Celebrating Our National Viability: Pesach Sheni

Recently I was learning a Mishnah in memory of a dear friend’s mother’ s passing. I got to learn the Mishnah Bechorot. There I learned a fascinating law:

If the firstborn son dies within thirty days of birth, although the father gave five sela to the priest, the priest must return it. If the firstborn son dies after thirty days have passed, even if the father did not give five sela coins to the priest he must give it then. If the firstborn dies on the thirtieth day, that day’s halakhic status is like that of the day that preceded it, as the obligation takes effect only after thirty days have elapsed. Rabbi Akiva says: If the firstborn dies on the thirtieth day it is a case of uncertainty; therefore, if the father already gave the redemption payment to the priest he cannot take it back, but if he did not yet give payment he does not need to give it. (Bechorot 8:6)

While there is some discussion about the particularities of the 30 days, it is clearly the age of viability. In a pre-modern civilization infant mortality rates were so high that it would not make sense to even mourn a new born who did not make it a month. Regarding the first born son a whole array of other obligations kick in after 30 days.

I was rethinking this in the context of Passover. This is when we learn Of the obligation to redeem being the Petter Rechem– first born. It becomes very important with the 10th plague with the death the first born. The symbolic national manifestion of this idea happens when we emerge from the Red Sea as a new nation.

This is front of mind today on Pesach Sheni. This holiday is the grand do-over for anyone who missed being part of the Passover sacrifice. Pesach Sheni takes on new meaning in light of our Mishnah in Bechorot. Today,30 days after our birth as a nation, we achieve a level of viability. In some cases ways our whole history as a religion has been a process of striving to redeem ourselves.

In light of our customs for Pidyon HaBen- this begs another read of Natan Alterman’s Silver Platter. Chag Pesach Sheni Sameakh

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