Just recently, I was approached in broad daylight by someone in front of a large crowd of people in Johannesburg, and given the choice: “Your money or your son!”

As a matter of fact, everyone witnessing the exchange that took place burst out with a cheerful “Mazel Tov!” when I handed over the money. Thank G‑d, everyone is fine, and my one-month-old son, Tzemach, is sleeping now in the pram at my side as I share with you this story.

We can—often without even realizing it—sacrifice everything, even our child, for some silverPidyon haben, the “Redemption of the Firstborn,” is one of the rare Biblical commandments that can be fulfilled only by a select few—and even for them, it is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Pidyon haben is a ceremony in which the father of a firstborn male redeems his son by giving five silver coins1 to a kohen (a priestly descendent of Aaron), thirty-one days after the baby’s birth.

This is the gist of the conversation between the kohen and the father that takes place during the ceremony:

Father: My Israelite wife has borne me this firstborn son.

Kohen: Which would you rather have—your firstborn son, or the five coins which you are obligated to give me for his redemption?

Father: I want my firstborn son, and here you have five coins which are required of me for the redemption.

Shocking question, isn’t it? Who would ever even consider keeping the money instead of their precious child, G‑d forbid?

But when you think about it, we can—often without even realizing it—sacrifice everything, even our child, for some silver.

Let me explain:

In the Passover haggadah, we read of Pharaoh’s decree to have all Jewish newborn boys drowned in the Nile River.

As in all stories of the Torah, this story, too, contains lessons for us today. Torah isn’t just a sefer (Bible), a storybook telling us only of our ancestors, but a Torat Chayim (a lesson of life, and a lesson for life), a G‑dly guide for our day-to-day lives.

So Pharaoh and his decrees, as well as the miracles that followed to save us from these decrees, were not merely something of the past.

The Nile was considered by the Egyptians of the time to be a deity. Their sustenance came from its waters, and they worshipped it, as many today worship the Dollar, the Rand and the Euro.

“Throw those Jewish newborns into the Nile!” thundered Pharaoh.

Pharaoh’s decree resonates until this very day, intimidating many couples to limit the number of newborn Jewish babies because of their fear of the “Nile,” their limited income.

Why is concern for financial security when having children considered to be succumbing to Pharaoh’s decree? Isn’t it a most reasonable concern and consideration?

The Talmud says: “There are three partners in the creation of a person—the father, the mother and G‑d.”2 Man cannot create life; no power on earth can guarantee the birth of a baby. The key to that decision is in the hands of G‑d alone. He is the third Partner in the conception of every child.

Faith in the third Partner’s planning resolves one of the most common justifications offered for family planning—the fear of being unable to support more than a certain proposed number of children.

Naturally, parents want the best for their children, and this entails accepting a financial burden. But being a good provider is not determined by one’s own efforts alone.

True, the Torah requires that a man work to provide for his family. But it is a basic tenet of Judaism that all success and all wealth comes from G‑d, that it is His blessings that give sustenance, not one’s own unaided efforts.

The Egypt mentality believes that sustenance comes from the Nile RiverHe will provide for all the children He gives to a couple: “He who gives life, gives food.”

Our internal Pharaoh knows how to be convincing, however. Don’t you want to be able to provide them with a good (=expensive) Jewish education? Don’t you want to be able to keep the highest kosher standards? How do you think you’ll be able to afford all that? How will you be able to serve G‑d with peace of mind and joy under such pressure?

To this we answer:

The Egypt mentality believes that sustenance comes from the Nile River. But we Jews know where the source of it all, including our income, really is: G‑d alone.

G‑d commanded us—as a matter of fact, it’s the very first commandment in the Torah—to “be fruitful and multiply.”3 Surely He asks of us to do only that which is within our reach, so that if we are able and in a position to fulfill this mitzvah, He will bless us with abundance! As the verse says,4 Birkat Hashem hee ta’ashir—the blessings from G‑d, they make one rich! Our job is to create a vehicle for G‑d’s blessings, and leave the rest to G‑d.

Many times, both privately to individuals and in public talks, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, encouraged families to bring new souls into the world. He reminded us that every child brings with him or her additional blessings. “If G‑d is one of the partners here,” says the Rebbe, “you can rest assured that He will fulfill His commitment, and do His share so that you will not only have the bare essentials, but even more than that, you will be bestowed with wealth!”5

I remember the first time my family visited the home of the American ambassador to Uruguay, Mr. Martin Silverstein. When introducing ourselves, my father asked him how many children they have, to which Mr. Silverstein replied, “Six; one for each million.”

Consider: What if Moses’ parents would have stopped after giving birth to a son and a daughter, Aaron and Miriam? Little Moses would never have made it into the world… Where would we all be today?

On a personal note, I am eternally grateful that my mother-in-law was blessed with her ninth child, my wife and the mother of our little Tzemach . . .

Our sages also teach us: Moshiach will come when all souls that find themselves above will be born!

How’s that for pressure? We can each do our small part.

Once we defeat Pharaoh at this level, and with G‑d’s partnership are able to welcome new souls into the world, we still have to deal with a different aspect of the edict: “Throw them into the Nile!”

In Egyptian life, the Nile River was seen, quite naturally, as the source of the great prosperity of the land. With reliable regularity the Nile would overflow its banks, providing water for the irrigation of the fertile Nile valley, the basis of the Egyptian economy. For this reason the river was worshipped as a deity.

The idea that the Jewish children should be thrown into the Nile therefore implies a change in the orientation of the Jewish people and of their perspective of the worldThe idea that the Jewish children should be thrown into the Nile therefore implies a change in the orientation of the Jewish people and of their perspective of the world.

Instead of seeing G‑d as the source of their sustenance, the Jews would now perceive only apparently reliable, natural forces. They would feel themselves to be totally dependent on the natural, regular flow of the Nile rather than on G‑d, the Creator of the Universe.

They would no longer pray to G‑d to help them in their endeavors to make a living. They would simply rely confidently on the natural power of the Egyptian river.

As parents, this attitude certainly impacts the decisions we make for our children in terms of their future education.

So when I was asked by our dear kohen, “Your money or your child?” it changed the way I view my child, and my responsibility towards his future education. It was an opportunity for me to reflect on the above messages, to commit to providing a pure, unadulterated and true Jewish education for our son, and ask G‑d to help my wife and me fulfill this precious task given to us, with joy, health, peace of mind and prosperity.

May G‑d grant you and yours all of His blessings, and may we always share joyous occasions together, with lots of true Yiddishe nachas from our children, grandchildren and ourselves!