Passover- The First Born, If A Son, Fasts on Erev Pesach
On the subject of Ta’anit Bechorot, which is the fast day that the custom is for the 1st born to fast on Erev Pesach. This year 5763 (2003), that day falls out on a Wednesday.
The custom is brought down in Shulcan Aruch, that a 1st born, whether he is from the father or from the mother, specifically the males, according to our custom, must and should fast on Erev Pesach, to commemorate the fact the 1st born Jewish people were saved from Macat Bechorot. So in order to commemorate that, we fast. Now, since this is not from the strict fasts, that it’s only a Minhag, (we’re not saying that to belittle it, Has Veshalom,) and because the day is on Erev Persach, which is a hectic day, when there’s a lot of preparations for the holiday, Chachamim were lenient that if one attends a Seudat Mitzvah, that he can break the fast as such.
For example, if there was a Brit Milah on that day, and he went to the Milah, and he ate from the Seudah, so that is considered he is permissible to eat, and he can continue eating for the rest of the day. Or if he went to a Pidyon Haben, or if he went to a Seudat Bar Mitzvah on the day that the boy became fully Bar Mitzvah. Or for that matter our Minhag is, if he went to a Siyum Masechet. This means he came to synagogue, and someone in the synagogue was finishing a Masechet of Gemarah that he prepared, that he studied (not that he read), that he studied, and he is going to say the end piece. And we are talking about where you were there for it, and you heard the last piece. It is not proper just to walk in at the end, and eat, what they call in the community, the ‘magic cake’. This ‘magic cake’ has no source in Halacha. If someone brings you home a cake from the Siyum and you are a first born, it does not work. You have to be there at the Siyum, and the one that is finishing has to know what he is reading, and the one that is listening, should at least understand the last line of the Gemarah that the Misayem is saying. Only then is it permissible to eat. If a person was not able to finish a Masechet, but was able to finish one the 6 Sedarim of Mishnayot, according to the explanation of the Mabartenura, this would also count as a valid Siyum. It should be pointed out that if a person can not find a Siyum that day, and he is a first born, then he has to fast. The fast starts this year at 10 minutes to 5:00 in the morning, and ends at the Seder at about 8:15 PM. So therefore, a person should make it his business, if he wants to able to eat on that day, to find a Siyum Masechet, or Brit Milah as we said. Of course, if a person is sick or not feeling well, or is weak, then he does not have to fast on Ta’anit Bechorot.
I saw a nice explanation from the Shaare Orah that says; ‘Why should the 1st borns have to fast? To the contrary, they should make a party on Erev Pesach! After all they were saved! How do we celebrate the redemption, by fasting? It should be a happy day for the 1st born.’ So he said, that we know there is a law, “Chayav Adam Lir-ot Et Atzmo, Keilu Hu Yatza Memitzrayim”, that we have an obligation to feel and relive as if we actually came out of Egypt ourselves. So he says a theory that the Jewish 1st borns were saved, but really they didn’t have the Zechut to be saved, because we know just as the Egyptians were worshipping idols, the Jews in that generation were also worshipping Avodah Azara. Therefore, when the Gezarah came from Moshe that the 1st borns were going to die, certainly the 1st borns from the Jews were petrified that they were going to die also. So he said they probably fasted in order to atone for their sins so that G-d wouldn’t kill them. So since we have an obligation to relive Yetziat Mitzrayim, so therefore if you are 1st born then you must fast, because that’s what they did in Mitzrayim. So we are commemorating something that was done thousands of years ago by the 1st borns themselves, in order to save themselves. So to commemorate that we fast also.
One should keep Minhag Yisrael, and therefore see to it in the community, to attend from the many different Minyanim that are posted, to make Siyum Bechorot.
If a person has a child that’s a boy that’s 1st born, it’s a Mitzvah to bring him to Shul if he’s of age, in order to hear the Siyum Masechet. Of course, if his age is less than of Bar Mitvah, and its hard for him to come to Shul, we can then be lenient on the Katan from fasting. But Lechatchila, the father should go for the son and listen to the Siyum if the child cannot come.