During a bris milah we enter a perfected world
"Mazel Tov! It’s a boy!”
As they share their exciting news, the baby’s parents are already planning the next milestone. The Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avodah reminds parents that they should be filled with gratitude for, and anticipation of, the bris milah.
The bris is on the eighth day. If seven symbolizes nature in a world created in seven days, eight symbolizes an event above the natural order. At his bris, the child enters into a covenant with a Nation above nature; the bris is a sign of this special connection. The Shitah Mekubetzes explains that this is one reason the infant is called the “chassan” at his bris, he’s entering into this relationship with Hashem.
Paradigm for the Future
The Sefer Hachinuch notes that Hashem deliberately created us as “incomplete,” in need of a bris milah, to remind us that just as we completed ourselves physically, we must spend our lifetime completing ourselves spiritually. The Kaf Hachayim further explains that this mitzvah, which is done with such simchah despite the pain it entails, creates a paradigm for all future mitzvos this child will do.
The parents must take special care to procure a mohel of outstanding repute and yiras Shamayim. They also need to choose the sandek, the person who will hold the baby on his lap during the bris. The father should have in mind that his child should grow to be like the mohel and sandek in their righteousness.
Darchei Moshe explains that the sandek at the bris is akin to one who builds a mizbeiach and offers ketores. Since bringing ketores leads to wealth, a Kohein could only offer ketores once in his lifetime. Similarly, one should not ask the same person to be sandek for more than one of their children, as it, too, comes with the promise of wealth.
Does a sandek indeed become wealthy? The Chasam Sofer notes that the sandak’s sins may prevent him from receiving the wealth, or that he may escape yissurim in place of receiving this wealth. The Chazon Ish explains that this promise refers to a different type of wealth: the ability to write seforim and success in ruchniyus.
Aruch Hashulchan notes that the name kvatter (the one who brings the baby in) is related to the word ketores, since he brings the baby to the sandek. Most people follow the Otzar Habris’s suggestion to give the kibbud of kvatter to those who don’t have children, as a segulah to give birth.
The father prepares a special chair called Kisei shel Eliyahu, a designation that is recited out loud. Why does Eliyahu Hanavi receive a seat at each bris? When Eliyahu Hanavi fled from Izevel (who was trying to kill him), he ran to Har Sinai, where he complained to Hashem that the Jews had left His bris. As a punishment for his zealous condemnation, Eliyahu needs to go to every bris in the Jewish People, and then come back to report to Hashem how His people are indeed keeping His bris.
It’s worth noting that the Prisha sees this as a reward for Eliyahu Hanavi: Since he was so concerned about the Jewish People keeping the bris, he’s rewarded by seeing every bris that takes place. Rav Wolfson adds that Eliyahu Hanavi stays with the sandek throughout the entire day, and the sandek therefore has an immense power of brachah and tefillah the whole day.
The Olelos Ephraim advises us to daven when the child cries at his bris. The infant’s pure cries go straight to Shamayim, and our tefillos can ascend with them. A further source for the power of these moments is found in the Targum’s understanding of “Yaancha Hashem b’yom tzara — Hashem will answer on the day of trouble.” The Targum explains this is referring to the day of the bris, a time of pain for the baby. It’s customary to say perek vav of Tehillim, which references “al hashminis — the eighth,” at this time as well.
After the bris, the attendees bless the newly named baby: “Just as he entered the bris, so may he enter into Torah, the chuppah, and good deeds.” Just as the bris has made an impression on the boy, explains the Ohalei Shem, so too, Torah and the Torah lifestyle should make an impression on him.
Further, just as this mitzvah was done with mesirus nefesh, likewise, his whole life should be filled with this dedication to Hashem. The Ta’amei Haminhagim adds that just as this mitzvah was done purely for the sake of Heaven, likewise all of his avodas Hashem should be done in this way.
Others explain that this brachah is addressed to the members of the family: Just as they are alive to participate in this occasion, they should merit to be present at the future simchahs of this child as well. Some have a minhag (based on Targum Yehonasan) to recite bircas habanim; blessing the child that, like Ephraim and Menasheh, he be able to keep Torah in every place and time.
It’s customary to stand throughout the bris, in deference to the Shechinah, which is present. The Rema explains that this minhag is based on the pasuk, “Vayamod ha’am ba’bris,” but Rav Wolfson questions this source, which refers to everyone entering the covenant.
Here, only the baby is entering into the bris. He explains that when we attend a bris, we enter into a dimension of the perfected world, the world envisioned by Avraham Avinu as a complete dedication to the Oneness of Hashem. As we gather for a bris, we become elevated, entering into a deeper relationship with Hashem. It’s therefore appropriate that everyone stand at a bris, as we, too, are entering into a special covenant and a time of deeper connection.
Prayer of Protection
At the conclusion of a bris milah, Aleinu is recited. The Yaavetz explains that this is because the baby is now included in the description “that He did not make us like the other nations.” Aleinu, the tefillah instituted by Yehoshua at the conquering of Yericho, is also the tefillah that creates protection from negative forces, and so we say this tefillah to protect the child.
The Yaavetz further notes that the custom to give gifts to the child at a bris is based on the Midrash that Hashem gave Avraham Avinu the gift of Eretz Yisrael at his bris milah.
After the bris, there’s a seudas mitzvah. The Ramban notes that after Yisro converted and had a bris, there was a great seudah prepared. Some have the custom to light candles at this meal, based on the pasuk, “LaYehudim haitah ora v’simchah, sasson v’yakar,” sasson refers to milah.
Maharshal states that there should be an even greater seudah on the third day after the bris. This seudah parallels the feast that Avraham served the angels, a seudah at which Hashem was present as well. Pnei Menachem explains that this feast has a double meaning — it’s a seudas hodayah made for the mother having had a healthy birth, and it also acknowledges that when it comes to doing a mitzvah, we are grateful even for the pain (which peaks on the third day). Beis Yisrael states that the sandek should make (or at least contribute financially toward) this seudah.
Lekach Halebuv exhorts men to keep in mind this mitzvah every day when saying the brachah of “shelo asani ishah.” This way, that magical moment of the eighth day stays with them forever. For a bris is a reminder of our eternal covenant with Hashem, and our responsibility to act accordingly.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 696)
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