Pidyon Ha’Ben, literally means the “redemption of the first born son.” The Pidyon HaBen takes place when a baby is at least 31 days old, and involves “buying him back” from a Kohen in order to release him from the obligation of serving in the Temple. (see Numbers 18:15)
This Mitzvah can be traced back to the sin of the Golden Calf. Before the sin the first born of each Jewish family was chosen to be a Kohen – a Jewish priest – who would serve as his family’s representative to the Holy Temple. (Exodus 13:1-2, Exodus 24:5 with Rashi). However when the Jewish males sinned in the incident of the Golden Calf, the first born sons lost their “Kohen” status. Only the tribe of Levi who abstained from the sin were granted the roles of serving as priests in the Temple. (Numbers 3:11-12). Since the first-born son is technically a “Kohen” whose potential cannot be actualized, he has to be replaced (so to speak) by a Kohen from the tribe of Levi. This is accomplished at the Pidyon HaBen ceremony when the father of the baby boy offers the Kohen a redemptive value of five silver coins for the boy.
Some other reasons for performing the Pidyon HaBen
- At the time of the ten plagues God spared the Jewish first born while He killed the Egyptian first born.
- A person cherishes his first born, and this is a fitting time to acknowledge that all that we have in fact belongs to God.