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The Five-Dollar BabyBased on a talk by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Rav Zeidel Epstein, ztl, Mashgiach of Torah Ore.
Every firstborn of the womb of any creature, which they present to the Lord, whether of man or beast, shall be yours. However, you shall redeem the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. Its redemption [shall be performed] from the age of a month, according to the valuation, five shekels of silver, according to the holy shekel…. (Bamidbar 18:15,16)
At a Pidyon Ha-Ben the Kohen asks the father a totally unbelievable question. The father declares to the Kohen that this is his firstborn son. Then the Cohen asks the father, "Which do you prefer: to give me your firstborn son or to redeem him for five shekels?" Did you hear what was just said?! We take this new father, and ask him, which is more important to him, his son or five shekels! How we can ask him such a question? I've always wanted to know what would happen if someone told the Kohen to take the baby. We've never heard of such a response. Of course, everyone knows that the father wants his baby. And even if he wanted to say it, he wouldn't. So what kind of question is that, to ask him, "Do you want your child?" But everyone stands there respectfully, with the Rabbi and all the honorable guests, and the Kohen takes his money, and we have never heard anyone ever question the ceremony. Someone should speak up, "What's going on here?! You're making fun of this new father by asking him such a silly question."
The answer is that we are not merely asking him a simple question if he wants the baby or the five shekels. We are telling him, "Listen, you, new father, you're now entering a new stage of your life. You've just become a father. You've just become a teacher. You now have to run a household. The first thing you have to know is that there is a very important question: which do you want more? Do you want the child more, or do you want the five shekels more?" This question accompanies the father and mother the whole day, the whole year, their whole lives.
There comes the day they have to choose a kindergarten. But there are two kindergartens. One has good children from good homes, and the other is okay, but not as good. So what is the question? How much does the better kindergarten charge? They take five dollars more each month. The other one is cheaper. "Five dollars! Oy vey. Five dollars isn't really that much money. But it adds up. Every month five dollars! What does he need the kindergarten for anyway? He's only going to play. He can stay at home and play. Five dollars is money. I'll take the cheaper one." What was the deciding factor? Five dollars.
Then they have to move. They have to buy a house. There are two homes to choose from. One is in a better neighborhood, a religious section. But it costs $5,000 more than the other one. What is going to be the deciding factor? The chinuch of the children or the price? "Which do you prefer more? Your child or the gelt?" And so we inform this new father: Yungerman! Now you're entering life as a father. You have to remember this very basic principle: you are constantly being asked, "Which do you want more?" And this decision that you have to make now at the Pidyon Ha-Ben you'll be making for the rest of your life.
So you see that this question of whether the new father wants the five shekels or not is not such a simple one. We are asking him a very deep question that he has to internalize into his very being and remember his whole life. In the end, as simple as it appears, it is a nisayon. "Which do you really prefer?" A person has a tendency to be nearsighted. He doesn't think into what the future has in store for him and his family. He only sees what is in front of his eyes: a few dollars. So what happens a year later when his wife gives birth to another child? Again he doesn't think into it so deeply. And so, his entire life he is repeatedly being asked this very basic but critical question, what is more important? If he is nearsighted, he turns the question into, what is going to be with my parnossa? How am I going to make it? And so he makes his decision in favor of the five dollars.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network