Brit (bris) Milah

In Breishit ( Genesis ) it is written, “This is My Covenant which you shall keep between Me and you, and your descendants after you. Every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin and this shall become the sign of the Covenant between Me and you.”
Circumcision was first performed by our forefather, Abraham (Avraham, in Hebrew), some 3800 years ago at the age of ninety-nine years old. Until that time he had not totally gained control over every organ of his body. But with the brit milah he accomplished control over all his organs and therefore his name was changed from Avram to Avraham . Only after performing circumcision was he able to father the Jewish nation. When his son, Isaac (Yitzchak) was born, Abraham circumcised him on the eighth day as he was commanded to do so by G-d.
Since then ,for all Jewish baby boys, brit milah (the covenant of circumcision) must be done on the eighth day after birth. It can be done later if medical reasons warrant postponing it, but never earlier.
The word “brit” means covenant and “milah” means circumcision. Circumcision establishes a covenant between G-d and the Jew. (A Jewish female is considered circumcised in a spiritual sense from birth, possessing this holy covenant within herself from the moment she is born). G-d wanted to permanently affix a symbol on the bodies of the Jewish males since He chose the Jewish nation to be called by His name. Circumcision on the male sexual organ was designated as the symbol of the Covenant because this is the source from which the perpetuation of the species emanates. One might ask why did G-d not create the human being already circumcised if He desired this Covenant? The reason G-d did not create the human being complete in the mother’s womb is to indicate that just as the physical aspects of the body can be made better by human deeds, so is it within the human power to perfect the soul by correcting oneself spiritually through the covenant of circumcision. A man must guard the purity of his sexual organ and refine himself constantly in life: this is the biggest test and challenge to the human being. The lifeforce and most positive energy aspect of a human being (the creative power one possesses), must be directed to Godliness at all times and must be used for holiness. No man is immune to the challenges of the sexual urge.
When the Jewish people fulfilled the commandment of circumcision, they were informed of the happy news that the Sanctuary would exist amongst them, as G-d said, “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary and My Holiness will rest
among them.” When Moses was going to Egypt to redeem the Jewish nation, a snake came to swallow him and stop him from traveling because he had not yet circumcised his son. He felt that since he was going to do such a great mitzva and redeem the Jews from Egypt, the circumcision could be done later since it was more important to save the entire Jewish nation. But his wife, Tzipora, realized that not doing the brit on time was a problem and she immediately performed the circumcision for her child, thus saving her husband’s life. One of the things the Jewish people were commanded to do before leaving Egypt was the act of circumcision: this gave them enough merit to be redeemed. Without performing circumcision they were unable to progress to a higher spiritual level and were not worthy to be taken out of Egypt, just as Avraham was not able to father the Jewish nation before he was circumcised. It is also said that in the merit of circumcision we will also merit to be redeemed from this present galut with the coming of the Messiah.A brit milah is performed on the eighth day of a baby’s life. Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, was also circumcised but he was 13 years old at the time. Isaac (Yitzchak in Hebrew) was the first Jew to do the circumcision at eight days. Ishmael was the father of the arab nations. If done at the age of 13 years, it is up to the intellect of the person to agree to do the brit. At eight days it is an act which is beyond intellect and therefore the person becomes bound to G-d in a way that transcends the limits of the mind and nature. The Talmud tells us that King David once went into the bathhouse and saw himself naked. He said to himself, “Woe is to me, for I am naked of all good deeds.” He then saw the mark of circumcision on his body and his mind was put at ease. He realized that this mark of circumcision was perhaps his greatest mitzvah because it was done when he was a tiny infant, without any ulterior motivation or thought of reward. Why is the brit done specifically on the eighth day after birth? The Talmud points out that these eight days always include at least one Shabbat. According to Kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism, Shabbat represents the natural order of the world (there are seven days in a week and God created the world in six days and on the 7th day He rested: Shabbat is the holiest day of the week and thus completes the order of creation of the world).The brit is on the eighth day, indicating that it is higher than nature. Having attained the level of perfection within nature the first seven days after birth, now on the eighth day the child reaches that power and level of the soul to contact the light that transcends nature. Through circumcision the Jew is given the power throughout life to overcome all obstacles in his service to G-d and to rise above his own natural limitations.
