Our Children Are Not Our Children
Have you ever been to a Jewish celebration known as “The redeeming of the first born” (“Pidyon Haben”)?
It’s a very peculiar ritual, in which a father brings his 31 day-old son to a Cohen, and declares that this child is his wife’s first naturally born child. Following that, the father places the monetary equivalent of about a dollar and a half before the Cohen, and the Cohen asks the father more or less the following: “What do you prefer, to give me your child, or to let me keep the money you just placed before me?”
“Astonishingly”, the father opts for the child…What is the significance of this seemingly strange ritual? The redeeming of the first born ritual, which appears in this week’s parashat, is a mitzvah, which comes to remind us that the Almighty is the source of all life, and that God also has spiritual dominion and sovereignty over all. The spiritual vocation of humanity is akin to that of a guard who is entrusted with God’s world. God is the true owner of all of being. Whatever a man gains is ultimately not his, but God’s. As we find in Tehilim 24: “To the Almighty is the earth and its fullness, the world and all who dwell therein”.
Such is the profound message of the redeeming of the first born ritual: Our children are the most formidable and blessed guardianship which the Almighty placed in our hands, without ever giving us any rights of ownership over them. They are not “our” children; they are a sacred trust, to nurture and to cultivate, and to prepare for adult Jewish life, a life of Torah and ma’asim tovim, a life of illuminating God’s world with spirituality and good deeds.