כָּל־פֶּ֣טֶר רֶ֠חֶם לְכָל־בָּשָׂ֞ר אֲשֶׁר־יַקְרִ֧יבוּ לַֽיהֹוָ֛ה בָּֽאָדָ֥ם וּבַבְּהֵמָ֖ה יִֽהְיֶה־לָּ֑ךְ אַ֣ךְ | פָּדֹ֣ה תִפְדֶּ֗ה אֵ֚ת בְּכ֣וֹר הָֽאָדָ֔ם וְאֵ֛ת בְּכֽוֹר־הַבְּהֵמָ֥ה הַטְּמֵאָ֖ה תִּפְדֶּֽה: וּפְדוּיָו֙ מִבֶּן־חֹ֣דֶשׁ תִּפְדֶּ֔ה בְּעֶ֨רְכְּךָ֔ כֶּ֛סֶף חֲמֵ֥שֶׁת שְׁקָלִ֖ים בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ עֶשְׂרִ֥ים גֵּרָ֖ה הֽוּא: אַ֣ךְ בְּכֽוֹר־שׁ֡וֹר אֽוֹ־בְכ֨וֹר כֶּ֜שֶׂב אֽוֹ־בְכ֥וֹר עֵ֛ז לֹ֥א תִפְדֶּ֖ה קֹ֣דֶשׁ הֵ֑ם אֶת־דָּמָ֞ם תִּזְרֹ֤ק עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֨חַ֙ וְאֶת־חֶלְבָּ֣ם תַּקְטִ֔יר אִשֶּׁ֛ה לְרֵ֥יחַ נִיחֹ֖חַ לַֽיהֹוָֽה: וּבְשָׂרָ֖ם יִֽהְיֶה־לָּ֑ךְ כַּֽחֲזֵ֧ה הַתְּנוּפָ֛ה וּכְשׁ֥וֹק הַיָּמִ֖ין לְךָ֥ יִֽהְיֶֽה
Every first issue of the womb of any creature, which they present to the Lord, whether of man or beast, shall be yours. However, you shall redeem the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. Its redemption [shall be performed] from the age of a month, according to the valuation, five shekels of silver, according to the holy shekel, which is twenty gerahs. However, a firstborn ox or a firstborn sheep or a firstborn goat shall not be redeemed, for they are holy; their blood shall be sprinkled on the altar, and their fats shall be burned as a fire-offering, as a pleasing fragrance to the Lord. Their flesh shall be yours; like the breast of the waving and the right thigh, it shall be yours.Numbers 18:15-18
This week’s Torah portion contains the story of the rebellion of Korach, about which much has been written. After the resolution of the rebellion, Hashem gives the Kahuna, the priesthood, its charge. The Kahuna is given all of Hashem’s Teruma to eat. Included in this is the Bikurim, the firstfruits. This is not only the firstfruits of grain and fruit trees, it is also the firstborn of animals. These verses are somewhat confusing.
Numbers 18:15, at first glance, seems to be in regard to absolutely any living creature. Closer inspection to the verse, however, reveals a precise limitation on the commandment. אֲשֶׁר־יַקְרִ֧יבוּ להֹ’ translated “which they present to Hashem,” explains that the only firstborn animals we are speaking of are those animals which can be brought to the Temple for sacrifice. So not all animals are subject to the rules of the firstborn, only sacrificial animals.
The mitzvah then specifies that the firstborn of man shall be redeemed, in other words, the firstborn males of each family are redeemed, financially, from the Kahuna. The cost of the redemption is 5 shekels. So far so good. Then the verse continues by stating that the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. Are not sacrificial animals considered clean by definition? How could there be unclean sacrificial animals? The Sifrei gives some insight. Sacrificial animals that are blemished are not suitable for sacrifice. These are considered unclean for the purposes of sacrifice. Torah is explaining that since these sacrificial animals that are blemished cannot be used in the Temple, they must be redeemed for 5 shekels, just like firstborn sons are redeemed for 5 shekels.
Unblemished sacrificial animals that are firstborn are not to be redeemed, they are to be used for the sacrifices. Since they are unblemished, they can be used, and so are used, and therefore do not need to be redeemed. The normal pieces of these sacrificial animals are given to the kahuna to eat, such as the breast, which is waived, and the right thigh.
There is an interesting remez, allegory, which can be drawn from these verses. The unblemished first born, which is worthy of the sacrifice. The sacrifices of these animals are commanded by Torah. It is the blemished that are in need of redemption and may not be used for the sacrifice. We see that Messiah Yeshua, the unblemished Tzadik, is used for the sacrifice. The rest of us, the blemished, must be redeemed. Indeed, we are redeemed through His sacrifice and our faith. Shabbat shalom.