest arch enemies of the Jewish people, whose aim was to destroy them. How could they be granted the great privilege of having their great-grandchildren convert and find the true light of Torah! What merit did they have to deserve such a great thing?

Again, we see from here the great power of a Kiddush Hashem. These extremely wicked people intended to destroy the Jewish people. Despite this, since ultimately they were destroyed and caused a tremendous Kiddush Hashem [who doesn’t know about the downfall of Haman and the miracle of Purim?] it goes to their credit, so much so, that they merited that their later generations should learn Torah.

With this fascinating point, I wanted to answer another puzzling question.

One of my Rebbeim, Rabbi Zeidel Epstien shlita, he should have a refuah shleima, wrote in his sefer “Haoros” on Chumash Breshis-Genesis p. 102 an amazing fact.

We all know the greatness of the main talmid of Avrohom Avinu, Eliezer the faithful servant and student of Avraham, who disseminated the teachings of Avraham to others. We also know that he came from Canaan. What we may not realize is who his illustrious father was.

Rabbi Epstien brings the Targum Yehonoson in Breishis-Genesis 14:14 who reveals to us that his father was none other than the infamous Nimrod, the very one who threw Avraham into the fiery furnace!

Rabbi Epstien marvels, “In truth this is a wonder of wonders. Nimrod was the great fighter against Avraham, who chased him and eventually threw him in the furnace. Yet, despite all of this, he was the one who brought into the world Eliezer the servant of Avraham who would draw his master’s Torah and teach it to others! We see here in the ways of Hashem, that it’s possible that specifically from this very person, who fought with all of his might against Avraham, should come out Eliezer the servant and great talmid of Avraham.”

He then cites the Gemoro [that I brought before] with Haman’s great – grandchildren learning Torah in Bnei Brak as another example of the wondrous ways of Hashem.

Based on what we said before, about the fact that these wicked people eventually caused a Kiddush Hashem despite their evil intentions, we maybe can also apply it to Nimrod. There is no question that his intention of throwing Avraham into the furnace was totally evil. None the less, ultimately it caused a great Kiddush Hashem. The miracle of Avraham coming out alive showed the others the truth of Hashem. Perhaps, in that merit he received the great reward of having a son like Eliezer.

The bottom line is, now that we see the great power of even a passive Kiddush Hashem, and our evil intentions notwithstanding, we must live our lives in such a way that we are constantly a shining example of an active Kiddush Hashem.

We also have to understand that “Kiddush Hashem” doesn’t only refer to the three mitzvos that we have to give up our lives for, idolatry, murder, and adultery. Rather we are talking about our daily actions while living our everyday life. As it says in “Love Your Neighbor,” p.317 who quotes the Rambam-Maimonidies (Hilchos Yesodei Torah 5:11),

“If a Torah scholar will be careful about his behavior, will speak pleasantly to people, act friendly toward them, receive them with a pleasant facial expression [try to remember these things next time you go on a bus, what a surprise and Kiddush Hashem you’ll make if you smile and say “Good morning”, and thank you to the bus driver-my note], will refrain from retorting when he is insulted, will honor even those who treat him with disdain, will be honest in his business dealings, will constantly devote himself to Torah study, will always go beyond the letter of the law, and will avoid extremes and exaggerations, then he will be praised and beloved and others will desire to emulate him. This man has sanctified G-D…”
As the Gemoro in Yoma (86a) says that people will say about him,
“Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah. Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah. Woe to those who have not learned Torah. See how pleasant are the ways and how proper are the actions of this person who has learned Torah.”
Apparently, since I set the tone of Kiddush Hashem, the other two speakers followed suit, and they said some very beautiful and inspiring thoughts. I’m going to mention just a few.

Rabbi Nisson Kaplan, shlita, who is a well-known Maggid Shiur-Rebbi in the Mir Yeshivah, was the officiating Kohen. He told over a beautiful personal story about Kiddush Hashem.

Last summer he was in America and he made arrangements to return to Israel for Shabbos. He had a flight leaving Newark Airport Thursday afternoon at 3:30 P.M. arriving Friday morning at Ben Gurion Airport (Israel) 7:00 A.M. Since sunset on Friday afternoon in Israel [which signals the beginning of Shabbos] was 7:15 P.M. it gave him plenty of time to make it before Shabbos. However, after many delays, the final departure time from Newark was 1:00 A.M. Friday morning arriving at Ben Gurion Airport 6:30 P.M. Friday afternoon. Since Shabbos was 45 minutes later [and who knows if the flight would actually get there at 6:30 P.M.] he couldn’t take a chance and Rabbi Kaplan felt he had no choice but not to take the flight. He was resolved to remain in America for Shabbos. All the Shabbos observers didn’t take the flight, and all those who didn’t observe the Shabbos took the flight.

A young lady approached Rabbi Kaplan and said that her husband asked her to ask the Rabbi the following question. She was running a group of 50 boys and girls from “Birthright” who were supposed to be on this flight. They were not observant. If they don’t go on the plane they anyway wouldn’t observe Shabbos here and who knows if we will end up going on the trip a different time. If we do go, El Al told us that we would arrive at 6:30 P.M. be taken to a Hotel in the building [the Rabbi commented that he never knew that there was a hotel in the building] and the suitcases would be taken by gentiles. So our question is should we go or not?

