Coming home in the car with my husband from the brit milah of our newest great-grandson, I was on a high. A healthy, beautiful baby boy—the first-born son for our grandchildren. My mind was miles away as the car sped along the Begin Highway in Jerusalem, hearing my husband and our son chatting in the front seat.

In my mind’s eye, I was still in the shul hall where the brit milah had taken place, hearing the baby’s cry at the moment he entered into the Covenant of Abraham. My ears caught a few words of conversation: “pidyon haben … three weeks.”

I had been so caught up in the plans for the brit milah—there had been concerns it wouldn’t be able to take place on the eighth day, since the baby’s bilirubin levels were slightly elevated—that it had quite escaped me that another celebration would be taking place very soon: the pidyon haben, 30 days after the birth.

Redeeming the firstborn son is an ancient and quite rare ceremony, going back to biblical times. The father of a firstborn male “redeems” his son by giving the worth of five silver coins to a kohen, 30 days after the baby’s birth.

Originally, all firstborns were the sanctified priestly class. However, when the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf, the priesthood was transferred to the Levite tribe who did not participate in the sin. Ever since, all Israelite firstborn sons must be redeemed in a pidyon haben ceremony. Not every first-born son has to be redeemed, however. Levites, including kohanim, do not redeem their children through the ceremony.

The day of the pidyon dawned. We dressed in our best finery and made our way to the hall in a southern suburb of Jerusalem. We joined other members of our families, and oohed and aahed over the baby. The kohen arrived, and the ceremony began.

Yehuda brought his child, holding him on a tray (padded with a cushion) to the kohen. The kohen then asked him some questions. He confirmed that this was his wife’s first child, a son, that she is an Israelite woman, and that he has come to redeem him as commanded in the Torah.

Then he asked Yehuda which he would rather have: the child or the silver coins, which he must pay. Everyone present knew what he would answer, but the question is part of the ceremony. Yehuda said that he prefers the child to the money. He then recited the blessings for the mitzvah of redemption and handed over the coins to the kohen. The kohen held them over the child, saying that the price for the redemption has been received and accepted in place of the child. He then blessed the child, and we all happily returned to the festive meal.

I found it very moving to be present at this quite rare ceremony for only the second time in my life. I couldn’t get out of my mind what had happened the very first time I was privileged to be at a pidyon haben for our friends, Tzipi and Yair’s baby son, Amiel.

It took place in the living room of Tzipi’s parents. The apartment was crammed full of members of both families, sitting three deep along the walls of the room—four grandparents, three great-grandparents, Tzipi’s siblings, some married, with babies and toddlers of their own, and Yair’s siblings.

Great-Grandma Rochel was gently wheeled into the room by her son, who placed her right in the center of the room so that she would be able to see and hear the ceremony without difficulty.

She had become very frail. She lived with her son and daughter-in-law, who together with her caregiver looked after her with love and respect. I was always moved by the way her grandchildren—from the oldest to the youngest—related to her, the patience they had towards her, the respect they gave her.

Some of the wider family had not seen her for some time, so they were especially happy that she was able to be present. It was a wonderful evening, full of joy of fulfilling the mitzvah of redeeming the firstborn son.

Less than two weeks later, my phone rang while I was in the kitchen making soup for Shabbat. I picked up the receiver and recognized the voice of our granddaughter-in-law, Hadas. After hurriedly asking me how I was, she said, “Savta, have you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Yair’s family, the Bergers, are Leviim.

Savta, do you remember, Yair’s grandfather came to England from Europe in 1939, as a child, on his own, just before the war.”

“Yes, I do remember that.”

“And when he grew up and got married, he only had one child, Yair’s father. So they had no family in England and lost touch with any family in Europe who survived.

“In the last few years, a distant cousin from the United States or Canada found his name on the Internet, and they began to correspond.”

“And … ?”

“A month ago, she went to Europe on holiday and visited the area where Yair’s family had lived all those years ago. She went to the cemetery and found the grave of one of his relatives. And engraved clearly next to his name was: “Ha-Levi”! What do you think of that?”

“I’m staggered. But wait. That means that there was no need for a pidyon. Hadas, I’ll try to call you later, I can hear the soup bubbling away ... ”

As I was chopping vegetables while a salmon filet was slowly roasting in the oven, my mind was taken up thinking about the exquisite timing of the discovery that baby Amiel’s family are Levites. Though the pidyon haben ceremony was not necessary, it gave us all the opportunity to see Great-Grandma Rochel for one last time. For, the very morning after the pidyon, she became ill and died only three weeks later.

What immense kindness from G‑d that Great-Grandma Rochel should see all her descendants gathered joyously together one last time.