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When Redemption Costs - Answer

The Bi'ur Halacha [Simman 656] was bothered by this very question. He explained that the reason one is not allowed to spend more than a fifth is because we don't want people to be destitute. The gemara in kiddushin that teaches that a person must spend his last five selaim for the mitzva of pidyon haben is talking about a person who is gainfully employed. Such a person will be receiving a paycheck soon so there is no concern that he will become poor.

Frankly, that answer doesn't seem correct at all!!! I would never speak that way about the holy Chofetz Chaim [author of the Biúr Halacha] but I am merely quoting the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein. He didn't explain why this answer is problematic, but I suspect that Rav Moshe felt that the assumption is that everybody [or almost everybody] has a job and yet Chazal still said that one may not spend more than a fifth.

Rav Moshe own answer is quite convincing: There are some mitzvos where the expenditure is a MEANS by which we fulfill the mitzva. For example, the mitzva is to take the lulav and esrog in hand. The means by which we fulfill this mitzva is by buying the lulav and esrog. But the actual mitzva is the taking of the lulav and esrog. In such an instance Chazal said that one must not spend more than a fifth.

But there are other mitzvos where the expenditure IS the mitzva. An example of this is the five selaim we pay the kohen for pidyon haben. Another example is repaying a loan [which is a mitzva]. Where the expenditure is the mitzva and not just the means by which we fulfill the mitzva then one must spend whatever it costs. That explains why a person must spend his last penny in order to fulfill the mitzva of pidyon haben.

IF YOU DON'T ENJOY REALLY BAD PUNS PLEASE DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING [BUT I COULD NOT RESIST]: Where did the expectant parents keep the money they were saving up for the pidyon haben? In their Piddy Bank.

Ba dam chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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