When the Static Stops: My Son’s Unforgettable Bris

When the Static Stops: My Son’s Unforgettable Bris

I love all simchas. I love weddings and kiddushes and mitzvahs bar and bat. But my favorite kind of simcha, hands down, is a bris. There is no other kind of event that fills me, lickety split, with such an overflow dose of joy and awe. And I cry my favorite tears at brises–happy ones, yearning ones, soul-moved ones. This special connection with brises started on the day my only son, Yoel, was circumcised. Here is the article I wrote 4 years ago after Yoel’s unforgettable bris, and it will help you to understand why my attitude towards brises has never ever been the same since. I was reminded of that bris at the equally unforgettable bris yesterday for Nachlaot’s newest addition: Ner Eliyahu Yosef Avraham Hartman…

When the Static Stops by Chana Jenny Weisberg

You are driving down the highway, and as you get farther and farther from the city you get more and more frustrated as your favorite radio station becomes impossible to make out over all the static.

Every day we travel down the highway of life. And every day we are being broadcasted to. Yet, there are times that we are tuned in and the reception is perfect, and other times that we are so far away that all we hear is static. There are even times we hear nothing, because we have forgotten to turn the radio on.

The Chassidic commentator, the Beit Yaakov, explains that the giving of the Torah thirty three hundred years ago was not a one-time event. Like a radio broadcast, G d is giving us the Torah over and over, day after day after day. Yet sometimes we cannot hear G d’s voice over all the static of our everyday lives; we are too distracted and too busy to hear what G d is trying to tell us.

Five years ago, I had one of those rare static-free moments one Shabbat afternoon when I took my newborn daughter on a walk to a playground not far from our home. The park was nothing special – the green paint on the decaying benches was peeling, only one of the park’s swings was still functioning, and the sandbox was overgrown with weeds. I sat down, closed my eyes, and found myself experiencing something unlike anything that has happened to me before or since.
In my mind’s eye, I saw colors swirling around like a rainbow swept up by a sandstorm. I envisioned all of the generations of women that stretched between me and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai – a forgotten grandmother kneading challah three hundred years before, another forgotten grandmother lighting Shabbat candles twelve hundred years before, and yet another crying over the destruction of the Holy Temple not far from where I sat that afternoon, two thousand years before.

And then I envisioned the world two hundred years in the future from that day, when I would myself be one of those forgotten grandmothers. I envisioned how there would no longer be anyone left in the world who would remember my name, or the kind of person I was, or anything about me.

At that moment, the static was absolutely silent. I understood for the first time in my life, with absolute clarity, the purpose of my life. I understood that I am meant to be a solid link in the chain between the giving of the Torah and the descendants that I will never meet. I understood that the most important thing I could possibly do in my life is to pass on the love of Judaism to my children, so that they will pass it on to their children, and they, in turn, to their children, for all the generations to come.

I have experienced a similar kind of clarity at each of my five births. During each birth, I reach a point when the pain of the contractions is so intense that I know I cannot continue on my own. It is at that point that I inevitably turn to G d for help. At my most recent birth two weeks ago, during the painful transition stage before pushing out my baby, I whispered, “G d, You are my midwife,” over and over. In accordance with the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I also focused on the four letters of G d’s name – Yud, Hei, Vav, Hei.

On my regular static-filled days, I often sense G d’s involvement in my life – when coincidences are just too freaky to be simply coincidences. Or when I can see the Divine kindness or wisdom behind an unexpected turn of events. But every time a midwife hands me my newborn baby, I don’t only sense G d’s involvement in what just took place in that delivery room. I know and feel in every bone of my body that I did not give birth to the baby I am holding on my own. I know with total clarity that G d was there with me, listening to my prayers, taking away the pain, and giving me the strength to continue when I feared that I had none left.

My births provide me with an injection of faith that inspires me through the years spent on the long, static-ridden rural highways that divide between them.

This past Shabbat, I experienced another one of those rare moments of perfect reception, at the circumcision of our first son after four daughters.

From the moment this baby was born, my husband and I were busy planning the details of the circumcision. Who would do the catering? Which synagogue would host it? Who would be the mohel, the person who ritually circumcises the baby?

The funny thing was that after the births of my daughters, I do not remember hearing anyone mentioning circumcisions. This time though, it seemed that none of my fellow mothers of newborns wanted to talk about anything else.

Suddenly all my conversations surrounded caring for the baby after the brit (the circumcision), and about fluctuating bilirubin levels that could delay the brit, and about a woman whose brother got married on the day of her oldest son’s brit, and about the relative cost of having your mother prepare the food versus ordering catering for the brit.

In the end, though, all of these conversations did absolutely nothing to prepare me emotionally for the overwhelming experience of the actual circumcision this past Shabbat.

Years ago, I saw a friend crying as she handed away her first son to be circumcised. I had assumed at the time that she was crying because she was afraid of what was about to happen to her son.

But this past Shabbat, as our synagogue was filled with friends and family and the magical sound of singing, when I passed over my newborn son to be circumcised, I understood my friend’s tears in a totally different way.

