“What’s his name?”
The women whisper between themselves, not sure they heard correctly: “What’s his name?”
“Shimon? Ah, Shimon… that’s a good name.”
“Shimon, because of Lag BaOmer. That’s a good name.”
Repetition registers his name. Eight days old, he is now known to the community, part of the collective memory – the newest member of the tribe.
Satisfied, the women move to congratulate the mother, ignoring the men who are still in the midst of the ceremony. Everyone says “Mazal Tov!” to everyone else. It’s not just the parents who are congratulated on the birth of their son, it is the community that congratulates itself, rejoicing and celebrating the addition of a new member.
A new Jew. That’s not something to be taken for granted.
I started the day with a brit and ended it with a wedding.
The “brit milah” is the covenant of circumcision, commanded of every Jewish male, since Abraham. The circumcision is performed by a mohel (“circumciser”) on the eighth day of a male infant’s life. Modern medicine has discovered that this ancient tradition helps preserve physical health, promoting cleanliness and preventing disease. This is a side benefit to fulfilling the ancient covenant.
The brit is meant to be an undeniable, permanent symbol of the bond between God and the Jewish people. Often this was used against the Jewish people. Enemies searching out Jewish men for destruction could simply force the suspects to undress. No man could deny his connection to the Jewish people. The difference between him and every other man was inescapably obvious.
Throughout the centuries, the Nation of Israel has kept our covenant, for better and for worse.
Not something to be taken for granted.
A wedding is also a covenant. Bride and groom stand in front of the community and join themselves to each other. Different cultures consider this occasion one that is sanctified, viewing both the ceremony and the union that is created as holy.
The Jewish wedding has more layers. Here too the community has a unique role as does Jewish history – our unbreakable connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
The Jewish wedding celebration does not belong just to the couple and their families. The community attending is part of the event, tasked with the job of making sure that the celebration is full of joy.
Bringing joy to the bride and groom is a task that is considered so important that even people in mourning (who are not allowed to attend or participate in celebrations) are permitted to come to the event to congratulate the couple and witness the ceremony (after which they should leave so as to not take part in the actual celebrations).
You might wonder, isn’t celebrating a wedding obvious? Of course, that’s a joyful time! Why should you need to be commanded to be happy?
How many times throughout Jewish history has it been difficult to celebrate? Was it easy to find joy during the Holocaust, when neighbors were disappearing in the night, when family was murdered in front of your eyes? When you don’t know if you or your loved ones will live to see another day, how do you celebrate?
Then again, how do you not?
Through pogroms, exile, wars and terror attacks, despite enemy after enemy rising up to destroy us, the Jewish people have carved out niches of joy – determined to celebrate new Jewish life. A wedding, a promise of a new Jewish home, a new family, children. A brit, a new member of the community. These are not to be taken for granted.
And then there is Jerusalem.
The Jewish wedding is not complete without the additional layer of our history, our bond to Jerusalem. On what is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives, the couple must pause and put Jerusalem first. The community listens in silence as the groom declares: “May my tongue cleave to my mouth, if I ever think not of thee, if I ever prize not Jerusalem above all joys!” (Psalm 137). After this the groom breaks a glass, symbolizing the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temple that once stood on the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is held up, above all other joys.
I began the day with a brit and ended it with a wedding. A day of expanding the Tribe of Israel, welcoming a new Jew, just eight days old into the community, cheering the creation of a new Jewish family who, in turn, will add their children to the tribe.
Not something to take for granted.
Our tribe is unusual. We are bound to each other, individuals and community. We are bound to God, as individuals, and as a nation. And Jerusalem pulses through our veins and memory, binding it all together.