Rosh Hashanah is always a time of great anticipation. Its a new year, a clean slate, and as we get ready to hear the call of the shofar, we know we are going to be roused to do it better, to step it up and to pray that we will have a full and healthy year in which to blossom as the person we want to be and should be.
So, imagine just as the time has arrived for the big moment, the defining mitzvah of the day, we set everything aside, bring forward the large oversized chair, Elijah’s chair, and prepare to have a brit milah.
Talk about shifting gears.
The place is abuzz as the mohel puts everything in place, everyone is looking for the baby, and the women upstairs are asking when will we start. Suddenly there are the two grandfathers, one of whom takes the seat of honor as the Sondak. Then we see the peaceful baby, swathed in a blanket and lying on a large white satin pillow, being handed forward by his father to one friend and then another and the finally to the standing grandfather.
All the while the congregation is singing loudly, rhythmically, joyfully. Some of the women are chanting, but most are watching with anticipation.
Then the Rabbi announces that we are doing the brit milah now, so that when the shofar is sounded, the baby will hear it as part of the Congregation of Israel, as a member of the Jewish People. And that remark says it all.
Like most all mohels, ours is brisk, self-assured and quick. The baby cries for a few seconds and then gets initiated into that great Israeli child rearing staple – the pacifier. This time it’s dipped in a bit of wine.
The baby stops crying very quickly, but the emotion of the men is just being ramped up. The singing is incredibly joyful, and now there is suddenly a rush of men to receive a blessing from the Sondak.
A beautiful Jewish tradition holds that right after a brit, the Sondak is an extraordinary conduit of blessing, and the Sephardi men in my Beit Knesset were there to take full advantage of his uplifted status.
In fact, after breaking for the sounding of the shofar, the line of men to receive blessings continued for much of the rest of the service.
And the Sondak was masterful, cradling the bent over supplicants, hearing our requests, asking some relevant questions and then offering specific and general blessings.
Afterwards, there was a sense of awe that this baby, Noam Yisrael, had started his life as a member of the Jewish People in such an auspicious way. A friend remarked how it was incredible that this Sephardi brit was very similar to the recent Ashekenaz Hareidi brit of his newest grandchild, that this defining ritual was so recognizable across the different flavors of our People.
For many of us there was an overpowering sense of the juxtaposition of the very real “creation” of a particular life and the creation of the universe. The idea that the Jewish People was being judged on our merits for the new year, and that a new member of our Tribe was just being given his first start, was a powerful affirmation that God is rooting for us, is on our side and while He is certainly sitting in judgment, we are confident that such judgment will be applied with mercy.
Of course, the presence of an eight day old (and his beaming father and his blessing grandfather) gives us a most palpable reminder of new beginnings. Noam’s start can be an inducement for us to follow his example and to experience our lives with new perspectives, dropping pre-conceived ideas and behaviors.
While I hope that each of us had an uplifting, inspiring and meaningful Rosh Hashanah, I cannot imagine a more energizing way to start the year than to be privileged to welcome a new member of the Jewish People as part of our introspection and prayer.
A sweet, healthy, joyful, meaningful, safe, prosperous and peaceful year to all.