Celebration for firstborn son

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please explain what is a pindon haven? My nephew, who has become religious, is having one for his son and invited us, and I’d like to know ahead of time what is coming but I was embarrassed to ask him directly.
Much appreciated,
Mark K.
Dear Mark,
What you are referring to is a Pidyon Haben, or “redemption of the firstborn,” which is a ceremony performed upon a firstborn son. It is performed on his 31st day, about 3½ weeks after the bris. This is a very special mitzvah for me, as my son in Jerusalem recently performed this ceremony upon his son, the elder of twin boys!
This ceremony is the fulfillment of a mitzvah in the Torah, “Every issue of a womb of any flesh that they offer to Hashem … but you shall surely redeem the firstborn of man…Those that are to be redeemed, from one month shall you redeem … five silver shekels by the sacred shekel…” (Numbers 18:15-16).
What is done, in a nutshell, is the following. Usually it begins with a meal, with everyone washing for bread. (Already sounds very Jewish!) This meal, besides family and friends, is attended by an observant Cohen, or a man from the tribe of Jewish priests.
The star of the show, the baby, is brought out. Traditionally, in honor of the mitzvah, the baby is wearing special white clothing. He is brought in on a silver platter, decked out with sugar cubes and cloves of garlic, which are signs of blessing.
The Torah says that the father “redeems” his firstborn son by giving the five silver shekels mentioned above to the Cohen. The coins are given over after a “discussion” between the father and the Cohen, where the father tells the Cohen he would like to redeem his son.
A blessing is recited by the father and the coins given over to the Cohen, whereupon the Cohen puts his hands upon the baby and blesses him with the traditional priestly blessing, and then drinks from a cup of wine.
(Although I couldn’t be in Jerusalem for this occasion in person, I participated by acquiring five silver dollars from Rabbi Yisroel Katz, our resident Cohen, and sent them with my wife to be used for the mitzvah!)
After that, mazal tovs are in order, and, of course, the meal continues! By the way, this is not just any Jewish meal; the Talmud says that the merit is so great in partaking of that meal that it carries the merit of fasting 84 fasts (for one who potentially would have needed to fast for his or her sins)!
A bit of insight. The Torah says that the firstborn son is considered sanctified from birth (Exodus 13:2). It was originally ordained that the firstborn would perform the Temple services and would be the holy emissaries of God.
This was lost at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, where many firstborn were implicated along with the rest of the Jewish people. Only the Levite tribe, of which the Cohanim were members, were free of any association with the Golden Calf. God then transferred the Temple service to the Cohanim in place of the firstborn, and the remainder of the tribe of Levi were also given many Temple responsibilities.
Since the firstborn was originally intended to be the messenger of God and still retains some of that holiness (indeed it is said that in the future Messianic time the firstborn will return to their original intention), it is incumbent upon us to “redeem” that holiness upon the silver coins and present them to the Cohen.
There are many deeper and profound messages within this mitzvah which are out of the purview of this column (since we’re out of room!), but I hope this helps, and mazal tov on your great-nephew!

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