With all the makkos that were given to the Egyptians, none of them compared to Makkas Bechoros, The Killing of the Firstborn. Even before the makkos began, Moshe warned Paroh that this would be the end result if he didn’t send out Bnei Yisrael. One commentary says that the only true punishment given to the Egyptians for their treatment of Bnei Yisrael was Makkas Bechoros, the first nine were only in order to harden Paroh’s heart. And as we see, it was indeed enough to drive Paroh over the edge and chase Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim.
When Hashem decreed that every firstborn in Mitzrayim would die, this plague was only intentioned to be against the Egyptians. However, the fact that a distinction was made between the Jewish and non-Jewish firstborns, the Torah teaches us that every Jewish firstborn became “Kodesh”, set aside specifically for holy occupations, in return for Hashem ‘sparing’ their lives. They became obligated as Hashem’s ‘property’, similar to if someone consecrated a field, an animal, or a utensil in the times of the Beis Hamikdash. The Seforno even explains that in their state, they wouldn’t be allowed to do anything besides for holy work. The end of the parsha then introduces us to the concept of Pidyon HaBen.
Like other items belonging to Hekdesh, the firstborn animals and humans technically belong to the Kohanim from the moment of birth. The animals are brought as korbanos (unless they are not eligible to be such) while the humans are redeemed. At thirty days old, the first-born son of every non-Kohen or Levi is redeemed by his father from the Kohen, thereby removing his holy status and allowing him to participate in mundane activities.
You would think that this would be the saddest day of this young boy’s life. All our lives we work hard to reach a level of holiness where our actions are totally devoted towards Hashem, and where we ourselves can become vessels of kedushah. This boy is born naturally with this life mission and it’s taken away from him right away, requiring him to have to work the same as the rest of us to reach this level of kedushah. And yet, the first thing we do following a Pidyon HaBen is have a seudah! What exactly are we celebrating?
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky explains that there is a fundamental belief being revealed here. Each one of us is made up of a physical body and a spiritual neshama. The simple understanding would be that while they share space, their functions remain completely separate. The body takes care of all physical needs and activities, while the neshama does the same for all things spiritual. Their tasks never overlap in any form. This is a mistake.
The fact that Hashem placed the body and soul together means that each one is supposed to participate in the functions of the other; the spiritual and mundane responsibilities are supposed to be accomplished by the body and soul working together. If a person would be either completely physical or completely spiritual, even if they would fulfill all their physical and spiritual goals, they would not be fulfilling their life’s purpose.
Before this baby is redeemed, he is designated to be completely holy and has the ability to accomplish great spiritual things; however, this is not the purpose of the human being. We are not meant to be completely spiritual. Hashem placed a holy neshama within our physical body in order that it should become part of the physical world and raise it up to the highest levels of the spiritual world. Now that this baby has been redeemed and has the ability to participate in mundane activities, he is now able to accomplish his true purpose in this world in raising the physical up to those lofty spiritual heights. That is why we celebrate his redemption.
As they left Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisrael were on an extremely low spiritual level. However, in just a few weeks, they were able to raise themselves up until they were worthy of accepting the Torah. Our purpose in this world is to take what we were given, a physical existence, and combine it with a fantastic gift, our holy neshama, and turn this world into a place fitting for both to exist. We are meant to raise the mundane to holiness, and within us is the ability to make the world perfect. Recognize this and be motivated to become all we can.
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