Pidyon Petter Chamor in Camp Sanz

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peter-chamorThe Torah mentions the mitzvah of redeeming a firstborn donkey owned by a Jew three times: 1) In Parshas Bo, the passuk says: “You shall redeem every firstborn donkey with a lamb, and if you do not redeem it, you shall break its neck. Furthermore, the firstborn of your children you shall also redeem” (Bo, Shemos 13:13). 2) The passuk repeats the same commandment almost verbatim in Parshas Ki Sisa, Shemos 34:20. 3) In Parshas Korach, the Torah states: And the firstborn of a non-kosher animal you shall redeem (Bamidbar 18:15). Although a donkey is not specifically mentioned, the Gemara (Tosefta, Bechoros 1:2) discerns that redemption of a firstborn donkey alone is intended.

Quite intriguingly, of all unclean (non-kosher) animals, only the donkey has the distinction of requiring redemption, an attribute that is only otherwise found in kosher animals. This mitzvah is found as number 82 on the list of Positive Commandments compiled by the Rambam (no. 277 on the Rambam’s directory of all mitzvos and no. 22 in Sefer HaChinuch).

Why does the donkey have this prestige? It is the only non-kosher species of animal whose firstborn has kedushah and requires redemption. The Gemara teaches that this is an earned reward for the donkey. When the Children of Israel were preparing to leave Egypt, the Egyptians gave them many gifts (Shemos 11:2-3, 12:35-36). The Children of Israel needed to carry all these gifts out of Egypt and through the desert. Apparently, at the precise moment of the Exodus, the local branches of Home Depot were all out of hand-trucks.

For 40 years in the Sinai desert, all the Jews used many donkeys to carry their loads. In return for the donkeys having provided the Children of Israel with this invaluable service, the Torah gifted the firstborn of donkeys with kedushah (Gemara Bechoros 5b). Heaven rewarded donkeys with a special mitzvah. Thus, this mitzvah teaches hakaras ha’tov, the importance of acknowledging help extended when needed.

The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe and His Donkey

On Sunday, August 1, 2010, thousands of people gathered at Camp Bnei Sanz in Woodbourne to witness and celebrate the ritual redemption of a firstborn donkey belonging to a Jew, in fulfillment of the above-described Mitzvas Aseh (Positive Commandment). The camp maintains a farm in order to teach its campers all about nature as well as about the agricultural mitzvos. When the farm’s donkey became pregnant, Rabbi Dovid Halberstam, Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, became a partner in its ownership in order to be in position to perform this contemporarily seldom-observed mitzvah.

The campgrounds were prepared for the massive gathering. Sections were designated for each age group of campers as well as for men and for women, ensuring that everyone present would have a full view of the entire event. Before the donkey was brought into view, Senior Klausenberger Dayan, Rabbi Fishel Hershkowitz, explained the opportunity for everyone present to acknowledge the unique occasion and to give honor to the donkey for its special status as well as for enabling the day’s mitzvah. The Dayan asked everyone to stand up and honor the donkey as it was being brought into view.

Rabbi Avrohom Halpern, Sanz-Klausenberger gabbai, served as the event’s chairman. Rosh Kollel, Mekor Halacha in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yitzchok Shimon Ostreicher, explained the particulars of the mitzvah. Rabbi Ostreicher is the father-in-law of Yehoshua Moskowitz, director of the camp farm. Yehoshua Moskowitz and Aaron Protovin, co-director, were partners together with the Sanz-KlausenbergerRebbe in the ownership of the donkey.

Rabbi Shaul Yehuda Priezant, Union City Dayan and son-in-law of Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, zt”l (1905-1994), Klausenberger Rebbe and author of Shefa Chaim, spoke about hakaras ha’tov, the obligation to be thankful for aid and considerations extended when needed. In between speakers, Avrohom Yitzchok Brisk and his group Meshoririm sang for the assembled and were roundly applauded.

With great fanfare, everyone rose as songs were sung to welcome the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe’s entrance. The Rebbe was resplendently dressed in his Shabbos attire for the special event. The two other partner-owners of the donkey were also dressed in their Shabbos clothing to honor the event. The Rebbe then performed an act of acquisition to acquire ownership of the lamb that would redeem the firstborn donkey.

Then, with great reverence, the Rebbe enunciated aloud the special Brachah of Redemption, which was followed by the resounding Amein of the thousands carefully listening. Then the Rebbe handed the lamb to Boruch Yehuda Rubin, who served as the designated recipient Kohen. Together, theRebbe and the Kohen recited the formula text that accompanies the acts of redemption.

When completed, the Rebbe conducted a L’Chayim Tisch and each and every person there personally gave the Rebbe mazel tov on the important mitzvah. This was followed by a formal meal at which the Rebbe stressed the significance of the mitzvah and expressed the hopes of all present that with the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash in our lifetimes, we all will regularly perform such mitzvos.

{Rabbi G Tannenbaum-Machberes/}


  1. The Arabs use donkeys to carry bombs into Jewish centers of population in Israel and Jews perform holy Torah commandments with the same donkeys. I wonder what PETA has to say about this.

  2. It is only a rare mitzvah because we are largely urbanized and estranged from the natural world and agrarian society that the Torah, and the Mikdash based avodah requires. Kudos to the efforts of the camp to expose city kids to world beyond.


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