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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


In this week's parsha, the Torah lists the various gifts that are given to the Kohain. Among them we find the five shekalim that a father gives the Kohain for the redemption of his firstborn son. At the ceremony of the Pidyon Haben, the redemption of the firstborn, the Kohain asks the father the following question: "Mai ba'it tfay?" - "Which do you prefer? Would you rather keep the five shekalim or take the child?" At first glance, this appears to be a ludicrous question, for no father would choose the money over his son. Furthermore, the implication that the father has the option of leaving his son with the Kohain in exchange for keeping the money is not halachically correct; the Torah requires a father to redeem his son. Additionally, the child is not the property of the Kohain, and if, theoretically, the father would refuse to redeem his child, the Kohain would have no claim to that child. So what did the Rabbis have in mind when they incorporated this question into the Pidyon Haben ceremony?

Possibly they mean to bring to our attention the unfortunate fact that some people go through life choosing money over children. We continuously rationalize working late or conducting business that keeps us away from our children. We claim that we are doing so for their benefit, even when living a more moderate lifestyle that enables us to have more of an impact on our children would be infinitely more beneficial for them. The notion that we are helping our children by providing them with material benefits is really a rationalization for choosing the money over the child. The Rabbis are challenging parents to be more discriminating in evaluating their motivations. When does money stop being a necessity that provides for the well-being of the family and become a luxury that may inhibit a parent's involvement in the development of his or her child?