Some people who are not very observant in terms of Judaism, plan to have the brit done on a Sunday because o f convenience, even if Sunday is not yet the eighth day. They fail to understand the importance of the eighth day and fail to understand that they do not fulfill the brit correctly if they do it that way. The Kabbalah explains that there are forces of purity and holiness in the world, and there are also forces of unholiness and impurity. Those unholy forces are called “kelipot”. These forces of kelipot do not allow the light of holiness and truth to shine through. In other words, they hide and obscure the light of G-dliness in the world. But unholy forces can only take their strength from whatever positive and holy energy they can capture. That is why wherever holiness is found, unholy forces strive to dwell there as well. Before eight days, the soul is not yet fully within the body of the male child, so unholy forces cannot receive anything from that child. But on the eighth day, body and soul unite and total holiness arrives.The greatest concentration of impurity comes to rest upon the male sex organ at that time (since it has the potential to produce life and wherever there is an opening for holiness and positive energy to flow, the unholy forces attach themselves to that opening). In this case, they become concentrated in the foreskin. The foreskin becomes the embodiment of negativity and unholiness in the child.Therefore, only by doing the brit milah on the eighth day is the greatest amount of impurity removed from that child forever with the removal of the foreskin.
What if the brit is done before eight days? Well, it basically serves no purpose. Because the body and soul are not yet united and therefore all we end up doing is to remove a useless extra piece of flesh. Then on the eighth day, when body and soul do unite, if there is no longer a vessel (meaning the foreskin) for the unholy forces to rest upon and then be removed, the impurity remains in a potential state and gives negative feedback to that child all the time. However, by removing the foreskin on the eighth day, at the proper time, all unholiness is annihilated and will not be able to have control over that child.
On a metaphysical level, we cut off the potential of negative energy to become actualized in the life of this person, and we give the person extra strength to overcome problems and impurity in life. Kabbalah explains that in this physical world there are many blocks to seeing and experiencing G-dliness. A person must remove these blocks and find G-d. Circumcision is such an act of separating and removing unholiness. By removing the foreskin, spiritually we remove the potential for undesirable character traits, depressive tendencies and so on. We eliminate from the body of the child forces which may try to cultivate overindulgence in physical pleasures etc. In other words, we give the child a head start in fighting life’s battles, a sort of spiritual immunization .Circumcision implies that the foreskin interposed between man and the world outside man is a spiritual defect which has to be removed. This defect is the heightened sensuality of the foreskin on the one hand together with its innate callousness on the other. The presence of the foreskin makes sexual relations more physically exciting but also insulates the individual from his partner’s feelings. It is thus at once the physical manifestation of both selfish, sensual desire and innate egocentricity. If left in place it will become the root of all the evils that may plague a person in life.Circumcision is the act of desensitizing a person to his own lust for pleasure and sensitizing him to others feelings. This is of course not to say that a circumcised man is immune to ego and lust. A person can, of course, re-acquire his egocentricity and lustfulness, either through external influences or through willful identification with his animal nature. This is called tarnishing or marring the covenant of circumcision. But the fact that the person was circumcised as an infant (or born spiritually on the level of having been circumcised, in the case of a woman) gives him the capacity, throughout his life, to fundamentally rectify and sweeten his subconscious, if only he makes the necessary effort.I would like to point out that the Jewish people have intrinsic good regardless of their outward spiritual stature. Therefore, even if a brit was not performed as it should have been or at the proper time, this does not mean the person cannot reach a high spiritual level or have a good character. (Please note: any child who was circumcised before the eighth day (ie. someone perhaps was not religious and the family did not understand and did the circumcision in the hospital on the third or fourth day etc.,) then that family can and should consult a mohel about doing a simple procedure called hatafas hadam, which would correct the spiritual damage which was done.)
Of course if it is not possible to do the brit on the eighth day because of health reasons (ie. jaundice etc.) it is still necessary to do it as soon as health permits (only after the eighth day). One can do a brit milah after eight days, but never before. If it does turn out that the brit must be performed after the eighth day, for reasons which are acceptable by Jewish law (such as health reasons), then even if the brit is done a few weeks or even months late, it is still considered as if it was done at the correct time, on the eighth day, and it is also for the good. Everything is determined from Above.
