Tag Archives: Pidyon Haben

Commentary for Bo

18 Jan

This week’s parshah picks up where last week’s left off, with the final three of the ten plagues. First locusts, then darkness, but Pharaoh will not release the Israelites from slavery. Then Moses announces the slaying of the firstborn, and still Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go. God follows through on the threat, and at midnight on the fourteen of Nissan, God smote every Egyptian firstborn, from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low, and even the firstborn of the cattle which the Egyptians worshipped as gods, and finally Pharaoh agreed to set the Israelites free.


The parshah then continues by giving us various mitzvot related to the commemoration of the exodus from Egypt. The institution of Passover as an annual holiday, it’s various associated dietary restrictions, instructions for how to eat the paschal sacrifice, and the commandment to teach the story of our redemption from slavery to future generations are all found here. We are even commanded to put a passage regarding the exodus in our tefillin to remind us of the exodus even on days where we don’t remind ourselves of it by saying Kiddush.


Also included in this bunch is the mitzvah of redemption of the firstborn. The firstborn of all cattle is to be given over to God. If it is not given to God, it must be killed. It may be exchanged to the priest for a donkey (a much less useful animal since it is not kosher and thus neither its meat or milk can be used), but no matter what happens, its human owners will get no use of the animal. Additionally, every male Israelite who emerges from the womb and is his mother’s first child is also considered to be given over in service to God as a priest, and must be redeemed by his parents for a monetary price.


This mitzvah, dealing with the two categories of beings that were struck down in the tenth plague, teaches us how we are different from Pharaoh. While both we and the Egyptians use cattle in our worship, we Jews are not willing to sacrifice our children. While the Egyptians were willing to sacrifice their own children in order to not give up having his Israelite slaves (one midrash even portrays the Egyptian firstborn rebelling upon hearing Pharaoh’s decision, leading to a civil war), we Jews are willing to make sacrifices for our children. When it comes to our children, we are taught not to make decisions base don our own greed as Pharaoh does, but based on our love for them.