YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them.
From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a
Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.
Last week we studied the gemara's discussion of the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the firstborn). The topic originally came up because it is one of a number of mitzvot that fathers are obligated to perform vis-à-vis their sons. The gemara first analyzes the source of a father's obligation in this mitzva, establishes that if he does not redeem his son then the child is obligated to redeem himself when he comes of age, and that mothers are exempt from this obligation. The gemara follows that discussion with a comparison of a father's obligation to redeem his son and one's obligation to redeem oneself if his father has not done so. The ramification of this is with regard to a case in which a man must redeem himself and his son and only has enough money to perform one of the redemptions. The gemara quotes R' Yehuda, who rules that the man should redeem his son, and the Rabbis, who rule that the man's own redemption takes precedence. (It would be helpful to review the details of that discussion so that the following analysis will be more clearly understood.)
This discussion leads to an interesting debate regarding the nature of a father's obligation to redeem his son. One could view this obligation in one of two ways:
1) Rashba (Rav Shelomo ben Aderet, an important 13th century Spanish scholar) and the Sefer Ha-chinukh (an anonymously written Medieval work that lists and discusses each of the 613 mitzvot) claim that this obligation is one that applies directly to the father. As such, it applies even after the child grows up. In the event that no redemption was performed until the child reaches maturity, the child also becomes obligated in this mitzva, but the father's obligation remains as well. Rashba even argues that if both the father and son want to perform the redemption, the father takes precedence because it is essentially his mitzva.
2) Rivash (Rav Yitzchak bar Sheshet, an important 14th century Spanish scholar) argues that the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben essentially applies to the child himself. However, since a baby is clearly not capable of redeeming himself, the Torah obligates his father to do the redemption for him. If we take this approach, it makes sense to assume that once the child grows up and can manage his own affairs, it is he, and not his father, who must perform the redemption.
Interestingly, both sides attempt to support their arguments based on the gemara that we studied in last week's shiur. The Rashba and Sefer Ha-chinukh (as explained by the Minchat Chinukh, a prominent commentary on the Sefer Ha-chinukh) apparently understand R' Yehuda's argument as explictly confirming their explanation; he says that the father should redeem his son, because that redemption is really his to perform, while his own redemption is really the responsibility of his own father. We accept the view of the Rabbis, who disagree with R' Yehuda. However, the Minchat Chinukh maintains, the Rabbis admit to R' Yehuda's understanding of the fundamental issue involved. They only argue with his conclusion because there is a separate consideration that takes precedence: the fact that the father's own redemption relates directly to his person. Therefore, even though that obligation is incumbent primarily upon his father and only secondarily upon himself, that is the redemption that will take precedence.
Rivash disagrees with the abovementioned analysis of our gemara. He admits that R' Yehuda seems to assume that a pidyon ha-ben is essentially an obligation upon the father of the child and not on the child himself. However, Rivash claims that it is just this point that the Rabbis dispute. When they argue that "his own mitzva takes precedence," they mean to assert that the father's redemption is actually "his own mitzva," while the redemption of his son is the child's mitzva that the father must perform on his behalf. Since the father's own redemption is an obligation that is incumbent directly upon him, he must redeem himself before redeeming his son.
Back to the Gemara
Having cited a dispute regarding priority within the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben, the gemara now moves on to discuss the issue of priority when the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben is matched against a different mitzva. This transition to a new topic that is tangentially related to the previous one is quite typical of Talmudic discussions, which often move from topic to related topic even when that movement directs the discussion away from the central theme of the chapter.
We begin with the ninth line of daf 29b.
The rabbis taught:
To redeem his son and to go up for the festival -
he redeems his son and after that goes up for the festival.
R' Yehuda says: He goes up for the festival and after that redeems his son,
for this is a passing mitzva and this is a mitzva that is not passing.
It is well (according) to R' Yehuda - as he said the reason.
But the rabbis what is their reason?
For the verse states, "All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem,"
and then it says "and you shall not see My face empty-handed."
ת"ר (=תנו רבנן):
לפדות את בנו ולעלות לרגל -
פודה את בנו ואחר כך עולה לרגל.
ר' יהודה אומר: עולה לרגל ואח"כ (=ואחר כך) פודה את בנו,
שזו מצוה עוברת, וזו מצוה שאינה עוברת.
בשלמא לר' יהודה - כדקאמר טעמא.
אלא רבנן מאי טעמייהו?
דאמר קרא: "כל בכור בניך תפדה,"
והדר "לא יראו פני ריקם."
The gemara quotes a beraita (remember: the phrase tannu rabbanan, "the rabbis taught," always introduces a beraita) which compares the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben with that of making a pilgrimage on the festival. The Torah commands that all Jewish men visit the beit ha-mikdash three times a year, on the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. This mitzva is known as aliya la-regel, literally, "ascending for the festival." The beraita questions what should be done if the festival is approaching and one has a son to redeem, but only has the means to fulfill one of those two mitzvot - he can either redeem his son or do aliya la-regel, but not both. Which mitzva takes precedence?