It is of interest to note that in Jewish men, cancer of the penis is almost unheard of. Because of these observations, circumcision has become today a routine practice among many people ,even non-Jews. But for a non- Jew there is no “Mitzvah” (commandment) to do a circumcision and hence there is also no spiritual benefit the way there is for a Jew. Jewish people do not perform circumcision because of health reasons. We do brit milah only because it is a commandment from G-d. Nevertheless, we know that everything we are commanded to do is for our benefit and will contribute to the physical as well as spiritual health and well being of the person. There is an extra skin over the membrane of the male organ which is called“periah”. By Kabbalah we are required to uncover this skin at the brit after removing the actual foreskin itself (which is called “orlah”). At the time of Adam and Eve there was embodied within the tree of knowledge of good and evil all forms of impurity. Once a person became connected with them, these forces could become actualized. When Adam ate from this tree, he brought into physicality the existence of orlah. There are three levels of completely unclean impure “kelipot” (kelipa literally means a shell and is a force which covers over holiness and hides it and reveals evil instead). These three completely unclean kelipot are embodied in the foreskin itself and when it is removed we take away these kelipot from the child. There is a fourth kelipa as well which is called “kelipat nogah”: it is not totally evil and has some good in it but it must nevertheless be purified. Uncovering of the extra skin at the brit milah (which is called the act of “orah priah”) once the rlah (foreskin) is removed, takes care of this fourth kelipa and gives a man the strength to overcome all obstacles in his service to G-d and gives him the ability to refine his character more easily. Adam , the first man, was born without orlah but he did require orah priah (to uncover the extra skin). Nevertheless, at that time kelipat nogah was totally good, unlike now (after Adam’’ sin) when there is a mixture of evil within it. Only after eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil did orlah, or foreskin, come into being, and along with it all kinds of negativity, diseases etc.
The knowledge of the tree of good and evil is the knowledge of negativity, doubt, uncertainty,darkness and selfishness. Nevertheless, kelipot are overwhelmed completely by light as we know that a little light dispels a lot of darkness. And the act of brit milah brings with it tremendous light.
A brit milah accomplishes dominion over the evil forces in the world. We take energy and holiness from G-d and we can either use it positively or negatively. If it is used negatively, we pass this energy to the side of evil . That is why the word for sin in Hebrew is “avera” which actually means to pass over from the side of holiness to the side of unholiness. There are ten sefirot (Divine Emanations or Attributes) in the world. The male sex organ comes from the sefirah of Yesod, which means foundation. Wherever this sefirah is found, from there flow blessings. From yesod flows abundance of blessings to malchut, which is the female sefirah. Kabbalah explains that wherever there is an opening for positive, holy energy to flow, Satan is here as well. That is why we put a mezuzah on the doorpost (entranceway ) to the house because Satan waits by the door.
The highest concentration of positive, productive energy is in the male organ as it can produce life, and therefore kelipa is stronger there as well.
A brit is done in the daytime because there are more holy forces revealed during the day time. It is preferable to do a brit in the early morning hours. However, it is permissible to perform the brit later in the daytime (ie. Afternoon), even though as the day progresses less positive energy forces are present , as long as more people would be present at that brit (since a multitude of people brings greater positive energy as well).
According to the Kabbalah, Circumcision shares a connection to speech. By circumcising the foreskin we also are meant to refine spiritually our power of speech and to relate to another with kind, loving words and not in a harsh or unrefined way. The correction of one’s faculty of speech and the guarding of the covenant of one’s procreative organ (and only to express one’s true love for one’s spouse in marital relations in holiness) depend upon and influence one another. The Baal Shem Tov (founder of the study of Chassidut) taught that the most basic model of Divine Service is the three stage process of chash-mal-mal (silence, circumcision, speech) equivalent to the three phases of submission-separation-sweetening. The two terms, “the word of the tongue” (milat haloshon) and the circumcision of the procreative organ (in Hebrew called milat hamaor) in the Hebrew language actually are the same words, showing their interconnection. Circumcision divides purity from impurity. Torah is the secret of separation between good and evil. Circumcision is an act of separation and also accomplishes separating one from evil influences.
The Divine soul begins to shine its light from the moment of the brit for a Jewish male child. Circumcision is the holy sign of the covenant which is stamped on the body of every Jewish boy at 8 days from birth. Please note: the counting of the eight days includes the day the baby is born. And by Jewish law, the night before (from the time it is dark) begins the next day. For example, if a baby boy is born Sunday night at 10:00 pm, it is considered as if he is born Monday. Monday would be the first day of his life and therefore eight days later, on the following Monday, the brit milah would take place.
The day of the brit milah is a very festive occasion. Every person who attends the brit helps to remove kelipa from the baby. That is why if a person is invited to a brit milah, he must come. But it is customary not to specifically invite people to a brit but simply to inform them when and where the brit will take place.
