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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bo(72)

Exodus 13:2, 13

20 Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first that opens the womb, among the Children of Israel of man and animal is Mine.

13) Every first issue of the donkey, you shall redeem with a lamb or a kid, if you do no redeem it you shall break the back of its neck; and every first born of man among your sons you shall redeem.


Rashi: Five selayim (shekalim) are its redemption, which is designated in another place (Numbers 18:16).

What is the verse (and Rashi) saying?

This is the Pidyon Haben that every first born male Jew (not of the tribe of Levi) undergoes after he is a month old.


A Question: When we compare our verse and Rashi with a Rashi-comment in Numbers 8:17 we have a difficult question.

Your Question:


There Rashi says the following on the Torah's words "for Me is every first born":


Mine were the first born according to law, for I defended them (when I smote the Egyptian first born) and I took them for Myself (a level of holiness to serve in the Temple) until they sinned at the Golden Calf, and now "take the Levites" [in place of the first born]

If the holiness of the first born was taken from them and given to Levites only after they sinned at the Golden Calf, then why now in our verse are they to be redeemed by a Levite - this was even before they sinned?

This is a difficult question.

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:


An Answer: In fact we must say that our verse (before they sinned) is telling us that the first born can be redeemed of his duties as a priest in the Temple by an act of redemption. But apparently this was not obligatory, because the first born was still "kosher."

But later after they had sinned they were forbidden to serve in the Temple and thus they had to be redeemed. That is what the second Rashi (in Numbers 8:17) is referring to.


So apparently there were two stages in the changing of the guards between the first born and the Levites. First after the Exodus they were not obligated to serve; they could be redeemed if they so chose.

But after they sinned they were barred from serving and had to be redeemed by he Kohen (of the tribe of Levi).

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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