Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brit Milah - Parashat VaYigash

Bereishit 45:12 Behold your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benyamin, that it is my mouth that is speaking to you.

In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn how Yosef (Joseph) revealed himself to his brothers. Rashi explains that Yosef proved to his brothers that it was truly him by showing them that he was circumcised and spoke lishon hakodesh (Hebrew). Rashi derives this interpretation from the words of the verse. The phrase "behold your eyes see" refer to something physical that can be seen. This is the brit milah. The next words, "that it is my mouth that is speaking" refers to speech alluding to lishon hakodesh.

The commentators explain that although Yosef instituted circumcision for all of Egypt, only the children of Yaakov performed an additional detail in milah (circumcision) called piriah. Yosef revealed that his circumcision was complete including the pariah. Similarly, with regard to lishon hakodesh although some Egyptians knew the Hebrew language only the children of Yaakov understood the holy nature of the language. This added dimension of holiness is what Yosef conveyed to his brothers.

It is customary that the first Friday night after the birth of a baby boy we celebrate. The name of this celebration is called a "shalom zachor." The commentators give various reasons for this celebration. Let us briefly review some of them.

The Terumas Hadeshen explains that we give thanks to Hashem (G-D) for the child and mother who have survived the dangerous ordeal of pregnancy and birth. This is what the Gemarah (Bava Kama 80) calls "the salvation of the child." The Tur notes the words of Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) "when a male comes to the world peace comes to the world." We celebrate the additional dimension of peace that has come to the world with this child. Indeed, this is why the celebration is called shalom zachar, which is translated as the "peace of the male." Another reason given is to comfort the child whose pure soul has left the spiritual world and has come to a world of darkness. Similarly, Chazal teach us that when the child is in the mother's womb it studies Torah with an angel. Immediately before it leaves, the angel strikes the child causing it to forget all that it has learned. The child is sad because it has forgotten the Torah. We come together at the shalom zachor in order to comfort the child.

Let us now suggest another reason. When Yosef attempted to reintroduce himself to his brothers and prove that he was their brother he did two things. First he showed them that he was a circumcised and second, spoke with them in lishon hakodesh. Likewise, when a child is born, in order for it to be part of the Jewish people it must undergo these two procedures. The first thing is the circumcision that takes place on the eighth day. The second is speaking in the holy language. This is fulfilled by coming together at the shalom zachor and speaking words of Torah in honor of the child. In truth this could be accomplished on any day of the week, however, Shabbat has the special nature that all its speech is holy. The verse says concerning Shabbat "You shall honor it by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words" (Yeshayahu 48:13). Chazal derive from the last words of this verse "vedaber davar," i.e., "and speaking words" that our speech on Shabbat is not to be the same as our speech during the week. On Shabbat we may only speak holy words relating to Torah and prayer and must refrain from all mundane talk. When we come together on the first Shabbat and speak words in honor of the new child we act like Yosef who reintroduced himself to his brothers with "holy language." The holiness of Shabbat enhances the holiness of speech.

It is noteworthy that the custom is to eat lentils at a shalom zachor. One of the reasons is that the child is in a state of mourning after having left the spiritual world and has forgotten the Torah that he studied in his mother's womb. A lentil is round and has no mouth just as mourner is silent due to his pain. We may similarly suggest that we eat lentils to allude to the verse "it is my mouth that is speaking to you." The Torah records Yosef's speech in lishon hakodesh with the words "it is my mouth." Similarly, we eat lentils that have no mouth to signify that at the shalom zachor we open up the mouth with holy words.

-Hadrash Ve-Haiyan

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