At every brit milah it is proper and customary to have at least a minyan (ten Jewish men over the age of bar mitzvah, 13 years) to be present. The baby should be dressed in fine clothing, as well as all the family members and the participants. It is customary in some communities for the father of the baby, the Sandok (one who holds the baby during the brit) and the Mohel (one who performs the brit) to wear taleisim (prayer shawls) and tefillin phylacteries) during the brit. A brit must be performed on the Shabbat or Yom tov (even on Yom Kippur) if the eighth day itself is actually on that day. If a brit is postponed however (ie. for health reasons), then it cannot thereafter take place on a Shabbat or Festival.
A baby delivered by Caesarean section is circumcised on the eighth day but if the eighth day in that case turns out to be Shabbat or Yom Tov, the brit milah is put off until the next day.
The brit is performed by a specially trained Mohel. He must be an expert in the way he performs this great mitzvah (commandment). It is therefore important to choose an orthodox, G-d fearing Mohel so the brit will be done to perfection. Many people think that a medical doctor may be more of an expert, but in reality a Mohel performs more britim than most doctors and he is more of a specialist in that area. It is interesting to note that the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth, chose a Mohel instead of the Royal physician to circumcise her son, Prince Charles, because she knew a Mohel is specially trained in the art of circumcision.
(Please note: A non-Jew can also have circumcision (milah) done, but the spiritual affects are not the same because a brit is only a covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. A non-Jew has no obligation to do circumcision and the spiritual ideas do not apply. For a non Jew, it is only considered a circumcision, but not a brit, not a covenant with G-d).

The Sandok is the person who is given the honor to hold the child throughout the brit. According to Jewish mysticism, the Sandok has a special role to play in protecting the child from kelipa and evil forces in the world.
It is important to choose a righteous person (ie. not a person with negative character traits or a person who is not G-d fearing etc) to be the Sandok because the Sandok helps to draw down a holy soul for the child. In fact, the child receives good character traits from the Sandok and shares a spiritual connection with him.
A chair is prepared at every brit milah in honor of Elijah the Prophet (Eliyahu haNavi). There are some communities throughout the world who have a special chair solely for such occasions. There is one chair in “the cave of Eliyahu” on Mount Carmel in Israel that is hundreds of years old, and many interesting stories are told about this chair and its mystical powers. The chair for Eliyahu is placed to the right of the Sandok at the brit and the Mohel recites certain prayers there while the baby is presented to Eliyahu for blessings. The father (or whoever is designated with the honor) then lifts the baby and places him on the lap of the Sandok. Spiritually Eliyahu serves another purpose: he is coming to take the place of the evil prosecutor, the Satan. As mentioned before, the greater the mitzvah, the harder the unholy forces try to accuse and prevent a Jew from fulfilling this mitzvah. Eliyahu turns the prosecutor into a defense attorney, so to speak. But in order for Eliyahu to actually be present, we must physically call him and announce his presence and prepare a special chair for him. Why is it that Eliyahu must come to every brit milah? Because he came to complain to G-d that the Jewish people were not doing brit milah and were forsaking their covenant with G-d. The Satan wanted to be the one to complain about this and had he done so it would have been terrible. But Eliyahu knew through prophecy that the Satan was planning this and therefore he quickly volunteered to be the one to complain instead. Since he did so, G-d told him he would have to be present at every brit milah as a witness. And therefore he comes to bring blessing to the child. Eliyahu asked God how could he go to a brit milah if perhaps there are people there who have sinned. G-d therefore told him not to worry because he will automatically forgive the sins of any people who are present at a brit milah.
A couple is also designated at each brit to carry the baby in : they are called“kvater” and are usually husband and wife. Doing this mitzvah of carrying in the baby is a segulah ( a special merit ) to be blessed with children and often this honor is given to a couple who have not yet been blessed with children or who desire to have a baby. The mother of the baby hands the child to the woman and by this act signifies her consent to entrust the child to God’s care. Her husband then takes the child from the his wife and hands him to a designated individual whose honor it is to place the infant on the cushion of the chair of Eliyahu.
When the baby is brought in to the place where the brit will be performed, everyone rises and remains standing for the duration of the brit . Only the Sandok sits during the actual period of the milah while holding the baby on his lap.
The father places the baby on the lap of the Sandok and designates the Mohel as his emissary to perform the brit for his son. After the father recites the proper blessings, it is customary for everyone present to say, “Just as the baby has entered this Covenant of brit milah, so may he enter the Covenant of learning Torah, of marriage , and of good deeds.”
