The passuk in this week's parsha (13:1), says קדש לי כל בכור - We learn from here the mitzvah of pidyon haben. As the passuk says the first baby boy to be born is holy and belongs to Hashem. Later in the parsha, (pasuk יג) we learn that one can redeem his son with five סלעים (silver coins) from a kohen. The boy is thereby no longer considered holy or 'belonging' to Hashem.
The Rema ( יו'ד ס' ש'ה סעיף י ) quotes a Rivash that says, the father cannot assign a שליח – an agent, to redeem his son from the kohen. Many achronim were very disturbed by this ruling. They asked, that we know that in all other aspects of the Torah one is able to appoint a שליח, so why should pidyon haben be different?
The Shach and Taz were among those achronim who opposed the ruling of the Rema, and they indeed rule that one may appoint a שליח to perform the mitzvah of pidyon haben.
The Chasam Sofer (Yorah Deah 293), writes that there is a significant difference between the mitzvah of pidyon haben and all others. The mitzvah of pidyon haben is a commemoration of the plague of the firstborn in Egypt. The Jewish bichorim, (firstborn) were saved, while the Egyptian's were killed. The Torah tells us that this plague was carried out by Hashem Himself, without any angelic agents. As it says in the Haggadda, ani vilo malach ani vilo shileyach. Therefore, in performing this mitzvah there is reason for us as well, not to use an agent, but rather to do it ourselves.
The Aruch Hashulchan (Yorah Deah ש'ה) offers two other explanations for the ruling of the Rema. First, the passuk explicitly says תפדה - you should redeem. Whenever the Torah explicitly says one should do a mitzvah, one may not appoint an agent. Secondly, the gemarah makes a drasha connecting the mitzvah of pidyon haben with the mitzvah of oleh regel, which is a mitzvah שבגופו – one that is performed with one's actual body. The Aruch Hashulchan says that the Torah wants to connect the mitzvah of oleh regel to the mitzvah of pidyon haben in this regard as well. Just as one cannot appoint an agent to perform the mitzvah of oleh regel on his behalf, so too one may not appoint an agent to redeem his son. Although the gemarah uses this drasha to teach us something else, we can add to the drasha and say that there is another similarity that the Torah wants to draw upon.
I wanted to offer a new approach in understanding the p'sak of the Rema, and answer the question of the achronim. The Sefer Hachinuch explains all of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos. In his explanation of the mitzvah of pidyon haben, (מצוה יח ), he writes, that the intention of this mitzvah is to remind us that everything that we have comes from Hashem. He similarly explains that the mitzvah of bikurim (offering of the first fruit) is to serve the same purpose. Often, after a person toils very hard to produce, there is a natural pride he may take in the fruit of his labor, especially in the very first product of his efforts. At that point one is vulnerable, and may come to forget that after all his hard work, still, everything comes from Hashem. To counter this possible outcome, Hashem gave us these mitzvos of pidyon haben and bikurim to give us the opportunity to thank Him at this crucial time. In summation, the mitzvah of pidyon haben is to remind us that everything we have comes from Hashem, and to thank Him for giving it to us.
Based on this explanation, we can now understand the p'sak of the Rama. Although with regard to most circumstances one may appoint an agent to act on his behalf, regarding giving thanks and showing gratitude one may not. If one would be permitted to redeem his son or his bikurim through an agent he would be missing the entire point of the mitzvah!
We find this idea as well by the bracha of modim in the shimoneh esray. The shileyach tzibor in his repetition of the shmoneh esray is motze (fulfills the obligation of) the congregation in davening. However the bracha of modim everyone must say to themselves, as the chazan cannot be motze them. The אבודרהם explains, that the bracha of modim is the bracha of thanking Hashem, and as mentioned above one cannot use a שליח to act on his behalf for showing gratitude to Hashem.
Posted By KH to KollelH blog at 1/06/2011 11:30:00 PM