Whose Joy Will Be Greatest When Mashiach Comes? A Post-Pesach Thought from Rabbi Chaim Ingram OAM
Presently the British Royal Family is undergoing one of its periodic mini-crises. Amid the uncomfortable spotlight resting upon the relationship between the Sussexes and the other senior Royals, another worst-kept royal secret was recently revealed in the popular press, namely that the Queen is “constantly exasperated” and “puzzled” by the behaviour of her first-born son, Prince Charles, heir apparent.
It got me thinking: Do parents expect more from their firstborns than their other children?
I believe they do. And I wonder what the universe’s First Parent feels about His firstborn child, Klal Yisrael. (Bni bechori Yisrael! “Israel is My firstborn son!” [Exodus 4:22].)
There is of course a clear link between Pesach and firstborns. Moreover, both of the key passages in our tefilin from Sefer Shemot feature the dual themes of the Exodus and the special ceremony that takes place between a parent and a firstborn son known as pidyon ha-ben, redemption of the firstborn.
This link is driven home further in the Talmud (Pesachim 121b). After every imaginable aspect of Pesach has been extensively explored, the final sugya (passage) of the tractate showcases pidyon ha-ben and in particular the berachot over the pidy.\
“It is obvious to us” posits the Gemara “that the mitsva blessing ‘who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to redeem the firstborn son’ should be said by the father (as it is his mitsva). But what of the blessing of shehecheyanu (recited upon a new landmark event)? Should the Kohen (indispensable agent of the redemption) recite it or should the father?
It appears a valid question! In order to transact the redemption, the father must pay a Kohen five selaim of pure silver (approximately AUS$80), The Kohen is materially the beneficiary of the mitsva so maybe he should say the blessing.
On the other hand, the once-in-a-lifetime mitsva belongs to the father. Moreover he is, after all, “retrieving” his son who presumably will be infinitely more precious to him than 96 grams of silver! The joy of the father will assuredly be greater.
Rav Simlai, who was asked the question, in his humility, declines to respond before consulting his colleagues in the Bet Midrash. They answer without hesitation “the father recites both berachot – the mitsva blessing and Shehecheyanu”.
I believe that this final sugya of Pesachim is more than just about pidyon ha-ben. At surface level, on reflection, how is the question even a question? The Kohen has acquired five silver coins; the father has acquired a precious human soul! I believe the sugya contains a far more profound message.
We cited earlier the verse in which G-D instructs Moses to declare to Pharaoh that Am Yisrael is his “firstborn child”.
When this firstborn child of His, Am Yisrael, will be ultimately redeemed in the epoch of Mashiach, who will make the Shehechayanu? Whose joy will be greater? Our joy at attaining the great earthly good that awaits us in that epoch? Or His joy on “re-acquiring” us as His am segula, his special treasure, gracing us again with His imminent Presence, the Shechina, and welcoming us back into His palace on earth, the Third Bet Mikdash in rebuilt Jerusalem?
We are designated a mamlechet kohanim, a kingdom of Kohens, of ministers, of exemplars to the world and a goy kadosh, a holy nation. We haven’t always (often?) lived up to that exalted designation – which is why I questioned at the outset exactly what G-D must feel about us, His firstborn child when there is more division in the House of Israel than unity, when our behaviour is so often so puzzling and exasperating, much as lehavdil Prince Charles’s is to the Queen.
But still and all, the time will come – of that we are assured by our prophets – when, at very least, our cup of tears, suffering and pleading will overflow and outweigh our lack of merit and He will finally redeem us.
Who will say the Shehecheyanu? We, the mamlechet kohanim who will be overjoyed at having achieved our earthly mission? Or G-D who will be overjoyed at us having achieved our mission?
The answer is given by the Gemara! The father makes the Shehecheyanu! Our Tatti in himmel, our Parent in heaven will make the Shehcheyanu. His smile, His joy will far surpass even ours!
May that day arrive sooner than we dare to dream!