Baltimore, MD - Nov. 1, 2015 - 19 Mar Cheshvan 5776 - I was asked to describe the events leading up to today’s pidyan peter chamor, as well as the celebration itself.  A few years back, my friend, Rabbi Don Moskovitz, made a pidyan peter chamor in Baltimore together with Rabbi Nesanel Kostelitz.  Shortly thereafter, Don became aware that a female donkey was born to the same farmer who cared for the first donkey.  Don approached me and asked if I would be willing to partner in this venture in the hope that this donkey would eventually give birth to a male donkey, making it a peter chamor with kedusha as spelled out in the Torah.  He carefully explained the risks and potential costs.  It was by no means certain if this donkey would give birth to a male and it could take several attempts to achieve the desired result.  I replied that if I declined, it was absolutely certain I would not be able to partake in this mitzvah, so I told him I was in until the end.  Thus was born our partnership in this rare and wonderful mitzvah!

Don purchased the female donkey during its first year of life, a time when it could not become pregnant.  He frequently made inquiry on the donkey’s progress and I continued to write my share of checks for the donkey’s feed and care.  A number of months later, we learned the donkey was expecting.  The question remained – was it a boy or a girl? 

On Motzai Simchas Torah, while we were still in Eretz Yisrael, the answer came in an email message from Don, “You are a 50% owner of a MALE, FIRST BORN, Bouncing Baby Donkey. Mazel Tov.  Let’s get together  . . .”

When we returned to Baltimore, we started the preparations.  Fortunately, Don knew all the logistics, which made life easier.  However, at the same time, he was in and out of the hospital and was quite weak.  It was my hope that his involvement in this mitzvah would be a zechus for a refuah shelayma.  

I very much wanted to have the pidyan peter chamor at Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim/Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, a school very near and dear to me for a number of reasons.  I thought this rare and exotic mitzvah would make a deep impression on the young talmidim of the school.  Don agreed.  Furthermore, our kohein of choice was Rabbi Nachman Kahana, the Menahal for the Elementary School.  We picked up the phone and asked Rabbi Kahana if he would be willing to serve as the kohein.  He immediately agreed.  We then asked his thoughts about hosting this at TA, he also thought this was a wonderful idea. 

My next call was to the President of TA, Rabbi Yehuda Lefkovitz.  Rabbi Lefkovitz was excited about the prospect of hosting this mitzvah at the school.  He asked for a few days to meet with the hanhala so they could discuss the logistics.  Several days later he called me to inform me that the entire hanhala was on board and very excited about this mitzvah.  All I can say is they went beyond any expectation that I might have had.

Several other details needed to be sorted out.  Don was able to secure a sheep, and our friend, Saul Passe agreed to help with transporting the sheep for us.  My wife Linda, a party planner par excellence, met with the school and went over the final details of the event. 

The celebration was scheduled to start at 10:30.  It would be held indoors in the Gym/Multipurpose Room, in order to deal with the weather and security issues.  When I arrived at 10:15, one could feel the excitement in the air.  Talmidim, including my grandson Yehuda Elazar, were busy putting out the programs and tehillim on the chairs.  A beautiful banner hung above the stage.  The room was decorated with art projects prepared especially by the talmidim in honor of today’s event.  At 10:30, the room began to fill up.  Students from grades two through twelve filed into the room to music provided by Yehuda Mond.  Dr. Mond was on call in the ICU the night before and he told me he had no sleep, but there was no way he was going to miss this event.  In addition to the students, distinguished rabbonim and guests added to the kovod of the event.  At approximately 10:45, the pidyan began with introductory remarks from Rabbi Lefkovitz.  I then spoke briefly, thanking the Ribbono Shel Olam for allowing me the zechus to participate in this mitzvah.  I thanked Don, for giving me the opportunity to partner with him.  I thanked my wife Linda, for all of her hard work, especially coming on the heals of a large Shabbos Project event held the week before in a tent in our backyard.  Everyone knows that if you want to get anything done in my family, speak to Linda.  Finally, I thanked TA and all the wonderful people there who worked so had on such short notice to make this mitzvah so amazing and so special. 

