Shabbat Parashat Shelach| 5765
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Question: Our son’s pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn) falls on Shabbat, and so we push it off until after Shabbat. Must we do it on Motzaei Shabbat, which is late this time of year, or may we do it the next day (before nightfall) when it is easier for our guests and us?
Answer: Mazal tov! You seem to assume that Motzaei Shabbat is the halachically preferable time. Let’s first check that assumption, and then we will be more equipped to deal with your specific question.
The Torah says that pidyon haben (=ph)is to be done from the time the child is a month old (Bamidbar 18:16). The Talmud is replete with references to its being done after 30 days. A basic question arises whether the key time factor is an astronomical month (which is slightly more than 29½ days) (Shach, Yoreh Deah 305:19) or whether a ph is done on the 31st day of the child’s life, which, depending on the time of birth and the time of the ph, could be anywhere from just over 29 full days after birth to just under 31 (Magen Avraham 339:8). Our clear minhag is never to do a ph before day 31. However, it is less clear whether this is sufficient or whether we must also ensure that it be done when an astronomical month is complete.
This may be the rationale for the Shach’s (ibid.:12) minhag not to do a ph at night, as it is likely that the night of the 31st is not yet after the passing of an astronomical month (see Dagul Meir’vavah on Magen Avraham 568:10). Although most Ashkenazim follow this minhag (Pidyon Haben K’hilchato 6:7)¸ the rationale is not unanimous, and this is crucial for our case. The Shaarei Teshuva (568:8) says that we do a ph during the day in order to better publicize the mitzva. This factor is less applicable today when people are more available to take part in such mitzva events at night than they are during the day. Other more spiritual, esoteric reasons are proposed, as well (see Pidyon Haben K’hilchato ibid.:(23)). One practical difference between the reasons for doing a ph during the day is the case of a ph delayed until Motzaei Shabbat. In this case, when the month is undoubtedly over, the first reason does not apply, and it becomes appropriate to do the ph at night. This may also be preferable, at least if it solves other problems (Dagul Meir’vavah, ibid.; Mishna Berura 568:20- see their context). According to the other explanations, a delayed ph is no different from a regular one.
If we assume that it is fine to do the ph on Motzaei Shabbat, is it preferable to do so, and, if so, how preferable? While the prompt performance of a brit milah is more pressing than that of a ph, the Shulchan Aruch (YD 305: 11) does say to do a ph “miyad (right away) and not let the mitzva be delayed.” His source (see Beit Yosef in the name of the Rosh) seems to understand the need for diligence as the general one not to delay mitzvot. While we do not want to underestimate this factor, general diligence does not get most of us up by sunrise to do the various mitzvot of the day. Additionally, the importance of doing a ph “right away” when it has already been delayed may be diminished (Tosafot, Moed Katan 8b; Magen Avraham 568:10).
After seeing some of the sources, it is time to try to put things in perspective. Any time from Motzaei Shabbat to nightfall on Sunday is valid, and it is unclear whether it is preferable, all things being equal, to do a delayed ph on Motzaei Shabbat or the next day (see Otzar Pidyon Haben 17:2, who claims that the minhag is on Motzaei Shabbat). Either way, the halachic difference is not a great one. It is prevalent nowadays that we do a regular ph duringthe afternoon when it is easier to get a bigger crowd to publicize/celebrate the mitzva despite the delay of a few hours (see ibid. 16:(10)). Therefore, feel free to do what works best for you, based on religious but also personal considerations. As you are probably already experiencing, the birth of a firstborn brings much elation but also a fair share of fatigue and even emotional stress. May you experience the mitzva and simcha of ph with as much peace of mind as possible.
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