As tears fell from my own eyes, I felt for the first time in my life what it is like to be simply overwhelmed by holiness. As everybody in the synagogue called out the words of “Shema Yisrael” – “Hear O Israel…the Lord is One!” The event taking place felt so pure, so simple, so primal even. My son, who had been given to my husband and me by the one and only G d, was about to perform the first commandment given by the one and only G d to Abraham, the first person on the planet who recognized that there is only one G d.

At that moment there were no doubts, no questions. No static whatsoever. I felt the one and only G d’s presence among us, pure and simple.

I closed my eyes and wept as I prayed that my son would grow up to be like the rabbis who held him throughout the ceremony – to be a person who is good, kind, and whose eyes will also shine with love of Torah.

The most emotional moment of the brit for me was when my husband yelled out, “Blessed are You, G d…Who commanded us to enter [our son] into the covenant of Abraham our Father.” At that moment, I felt like I was witnessing the spiritual version of what takes place inside a nuclear reactor. Eight days before, my son had been born on a physical level, and at that moment I was seeing him being born on a spiritual level.

I felt as moved as if I was once again standing at Mount Sinai, hearing the blasting shofar and the booming thunder as G d Himself descended onto the mountain to speak with Moses face to face during the giving of the Torah.

After the brit, I found out that my husband had experienced exactly what I had. We could speak about little else for days.

At the brit, we felt the same thing that I had felt on that peeling park bench, and in the delivery room after the births of our four daughters and our first son eight days before. We felt the clarity that comes when you are driving down the highway of life, and out of nowhere the static becomes silent, and you hear G d’s voice speaking to you, loud and clear.

Reprinted from www.TheJewishWoman.com
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Olga

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5 comments

  1. I needed that, helped me reconnect. Thank you for sharing.

  2. After reading this post I cannot help but say to myself, “That’s not fair. Why does she get to feel G-d’s presence so clearly and I do not?” I have three children, two of them sons, and after their births I merely felt relief and thankfulness that they were here and healthy. I cannot help but think that you are a very holy woman, or I am extremely disconnected. I pray that I can one day feel G-d’s presence as you have. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Daniella

    I have two sons. Before the first was born I attended an amazing Shabbat brit in Nachlaot and experienced the overwhelming spiritual high you describe here, and since I felt intuitively that the baby was a boy I felt it was a window to the joy of our future brit. But my own son’s brit was very far from that experience.

    To be honest, I never understood why mothers were so upset when their sons are circumcised. I thought, “What? It doesn’t hurt them all that much, and it’s for a great cause!” Ahhh… that was before I became a mother. I was in no way prepared for how painful and frightening it would be for me to stand there while the tiny creature I had been caring for so intensely for the previous seven days cried and cried and cried. The brit was particularly traumatic for me because he bled a lot and I couldn’t hold him for a very long time afterwards, and the next few days were tense as we were concerned about his healing. (I should mention that the mohel was very experienced and professional, quite well-known in fact, but he was a little “mechanical”, and I felt he did not respond to our emotional needs as first-time parents.)

    After this experience, I realized that maybe Hashem didn’t want me to be floating on a spiritual high while performing this mitzvah. Maybe He wanted it to be hard. Maybe He wanted it to be incredibly painful for me to do such a thing to my child. Maybe it was one of those mitzvot that is there to test our resilience and faith… almost a miniature Akedat Yitzchak for every Jewish parent.

    At my second son’s brit, we had a highly experienced, sweet and calm mohel and the whole thing was a great tikkun; the baby cried very briefly and everything was smooth and joyful. (It occurred on Shabbat Shuva, which was pretty amazing in and of itself.) But this time I was not expecting a spiritual high. I knew I would be worried and distressed, and that that was my avodah at the time. My job was not be an angel, rejoicing in this incredible moment. My job was to be his mother, feeling his pain and worrying about him as God created me to do.

    I think it’s important to mention that for mothers who feel that they are unable to connect in the way that you describe.

  4. My first reaction was, how I wish I could have another son just so I could feel what you did!
    This is such a wonderful website, how I wish it had been around 34 years ago when I had my first son! Even as a grandmother I find the articles beautiful and full of meaning and inspiration. May Hashem bless you and help you to help us and all of Clal Yisrael,

  5. Thanks for sharing this with us. I hope to get there too. I used to and still have a little bit of a hard time with a brit. The idea of circumcising an 8-day old baby is hard for me to accept. There’s an incident that helped me very much getting passed this and seeing a brit as actually something joyful. A good friend of mine had her first child, which was a son. At the brit I saw her being all happy, laughing and standing close to where the brit was taking place- in contradiction to me leaving the brit hall while the brit is taking place, all crying. I was suprised and decided to ask her later what that was all about. A few days later I recieved a beautiful inspiring anwer: My reason of being happy was I had a chance of fulfilling Hashem’s will,doing a mitswa, a special one that we don’t have everyday and having my son entering the covenant of hashem! It helped accepting a brit in general and also in a personal way- no more leaving the brit hall and no more crying. The laughing part is still not there yet. Hopefully Hashem will grant me a few more chances in order to get to that point….

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