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The Money or the Box?

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What? Is the rabbi turning TV quiz show host? Has he become a gambling man?
by RABBI YOSSY GOLDMAN | Feb 02, 2017

Believe it or not, this rabbi is talking about what all good traditional rabbis talk about - the parsha. Have no fear; the Bible isn’t going to Vegas. The Money or the Box really does relate to the 10th Plague G-d visited upon Egypt prior to the Exodus.

The final, devastating Plague of the First-Born saw the Israelite first-born spared. Therefore, they are eternally indebted to G-d for their very lives. So ever since then, the firstborn of Israel “belong to G-d”. And that’s why this parsha gives us the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen, the Redemption of the First-born.

In a tradition that is practised to this day, when the first-born is a male, the father together with a Kohen - who as minister in the Temple would serve as the Almighty’s agent - perform a redemption ceremony after the child has passed his first month of life. This is known as Pidyon HaBen.

In this quaint and curious ceremony, a fascinating dialogue takes place between father and Kohen. The child is brought in and the father makes the following declaration to the Kohen.

“My Israelite wife has borne me this first-born son.” Whereupon the Kohen asks the million-dollar question: “Which would you rather have - your first-born son or the five silver shekels you are obligated to give me for his redemption?”

The gathered crowd waits in suspense to hear the father’s response. What will he choose? To keep the five silver shekels and give the hassles of newborns, midnight nappy changes and future school fees to the Kohen, or will he keep his child and hand over the shekels?

Thankfully, Jewish fathers have always made the correct choice, albeit sometimes with a little gentle prodding from their wives.

Now I ask you, is this not ridiculous? ‘The money or the kid? This is a serious question? Which normal father is going to willingly give away his child to save a few bucks? What is the point of this discussion? Why engage in ancient, obsolete ceremonies that seemingly have no relevance?

The answer is that it is very relevant. The Money or the Child means much more than just here and now at the ceremony on Day 31 of this boy’s life.

The Kohen is asking the father a very serious question. “Throughout your child’s life, what will be most important to you? Will it be money, materialism and acquiring more status symbols than your friends, or will it be your children and your family life?

“Where will your priorities lie? Will you slave away building up your business and become an absentee dad? And you, Mom, will you while away the days drinking cappuccino and doing your nails or will you be personally involved in raising your children, teaching and nurturing them?”

That is the Kohen’s question. And based on experience, every father should think very carefully before he will answer that question, hopefully in the affirmative.

So, the next time you’re invited to attend a Pidyon HaBen ceremony and you hear that seemingly preposterous question being asked: ‘Do you prefer the money or the child?’ don’t laugh, don’t snicker, don’t grimace, and don’t even giggle.

Be dead serious. Because a Jewish father is about to decide the future for his family and indeed for our people. Let’s hope he makes the right choice.

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