What’s Written Inside The Black Boxes of Tefillin? Firstborn


And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck

וכל פטר חמר תפדה בשה ואם לא תפדה וערפתו

Tefillin has redeeming the first born donkey
Tefillin has redeeming the first born donkey

The Torah commands us, in the Perashiot that we don in our Tefillin every day, to redeem all of the Jewish firstborn boys. These are written in the Second Perasha of  the Tefillin. At the same time we are commanded to give all kosher first-born animals as a sacrifice to G-d. Most un-kosher animals are exempt from being given to G-d. However, A firstborn donkey must be exchanged for a lamb that is given to the Kohen. The lamb does not need to be sacrificed. The firstborn donkey’s neck is cracked, if for some reason the donkey is not exchanged for a lamb. (Shemot 13)

Redeem the Donkey in tefillin
Redeem the Donkey in Tefillin

Many people daily ponder this concept, which they tie upon themselves daily. However, many do not. The stated reason in the Torah regarding the firstborn is to remember slavery and exodus from Egypt. The greatest plague that G-d brought on Egypt was the death of firstborn Egyptians. This is a central episode in the story of the Jews leaving Egypt. The story of leaving Egypt itself is central to Judaism.

When we daily put on Tefillin we also remember leaving Egypt. This is part of “Kabalat ol Malchut Shamayim – Accepting the yoke of Heaven”


Firstborn male children who are to be redeemed need to be firstborn from their mother. A father needs to redeem every firstborn that different women might bear with five silver coins.

The firstborn Jews were supposed to have been holy to G-d like the Kohanim. The reason for this is due to the killing of the Egyptian firstborn. However, the firstborn were exchanged for the Kohanim. This was done one for one. There were exactly 22000 Kohanim and 22273 firstborn. The extra firstborn needed to exchange themselves with 5 silver coins, as we are commanded to do with each firstborn. (Bamidbar 3)


Another reason that is discussed about laws of sacrificing firstborn kosher animals and redeeming people and donkeys is related to the Bikurim – First fruits. Each individual also brings these to the Bet Hamikdash in a fancy ceremony.

It has been discussed by Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory as to why the donkey is singled out, over all other un-kosher animals, to need redemption. Rashi states these opinions, first, that The Egyptian firstborn were compared to donkeys. The second reason is because every Jew who left Egypt took lots of donkeys that carried tons of cash and gold that was taken from the Egyptians.