Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Here is the text of the speech I gave at my son Meir Yaakov's bris

In an uncharacteristic departure from his usual dry, technical, legal writing style, the Tur, in his opening remarks on the laws of bris milah, waxes poetic about the lofty stature and various benefits of the mitzvah of milah. Among other things, he mentions how the positive commandment of milah is greater than all other positive commandments; how Avraham avinu was not complete until he was circumcised; how the land of Israel was attained in its merit; and how in its merit man is saved from the punishments of Gehinnom. He characterizes it as a permanent sign of the covenant between Man and Hashem, which testifies to our special relationship with Hashem as His people and flock. Bris milah is unique in that it is permanent sign of this relationship, as opposed to tzitzit and tefillin which can be removed and leave no record of their presence.

The Bach picks up on this atypical effusive style of the Tur, and offers his own, interesting explanation for it. But I would suggest that part of what motivated the Tur to wax poetic about bris milah is that there is an obvious element of mesirat nefesh to the mitzvah on the part of the parents, to place such a tiny baby under the scalpel. The Tur’s words offer encouragement to bolster their desire to perform this mitzvah.

I believe this idea is expressed in a midrash. Yitzchak and Yishmael are talking, and Yishmael boasts that he underwent the bris at the age of 13, and as such, his was a great act of mesiras nefesh, while Yitzchak had his bris when 8 days old, and thus did not make such a great self-sacrifice to show his dedication to Hashem. Yitzchak replied that, given the opportunity he too would be moser nefesh. Partially in response to this, Hashem commanded the akeidas Yitzchak. So we see that the midrash links the self-sacrifice and devotion of bris milah to that of akeidas Yitzchak.

Now, the bris milah was clearly mesirat nefesh on the part of Avraham, as opposed to Yitzchak. Meanwhile, Akeidas Yitzchak was explicitly in the psukim a difficult test and act of devotion for Avraham, but also implicitly, and in the words of Chazal, for Yitzchak as well.

I think this relates to the final comment of the Tur, about the permanent nature of the bris. The bris milah is the devotion of the parents of their son to the service of Hashem, such that he has a permanent reminder of his relationship with his Creator. It puts the child on the right path, such that in the future he, in turn, will desire to devote himself to avodas Hashem.

Our son, Meir Yaakov, is named for his mother’s paternal grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Mittelman, who exemplified these attributes of mesiras nefesh and dedication to Hashem. Rabbi Yaakov Meir became a rosh yeshiva in Europe at an early age, and after losing his wife and child in the Holocaust, remarried and made a new life for his family in America, never letting his experiences during the war interfere with his future goals. He spent his life here serving in various Jewish communal roles, often simultaneously. For instance, he worked as a shammas, baal koreh, baal tefila, made tzitzit and tefillin for people, counseled those undergoing hardships, and helped many others enter into the Jewish community by teaching them halachos and kashering their homes. Without sacrificing adherence to the halacha that he held so dear, he transmitted the laws to each person on his or her own level. He made sure his children attended yeshivot despite the financial difficulties this entailed. Rabbi Yaakov Meir had an intense desire to help his family and community develop and maintain a permanent connection to Hashem, and was moser nefesh to this end.

Racheli and I express our hope that with today’s small act of mesiras nefesh little Meir Yaakov will have been set upon a course of devotion to Hashem, to Torah, and to klal yisrael, just as his namesake.

Further, we hope that our son, Meir Yaakov, grows up to be a devoted oveid Hashem, who true to his name, will bring light to the world in the form of knowledge, Torah and joy.

I would like to thank everyone who made this simcha possible – first and foremost, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the third partner in the creation of a child. Next, of course, my wife Racheli, and my new son Meir Yaakov, without whom we wouldn’t be having this bris. Also, my mother and father in law, for raising Racheli, and for their help with everything, up to and including recent help with the baby and organizing the bris. And of course I would like to thank my parents for bringing me to where I stand today. Our parents’ mesiras nefesh has ingrained in us the values we hope to pass on to our son. And finally, I would like to thank everyone who came here today to join in, and thereby add to, our simcha, and the entrance of Meir Yaakov into the bris of Avraham Avinu. Keshem shenichnas labris, ken yikanes liTorah, lichuppa, ulemaasim tovim.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rocheli and Josh! MAZEL TOV!!!! Meir Yaakov is BA"H gorgeous! Your D'var Torah was touching and beautiful! May Meir Yaakov be a great source of Nachas to you and Racheli and your entire Michpacha and to all of Klal Yisroel! Sarah and Bentzy


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