I then addressed the talmidim, telling them to look at what we do so school should never seem boring.  I explained why this mitzvah has become so rare, and told them why I was motivated to participate.  I left them with the thought that Hashem has blessed us with many wonderful mitzvos.  Our job is to look for mitzvah opportunities and to grab them when they present. 

As I looked out at the many young children, I saw they were mesmerized by the proceedings and by the chamor, who was beautifully decorated and featured center stage.  I thought back at the many years of hard work with my colleagues during my tenure as Chairman of the Board of TA.  Over one thousand students filled the room and that was not the entire student body.  I felt such nachas and was grateful to my successors, Chaim Wealcatch, Dr. Joel Pleeter, Ari Krupp and Peretz Wertenteil, for their work in allowing TA to continue to grow and flourish.  I saw the hemshech Hadoros as well.  Not only did our sons, Dr. Ari Elman and Dr. Dov Elman attend TA, but now our grandsons, Yehuda Elazar, Akiva Gershon and Daniel Dovid, are students there.   They enjoyed coming up to help decorate the donkey.  I am pleased that the next generation of Elmans has become active in the school, as our daughter-in-law, Mrs. Inbal Elman, serves as Co-President of the PTA. I was happy to see that the amazing love and dedication of TA's outstanding rabbeim, teachers and staff towards their students continues unabated as the school seamlessly transitions to the next generation of lay and professional leadership.

Following my remarks, Don Moscovitz shared his thoughts and divrei Torah about the great mitzvah.  He said the donkey, while tamei, is the only animal that needs to be redeemed in such a manner.  One reason may be that the donkey helped carry the burden of all the riches for Klal Yisrael when we were redeemed from Mitzrayim. Rabbi Yaakov Schwartz, Menahel of the Middle School, then led the kehilla in the recitation of Tehillim on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael.  This was followed by a moving rendition of Achaynu, led by Dr. Mond.  Rabbi Schwartz then recited a mishabayrach for cholim

DSC_6178 from on Vimeo.


Next Rabbi Yechiel Spero shared moving divrei Torah about this mitzvah.  He first reviewed the halachos, explaining them clearly so that all the talmidim would understand them.  He then told over an emotional story that moved every person present.  Just as the donkey carries the burden for us, we must help carry the burden for other Jews in need.  If we can do so successfully, with Hashem’s help we will be zocheh to see Ben Dovid riding on his chamor, ushering in the Geulah Shelayma.

Accompanied by lively music and dancing, student representatives from the different classes then decorated the donkey.  Following this, we welcomed the sheep to the stage. 

The time had come for the Pidyan Peter Chamor.  Don had carefully prepared the text, which essentially has been the same for thousands of years for this mitzvah d’oraysa.  We first informed the Kohein, Rabbi Kahana, that we wished to redeem the chamor.  He then verified with us that we owned the donkey, and that indeed it was a first born male to its mother.

Next I picked up the sheep and presented it to Rabbi Kahana.  I then made the bracha for the pidyan peter chamor.  Rabbi Kahana then made a borei pri hagafen.  Finally, I recited, with great emotion, the Shehechiynu bracha.  The ceremony concluded with birkas Kohanim from Rabbi Kahana to Rabbi Moskovitz, to me and then to the entire tzibbur.  The festivities concluded with lively music and spirited dancing. 

 Rabbi Lefkovitz told me later that he was thrilled that we chose TA for this mitzvah as it might possibly be the only time the talmidim will see this mitzvah performed.  He told me that all eyes of the talmidim were riveted to the proceedings, which clearly made a deep impression on all present.

Rabbi Kahana told us that we need to take the energy of this mitzvah and channel it to our Avodas Hashem in the future. 

 My take home message is that all mitzvos, are a gift.  We need to treat the common mitzvos with the same fervor, intensity and awe as these rare mitzvos.  We can never take them for granted, but must try to grab hold of them whenever we can.