Today, observant Jews conduct a ceremony for their firstborn sons, called the Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the Son), based on Numbers 18:15-18. Rabbis can explain why five shekels were selected as the redemption amount (v. 16). Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn son, was sold by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver, the equivalent of five shekels (see Gen. 37:28). Therefore, five shekels are given to the priest to redeem the son back. The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Hei, and was the letter God inserted into Abram’s name, changing it to Abraham (see Gen. 17:5). In Christian theology the number five represents the grace of God.

The Jewish custom of the redemption of the firstborn son begins when the infant is at least thirty-one days old. God wanted all men in Israel to be a nation of priests (see Exod. 19:6). After Israel sinned with the golden calf, God selects Levi as the single priestly tribe. By providing the five shekels to the priest, the father could redeem his first- born son from entering the priesthood. It also reminds the Jews that God preserved the firstborn sons of the Hebrew family on the night the destroying angel entered Egypt (see Exod. 12).

The Silver Tray, Jewelry, and Coins

Normally, ten men are present for the ceremony. The priest (rabbi) asks the father if he would prefer the child or the five shekels he must pay. The father says, “the child,” recites a blessing, and gives the silver coins to the priest. Holding the coins over the infant, the priest declares the redemption is paid. He blesses the child, then returns him to the parents. He usually returns the coins to the child as a gift. A festive meal follows the ceremony, sometimes including the distribution of sugar cubes and garlic cloves.

At times the child is placed on a blanket on a silver tray and surrounded by jewelry borrowed from women in attendance. This could allude to the time when the Hebrews left Egypt and borrowed jewelry from their Egyptian neighbors (see Exod. 12:35-36).

Girls are not excluded from experiencing their own naming ceremony, called Zeved HaBat among the Sephardic Jews and Simchat Bat among the Ashkenazi sect. These ceremonies often occur within the first month of a girl’s birth and can be celebrated privately in the synagogue or at a party at home. A rabbi and a cantor often participate.

The various Jewish traditions and customs involving children are too numerous to elaborate. However, some customs include lighting seven candles—representing the seven days of creation—while the infant is held or wrapped in the four corners of a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). Other customs involve lifting the baby and touching its hands to the Torah Scroll. These detailed rituals stem from the command to redeem the firstborn found in Numbers 18.

From Page 298 of the Perry Stone Hebraic Prophetic Old Testament Study Bible

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