Every positive in life has to have a negative: any holiness must also have unholiness participating with it. Satan (the negative energy in the world) wants his portion of every holy act that the Jewish people do. Kabbalah explains that we say to Satan that we take the holy part, which is the child, and the unholy foreskin we give to Satan. Because of this gift, the Satan is bribed to the extent that he then praises the Jews and becomes a defender rather than a prosecutor. Once the brit is done, the foreskin must be buried in the earth and it must not be thrown into the garbage or flushed down the toilet etc. because otherwise we do not accomplish this positive exchange with Satan . That is why the Ari haKodesh, every time he ate a meal, would say hamotzi on bread and take off a little piece from the bread which he would put aside and not consume and which he would say he was giving to Satan as his portion, thus giving him a part of the holiness so he would then leave him alone in peace.
As far as pain is concerned, Jewish law does not permit the use of the type of bell clamp which most hospitals utilize because it is too painful and traumatic as it crushes all veins and flesh. A Mohel uses much simpler instruments (and some use no tools at all except for the knife itself which is very sharp and cuts the skin with little pain). The method of the Mohel is the least painful and most skillful and usually takes less than half a minute. And the few drops of blood which are discharged at the brit are obligatory by Kabbalah. The Mohel must draw some blood. This removes any remaining impurities and completes the job of removing all kelipa to its maximum. If a brit has no blood with it (ie. As when a bell clamp is used) it is not considered a proper or “kosher” brit. There are mohelim who use something called a Bronstein clamp: it clamps down on the blood vessels, also limiting bleeding. This clamp is not something that should be used, according to Kabbalah. If such
a clamp was used, the brit may still be kosher b’dieved (after the fact) but only if the clamp was opened within 30 seconds and a little blood came out. However, it is not the best or proper way to perform this mitzvah and according to some opinions a brit done with the Bronstein clamp is not properly kosher. Therefore one should always try to choose a mohel who does brit milah according to the old fashioned method, with only a magen (a shield) but no type of harsh clamp. Spiritually this has a more positive affect on the child. If a baby was circumcised with the Bronstein clamp, or a different type of clamp, there are opinions that say one should try to fix it by having a mohel do a simple, quick procedure called hatafas hadam: taking a drop of blood from the gid in order to spiritually rectify the situation. When choosing a mohel for your baby, it is important to be sure the mohel will do the three important parts of a brit:
The first part is the actual cut and removal of the foreskin (orlah).
The second part is called periah: partial removal of the extra membrane under the foreskin.
The third part is metzitza: Immediately after the foreskin is cut, the mohel must draw out a small amount of blood with his mouth, a mitzvah which is called metzitza. By fulfilling all these mitzvoth at the brit, spiritually it makes it easier for the child to overcome his yetzer hara (negative inclination) throughout his life and to be connected to positive energy and holiness.
Once the act of brit milah is finished, certain prayers and the official naming of the baby is done. We do not name the baby before the brit. Since the Jewish name of a child is connected to the soul, it is the most appropriate time to give the name on the day of the brit milah, when body and soul unite fully and the Divine soul begins to shine its light. It is customary to name the child after a righteous person since the name influences the character of the child. Even if a brit is performed later than the eighth day, the child remains without an official name until the day of the brit. after the brit milah is done and the prayers have been said, the food is then served. Everyone must partake of a “seudat mitzvah” (that means it is proper to wash for bread, make hamotzi and partake of a full and festive meal). If a circumcision is performed on a fast day, the festive meal is put off until evening when the fast is broken. It is recommended by Kabbalah that participants at a brit milah should wash for bread rather than simply eating cake or other foods alone. The reason is that when a person washes for bread at a brit milah, it is equivalent to having fasted forty fasts (it is in place of a sort of purification process). Since nowadays we are weak and are unable to fast the number of fasts prescribed for our sins, we welcome any opportunity like a brit to give us a forty day fast just through washing for bread. So a person who is in a hurry and just eats some cake etc. without washing misses that spiritual opportunity of gaining forty days of fasting. And because the Jewish people turn the commandment of circumcision into such a festive and happy occasion, G-d is especially pleased and gives many blessings to the Jewish nation and to the family of the baby. After the meal is over, the participants recite special rayers: included is a prayer for the parents of the child, for the Mohel and also a prayer asking, as reward for performing the brit milah properly, that we should merit to see the coming of the Messiah (Moshiach) and the end of human strife.
