To borrow from Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite biblical texts, “to every thing there is a season” which includes “a time to be born” even in the midst of a world pandemic that has bitterly cost the lives of so many people. Like so many others, I was reminded of this lesson through the recent birth of a grandson. Though we may be faced with impediments, restrictions, or separations, we find the determination and means to experience joyful moments in our lives.
He arrived in Denver, but because of the Coronavirus restrictions, my wife and I couldn’t be there to welcome him. In short order, we discovered the literal meaning of “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” While our hearts very much wanted to travel to greet him, we like others who have been postponing weddings, b’nai mitzvot, and other celebrations, concluded that to go would be dangerous, While there was some vexation in this wisdom, the right decision prevailed.
So we tried our best to apply perspective to disappointment and adversity. On the one hand, regrettably we were 2000 miles away from where we wanted to be, but, then again, there was a healthy birth, and wonderfully he now joined big brother Nathan and cousin Ilan as our third grandson. We couldn’t touch him, hold him, insist when he opened his eyes that he was smiling at us, but when texted pictures of his gorgeous, wrinkly, closed-eyed, baldheaded face announced themselves and we shared Facetime moments with exhausted parents and big brother, for now and for the next few months, dayenu, we would accept it.
His name is Zachary Shane in English and Moshe in Hebrew. As with various cultures, when a Jewish baby is born, and really, whatever the nature of the times, the name establishes the child’s link to his family, people, history, and traditions. We look for connections to beloved ancestors, impactful forbearers, historical leaders, or biblical figures with resonance to familial values and sentiments. For our new grandson, a cherished, recently departed great-grandmother “Shayna,” was central to the choosing, and Moshe, besides being the Torah’s towering presence, also tied to progenitors on both sides of the family.
And I couldn’t help think that like the Torah’s Moshe, our grandson was born in a time of crisis, yet how fortunate our Moshe is today compared to what his biblical namesake faced at birth. Born into hiding for three months and probably uncircumcised, the biblical Moshe is placed adrift by his desperate mother to float helplessly toward his destiny. Our Moshe, with the coronavirus threat swirling, was safe in his home, protected and nurtured by his parents, and we were going to have a bris.
Yes, on our Moshe’s eighth day, it was a time to usher him into his people’s 3500 year tradition and for his family to celebrate. No, we couldn’t be directly with him as escorts on the first steps of his Jewish journey, but thanks to the emergent magical powers of Zoom, we, other family members, and friends gathered around him. We practiced social converging as Rabbi Rachel Kobrin of Denver’s Congregation Rodeph Shalom, ensconced in her own home, beautifully led us in the brit milah ceremony, and we did not feel isolated.
We watched Dr. Sarah Grope, the masked mohelet, along with mom and dad, handle the various bris functions as if they were surrounded and had the assistance of loved ones. We felt our Moshe’s cries of protest, and when they subsided we too felt better. Rabbi Kobrin spoke for all of us when she invoked the blessing, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torah, into a loving relationship, and into good deeds.” And from all of our dwellings, we responded “amen.”
Even though our Moshe is his parents’ second bris celebration, Rabbi Kobrin asked that we follow the Sephardi custom of including the Shehecheyanu blessing of gratitude for newness in the brit milah ceremony. I’m glad she did. For all of us, it was a time to be thankful and look hopefully to the future.