A recent ceremony in Brazil's largest city has proved it's never too late to pay your dues.
Moishe Urmen, 67, Chaim Bramdes, 20, and Marcelo Stilman, 19, all stood at the front of the synagogue at Beit Chabad Brooklin in S. Paulo last Sunday to perform a ritual typically reserved for 30-day-old first born baby boys, a pidyon haben.
At the event – its name in Hebrew translates as "redemption of the firstborn" and come from a command in the Torah to redeem all first born males who are not from the Kohein and Levite priestly classes – the traditional silver platter bearing an infant graced with jewels could not be found. The three men, however, weren't lacking in regality.
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yacov Gerenstadt, co-director of the S. Paulo community center, explained that the duty to redeem a firstborn son falls on the father. Should he fail to do so, however, for whatever reason, the son can redeem himself.
The reasoning behind the ceremony, in which the monetary equivalent of five shekels of silver – about six U.S. silver dollars – is transferred to a member of the Jewish line of priests, is rooted in the days of the Exodus before the Jewish people sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf. Had they not sinned, every first born male would have been required to serve in the Holy Temple. But because of the incident, the privilege of such service devolved upon the Levites and Koheins, who did not participate in the sin.
The Torah, nevertheless, still requires every firstborn male to be redeemed in exchange for not carrying out those Temple duties.
"I gave a lecture in the Chabad House about the custom and who should do it," said Gerenstadt. "They recognized that they hadn't been redeemed, and they wanted to do it."
"I wanted to be a part of this big mitzvah," said Bramdes. "I never had the opportunity to do it before."
Almost 100 people from all over the community came to the event, which was followed by a large festive meal.
Urmen, who believed that he was one of only a few 67-year-olds in history to fulfill this Torah commandment so late in life, said that his father never organized a pidyon haben because they didn't live among other Jews.
"You're never too old to do a mitzvah," he said. "There's always time to do this mitzvah, and every mitzvah is important."
Gerenstadt hoped the ceremony would be the first of many: "We hope that every grown man that needs to, will do it also."