Parshat Bo takes us to the dramatic final moments of the Exodus from Egypt. We experience the final three plagues - locusts, darkness, and the killing of the first-born, the Israelites celebrate the first Passover, and the terrified Egyptians send them on their way.
Towards the end of the parshah, we read God’s command to the Israelites, that after the Exodus they must redeem their firstborn sons. Since the Jewish firstborns were spared from the plague that killed the firstborn children of Egypt on the night of the Exodus, firstborns must be treated as “sacred” and thus redeemed. To this day, traditional Jews fulfill this commandment through Pidyon Ha-Ben – by giving money to a kohen (priest) as “redemption” for the firstborn. The mitzvah is performed when the baby turns a month old, by giving a kohen five sela’im of silver, equal to about 96 grams.
When I chose to write about this parashah many months ago I had no idea how meaningful it would be to me and my family. So here is the story:
December 31, 2017 is a very special day to me – it is the day my daughter and her husband welcomed their first-born son, Mason William, I became Bubbie and my life changed forever. Since his Brit Milah took place at his family congregation in New Jersey, it was important to me that we introduce Mason to our family and friends at our congregation in Pennsylvania. And so, with the help of a group of wonderful sisterhood and congregational women we proceeded to create a Pidyon Ha-Ben with lots of modern twists.
Once the idea was conceived and a general plan was adopted, my wonderful friends proceeded to make the whole thing happen. A special ceremony was put together by our director of lifelong learning and the others took care of food, decorations, and other logistics. My only job was to invite people to come to celebrate and get to know Mason.
Since the Reform Movement does not acknowledge a special ranking for those born Kohanim, but rather, that we are all members of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, our family determined that we would contribute tzedakah to URJ Camp Harlam as a symbol of redemption. Camp Harlam has been a special place for Mason’s mother and father. It is where they met and a place that played a major role in making them the people that they are today. We hope that Mason will grow and develop through his experiences of many extraordinary summers there in the future. Camp Harlam is a special place for all who have spent time there and we hope that our contribution will in a small way help ensure that numerous children will have the opportunity to benefit from all Harlam has to offer. We also asked that those who chose to, would contribute to Camp Harlam in Mason’s honor instead of other gifts.
February 18, 2018 arrived and about a hundred family members and friends came to witness the redemption of Mason William. The ceremony was really special and the moment that Mason’s mom and dad handed the contribution to the Camp Harlam representative was meaningful and touching. The social hall was beautifully decorated, the food was imaginative and delicious, and everything happened as it should. Sisterhood women always get the job done well and with love.
This was probably the first Pidyon Ha-Ben performed at our Temple but reimagining it for our time made it seem at home in our Reform Congregation. I will end with the beautiful congregational reading that ended the ceremony:
It is our fervent hope that Mason enter into a healthy life full of learning, passion, and joy. May he lead a life of blessing to all who know him.
May we, who celebrate this ceremony of redemption, continue our own redemption as well. May we be redeemed from habit and ignorance, injustice and injury, thoughtless behavior, and all manner of needless suffering.
And may we add our blessing to this family that they may grow and prosper, partaking fully of the joys and sorrows of growing up.
Kareen Hartwig is a Past District 5 President and a Past WRJ Board and Executive Committee Member. She is the New Affiliates Chair for the Atlantic District and is a member of the WRJ Finance Committee. Kareen is a URJ Board Member and most special of all she is Mason's Bubbie.