As in the previous beraita, the Rabbis and R' Yehuda debate this issue. The Rabbis rules that one should first redeem one's son; after that, one can see if it is possible to fulfill the mitzva of aliya la-regel. R' Yehuda argues that the mitzva of aliya la-regel should take precedence, as it is a "passing mitzva." Once the festival has passed, it will be impossible to fulfill the mitzva of aliya la-regel for the festival that has finished. On the other hand, the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben is not a "passing mitzva." It becomes relevant on the thirtieth day of the child's life and should be performed as soon as possible, but if one delays performance of the mitzva and redeems his son later, he has still fulfilled the mitzva to its fullest. Thus, R' Yehuda essentially argues that we are not faced with the dilemma of having to choose between the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben and that of aliya la-regel; we can have our cake and eat it too.
Interestingly, R' Yehuda's reasoning directly parallels his reasoning in the beraita that the gemara cited earlier. In that instance as well, regarding one who has only enough money to redeem either himself or his son, R' Yehuda advised redeeming the son because that would allow both mitzvot to be fulfilled; the father will redeem his son, and his own redemption will take place when a kohen makes use of his lien on property that the man has sold over the course of his life. When the kohen takes possession of property with a value of five shekalim, the mitzva will de facto be peformed. In that case, the Rabbis disagree with R' Yehuda because they hold that the kohen would not be able to sieze "beholden" property, and it would thus be impossible to assure fulfillment of both mitzvot. In our case, it seems as though the Rabbis would agree that it is possible to fulfill both mitzvot. Nevertheless, they maintain that pidyon ha-ben should take precedence based on a pasuk. There is one verse (Shemot 34:20) that mentions both the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben as well as the mitzva of aliya la-regel. Since the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben is mentioned first in the verse, the Rabbis derived that it should take precedence over the mitzva of aliya la-regel.
Back to the Gemara
The gemara continues its discussion of pidyon ha-ben. We are 15 lines down on 29b.
The Rabbis taught:
From where that if he had five sons from five wives,
that he is obligated to redeem them all?
The verse teaches, "all the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem."
This is obvious; the Merciful One made it dependent on one who opens the womb!
One could have said to learn "firstborn, "firstborn" from inheritance,
just as below it is the "first of his power," so here the "first of his power;"
it comes to teach us (that we do not say this).
ת"ר (=תנו רבנן):
מנין שאם היו לו חמשה בנים מחמש נשים,
שחייב לפדות כולן?
ת"ל (=תלמוד לומר): כל בכור בניך תפדה.
פשיטא; בפטר רחם תלא רחמנא!
מהו דתימא נילף בכור בכור מנחלה,
מה להלן ראשית אונו, אף כאן ראשית אונו;
קמ"ל (=קא משמע לן).
The gemara here introduces yet another beraita that deals with the laws of pidyon ha-ben. The beraita asks how we know that a man who has five sons, each of whom is the firstborn of his mother, must redeem all of them. The beraita explains that this law is learned from the same verse we have quoted several times in our study of this mitzva; "All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem" (Shemot 24:20). From the fact that it says "All the firstborn of your sons," we can infer that the law of pidyon ha-ben can apply to multiple firstborns in one family.
The gemara now questions the necessity of this derivation. After all, the Torah describes a firstborn as a peter rechem, one who opens the womb (Shemot 34:19 among other places); thus, it is clear that a bekhor (firstborn) is defined as the firstborn to his mother and not as the firstborn of his father!
The gemara answers that one could nevertheless have come to the conclusion that a bekhor who requires redemption must also be the firstborn of his father. The Torah uses the word bekhor with regard to a son who must be redeemed, and also uses this word with regard to another law unique to firstborns. Regarding the laws of inheritance, the Torah legislates that the firstborn son gets a double portion of inheritance; thus, if there are three sons, the estate would be divided into four parts with the firstborn receiving two parts and the other sons receiving one part each. Since the Torah describes a bekhor in that context as the "beginning of his (the father's) power" (Devarim 21:17), it is clear that the law only applies to one who is the firstborn to his father. One of the rules of derashot (exegetical derivations) is that of gezeira shava, which postulates that if the same word is used in two different passages, we can at times apply some of the rules of one context to the other. Thus, one could have thought that just as a bekhor is defined as the firstborn of his father regarding inheritance, one is similarly not defined as a bekhor regarding the law of pidyon ha-ben unless he is the firstborn to his father. The beraita's derasha, which indicates that the law of pidyon ha-ben can apply to multiple sons of one father, is thus necessary.
With this beraita, the gemara has completed its analysis of the laws of pidyon ha-ben. Next week, we will continue with the next item on the list of mitzvot that a father must perform vis-à-vis his son: teaching him Torah.