The Rabbi asked that all the kids come around him. These teenagers, who were between 18-22 years old, all gathered around.

The Rabbi told them, “We’ll make a vote. There is a person here in America named Rabbi Belsky. He is the Rabbi of the OU (Union of Orthodox Rabbis). We’ll call him and follow whatever he decides. But I’m only calling him if everyone votes to follow him. They all voted to follow Rabbi Belsky’s decision. After some difficulty, Rabbi Kaplan got through and Rabbi Belsky told them not to go.

The kids obligingly agreed not to go despite the fact that the pilot threatened that they would lose their ticket and leave without taking off their suitcases. However, they told me that I at least had a place to go back to for Shabbos. They came from out of town and they don’t have a place to go. If I agree to stay with them here for Shabbos, then they won’t take the flight. Otherwise, they will take the flight. I answered them that, it’s a deal, I would stay with them for Shabbos.

We were put in the Ramada Inn in Newark, for Shabbos. I went to the manager, who was Italian, and tried to make certain requests to make as much of a semblance of Shabbos as possible. Hashem helped me, and the manager took a liking to me, and asked me what I needed. I told him that I needed a private dining room and a shul. He told me, ‘Here are the workers, tell them how to make a shul.’ They made a shul with a mechitza –partition in one of the rooms. They allowed us to kasher [make kosher] the kitchen. I called two students of mine and told them to come with their families and food for Shabbos. They even brought a Sefer Torah. The problem was they needed a safe place to put it. The doors were electric and had to remain open for Shabbos or they wouldn’t be able to get in. So, I came to the manager and I told him, ‘You know, we have here the real Bible-the REAL ONE. We need a special place to put it. They put two tables together in his office and we put the ! Sefer Torah down and covered it with a Tallis.

Just as I was leaving, I feel a tap on my back. The manager says, ‘Rabbi, when no one is around, I’m allowed to peek?’ I felt bad enough to have the Torah brought here and now a gentile is going to play with it! So I told him, ‘I’ll tell you, our religion doesn’t let it, but because you were so nice to me, I want to tell you a secret, but keep it in between us. Sometimes, if you open it without permission, it buzzes very strong. So just be careful.’ From that minute the guy didn’t go near the table.

There was one plus, because in “Birthright” all the kids had to follow everything, so it became like the Shabatton of Birthright. So leil Shabbos-Friday evening, everyone had to come to shul for the Kabbolas Shabbos-Prayer and I had a chance to speak to them.

I pointed out that in one of the stanzas of the ‘Lecho Dodi…’- ‘Come my Beloved…’ [the beautiful poem written by Rabbi Shlomo Halevy Alkabetz in honor of the Shabbos], we say ‘Likras Shabbos Lechu V’Neilicha…- ‘To greet the Shabbos, come let us go…’ I explained that when a person comes to visit his friend he never knows whether he’s welcome or not. Sometimes, if you come to the house and it is locked you know that you are not welcome. Even if it is unlocked and you can come in you are still not sure if you are welcome. But if you come and someone is waiting for you outside, then you know you’re welcome.

Shabbos comes and sometimes the door is locked, like all of you last week. Who knows where you were last Shabbos, Movies…? Sometimes, people are ready just at the last minute, and Shabbos doesn’t know if she is welcome or not. But if Shabbos comes and someone is waiting for her, she knows that she is welcome.

I want to tell you, I don’t know if again in your life you will have the opportunity to tell Shabbos, ‘Not one hour, and not two hours, but 24 hours before [on Thursday] you [waited for Shabbos and] gave up a trip to Israel without knowing if you will be getting it. We are stuck in a place without any Jews around us, just to tell Shabbos, ‘We love you, Shabbos.’ Do you know how loved Shabbos feels this week? So maybe if Shabbos feels so loved by us, maybe we will try to keep the rules together this Shabbos.’

From that minute till after Shabbos, no one desecrated the Shabbos. They didn’t use the elevators. I had the manager keep the emergency doors open [so they could use the staircase]. In fact, I was up late Friday night and I wanted to check if everyone was all right. I was going down the steps and I saw two 18 –year- old girls from the group holding hands walking up the steps so as not to desecrate the Shabbos. This was the Kiddush Hashem that just fell into my hands.”

The final speaker, was Rabbi Peretz Tarshish, another Maggid Shiur in the Mir, and a close Rebbi of my son Tzvi.

He pointed out that not only a person gets credit when doing a Kiddush Hashem without doing anything, but even an inanimate object such as a place gets credit just for helping Klal Yisroel.

He brought the Midrash in Parshas Masei [Midrash Rabbah 23:4] that says the reason why all the names of the places where the Jews camped are mentioned, is because they “accepted” them. They acted as the dwelling place for the Jews. We see from here an amazing thing. These places were recorded in the Holy Torah for eternity. They are mentioned every year when these verses are read in the Torah reading in shul. What was their merit? They passively acted as a dwelling place for the Jews.

Certainly, if we work actively to help others and make a Kiddush Hashem, then Hashem will definitely give us tremendous eternal reward and we will be sanctified.

May we merit to always be amongst those that only sanctify His Name with our actions.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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