The Jewish brit milah, with all its ceremonies etc. is performed for the Jewish child who is either born from a Jewish mother
or from a woman who has converted properly according to Orthodox Jewish law. Otherwise circumcision may be performed for the child, but religious ceremonies are withheld until such time as the child may want to really become Jewish. The Jewish people have adhered to the Covenant of Circumcision throughout the ages, in times of peace and prosperity, and in times of persecution and difficulty. Nothing stopped us from fulfilling this great and holy commandment from God. In many countries when we were under foreign rule (ie. The time of the Greek Empire) the non-Jews decreed that no Jew could do circumcision. But despite threat of death, the Jewish people performed this important mitzvah, not willing to give up their covenant and connection with God. Jews from Russia who could not do circumcision in their native land, immediately perform this mitzvah upon leaving Russia. Even men of 60 years old are eager to fulfill this sacred rite. We, the Jewish nation, were chosen by God to serve Him and to be a light to the other nations. Circumcision displays our eagerness and willingness
to be connected to God and fulfill His Will beyond our own limited understanding and reasoning.
A brit milah done properly is a gift parents can give to their son which helps him throughout his entire lifetime: it is the
connection and the covenant with G-d which establishes a relationship to G-d beyond reason or understanding: a relationship based upon faith and an essential connection to G-dliness which is the inheritance of every Jew.


SOME JEWISH CUSTOMS The first Friday evening after the birth of a baby boy, it is the Jewish custom to make a “Shalom Zachor”, welcoming the male child into the world. Even if the brit is postponed, the shalom zachor still takes place the first Friday evening after the birth. At this “party” we serve chic peas and light refreshments and guests give blessings to the parents and the baby. The night before the brit itself is called a “Vachnacht” ( a night of watching).
It is customary for the father of the baby to stay awake the entire night reciting special passages from the Kabbalah and from the Psalms (Tehillim) to protect the baby from any harm, since before such a great mitzvah the Satan tries to do his best to prevent the brit from taking place. (However nowadays many people give charity instead of staying awake all night because people are weaker than in the olden days and cannot necessarily stay up the entire night). Small children are invited to come over and they are given sweets after they recite the Shema at the bedside of the baby. The passage, “The angel that delivered me from all bad should bless the youngsters and cause to have my name recited over them and the names of my forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, and like fish may they grow to multitudes in the midst of the world” is recited as well.

Another interesting Jewish ceremony is the pidyon haben, redemption of the firstborn males. Whenever the first born child is a son (and this means the firstborn son from the mother: so if a man had more than one wife, as long as the boy is the firstborn of the mother, he is considered a “bchor”, a firstborn, and requires a pidyon haben), on the 31st day of the boy’s life, he is redeemed from a Kohen (a man of priestly descent). This ceremony is postponed until the next day if the 31st day falls on a Shabbat or Jewish holiday. Otherwise it should be performed on time. The pidyon haben only applies for Jewish boys who are the first born to open the mother’s womb (therefore, a child born by C section is exempt and also if there were miscarriages that preceded the birth of this child, then the boy would be exempt). In the Torah it states that all firstborn males that open the womb belong to God: we are obligated to redeem our firstborn son from a Kohen. If the mother is a daughter of a Levi or Kohen, or if the father is a Kohen or Levi, the child does not need to be redeemed. If a grown man or an older boy is a firstborn and his parents never redeemed him as a child, he may redeem himself from a Kohen. What is the source for this mitzvah? Originally, the Jewish firstborn were the sanctified priestly class. They were inducted into G d’s service when they were spared from the Plague of the Firstborn that struck Egypt. However, when the Jews – firstborn included – served the Golden Calf, the firstborn forfeited their status. The priesthood was transferred to the tribe that did not participate in the Golden Calf hoopla—the Levites, and particularly the children of Aaron. Since G d is the First Being, it is fitting that firstborns are consecrated to Him. Ever since, all male Israelite firstborn must redeem themselves in a pidyon haben ceremony from a kohen.The Chinuch1 adds that this reminds us that everything in the world belongs to G d. when we consecrate our very first and very best, we are reminded that everything really belongs to our Creator, and that we must “purchase” it from Him before using it. At the pidyon haben the father of the child buys his son from the Kohen. Afterwards a festive meal is also served and it is a great mitzva to wash for bread as this is equivalent to fasting eighty days (just like washing at the brit milah is equivalent to forty fasts)!