Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Cheshvan 5761 - November 15, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
The Bris
by Sudy Rosengarten

Outside, with sun shining brightly and birds singing gloriously as they hopped from branch to branch of green- leafed trees, Rivka was able to forget that it was winter. But inside her Bnei Brak apartment, it was a different story. There, despite the kerosene heater that burnt all the time and the layers of sweaters that she always wore, she never stopped shivering. Everyone kept telling her that it was just a matter of time till she got used to winters without steam heat, but it was already three years since her family had settled in Israel and Rivka was still freezing in the winters. There was a knock at the door. Before she could answer, Rivka's top floor neighbor, Rutti Glick, pushed her head inside and said in a rush, "Rivka, are you ready? Hurry! We'll be late for the Bris."

"But I'm not even dressed for a simcha," Rivka moaned, feeling like some Russian Cossack in her thick, long woolen stockings, woolies, high fleece-lined boots, scarves wound around her neck, layers of sweaters and a wool knit hat that covered all her hair.

"Just put on your sheitel. No one will notice the rest."

"But I wasn't even invited," Rivka protested unhappily.

"No one gets invited to a Bris," Rutti said. "An announcement is made. Everyone comes. It's a mitzva."

The house was already crowded when the two of them arrived; the living room with bearded men, the women in the hallway, where they'd be able to hear, if not see, what was going on. Chana, the mother of the child, smiled weakly to each guest as they entered and returned their mazel tovs. Then there was a loud hush.

The father of the eight-day-old infant wrapped his tallis tightly round him, pinched his eyes closed tight and recited each word of the blessings in deep concentration. "...Who made us holy with His mitzvos and commanded us to enter all males into the Covenant of Avrohom Ovinu." "Blessed... for giving us life, for sustaining us, for bringing us to this time." Everyone cheered their "Amen."

The mohel, knife in hand, bent over the child. Everyone strained forward. A little girl kept asking her older brother, "What's he doing? What's the mohel doing to the baby?" but her brother maintained a stony-faced silence. Except for the drip of the faucet in the kitchen sink, there was total silence. Then, after what seemed like a long time, the baby started to cry. Everyone let out a sigh of relief and those on the front lines began a search for the baby's pacifier.

The mohel, an elderly man with a white beard, straightened up and called out, "May the father rejoice with what came forth from his loins. May the mother be gladdened with the fruits of her womb..."

"In your blood shall you live!" the assembled echoed and happy shouts of "Mazel tov" rang out in the room. The men all rushed to the child. The women surrounded Chana, grasped her hand, embraced her and someone brought over a chair for her to sit on. The little girl was still complaining, "I keep asking what they did to the baby but nobody wants to tell me," and the ladies all smiled.

The baby was brought to his mother. She kissed him gently; the tears fell on his cheeks. Then she laid him in his carriage and wheeled him to a quiet corner of the house. The father washed his hands, made the blessing and cut into a tremendous challa. He sent slices all around and the meal began. The men sat in the living room, the women in a side room, making a lot of noise while they shoveled spoonfuls of food into their own and their children's mouths. In no time, the faces of the little children were smudged with multicolored ices, cake fillings and cremes.

The child's father stood up to speak. The men stopped singing. "Rejoice ye with the fruit of your womb," he began slowly, "for you have given life to a creature that is greater than angels. Of all creations, only man is capable of hallowing the clay from which he was formed. And how does he do that? Not only by contemplating Hashem's greatness, not by thinking esoteric thoughts. We become holy simply by doing mitzvos. Our religion is not a philosophy; it is a religion of deeds. I pray that just as Hashem, in His bountiful goodness, has granted me to begin my newborn's life with mitzvas mila, so may He grant me to see this child grow up to be His devoted servant, consecrating his most powerful strengths to Hashem's service."

Chana urged all the guests to eat. Rutti heaped more food on Rivka's plate. "Nu, tell me," she asked, "aren't you happy you came? A Bris is such a happy occasion; such a big mitzva to attend. How do they celebrate a Bris in the States?"

"Well..." Rivka said haltingly, "I guess it looks the same. You know, the way the men all stand around in their beards and black hats and jackets, clenching their eyes closed in concentration, swaying, humming, singing... And the mother looking so worried and so happy at the same time. Almost ethereal... the seriousness of it all. But..." she added hesitantly. "It's different too. Underneath, I mean. You have to realize," she paused, groping for words that would crystalize her thoughts, "that it's simply not possible for a Jew who has lived in a goyish world all his life and has been exposed to goyish sights and sounds all the time to think and feel and react to a mitzva in the same way as someone who's never been exposed to anything but Jewish impressions and Jewish frames of reference all his life."

Rutti was just then called away and Rivka was left sitting, alone with the thought that she'd tried so hard to express. She wondered if her Israeli neighbor had understood - or even listened with half an ear. Very often, especially at a Bnei Brak simcha or funeral, Rivka had experienced that squashy feeling that she was an outsider, that because she'd been exposed to secular thought, culture and influence, she was defiled and contaminated, that she would never be able to have the purity of thought and belief that came so naturally to her Israeli-born neighbors and friends. She was often filled with envy; jealous of all those young people who'd been born, bred and had lived in the bubble of Bnei Brak all their lives, protected, insulated, never exposed to the world outside.

She had no doubt that Chana's thoughts that day were far different than hers had been on the day of her son's Bris in America, three years before. With a shudder, she forced herself to remember. The family had been so happy that the Bris would take place on Sunday, when none of them worked and they'd be able to attend without rushing back. But instead of waking with excitement and joy, Rivka woke to the ringing of church bells.

To be continued...


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