A bris in Passaic
By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and I will multiply you exceedingly. . . and I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” So spoke G-d to Abraham. “What Covenant?” thinks a bewildered Abraham, who likes the “fruitful” idea, but wonders about the meaning behind “covenant”. And as though to answer the unasked question our Creator answers; “This is my covenant. . . every male amongst you shall be circumcised”. And there’s more: “You must also walk before me and be BLAMELESS”. No small challenge.
That last sentence alone could be a showstopper, but Abraham our representative; a good man, a great shepherd, but with limited legal training, signs up ALL Judaism for ALL eternity. Me and you are part of the deal, too. And that’s why I had to spend the price of several Superbowl tickets to attend my new great grandson’s bris in Passaic, New Jersey.
I have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. So, HE certainly fulfilled His end of the bargain. Not exactly the stars of the sky, but at least a small constellation. Yesterday, until early afternoon, I had two greats. Today, as I write, I have three.
This mother – a child of 27 – is very observant, I’m proud to say, which means that, , child-wise she’s competing with the team of Rachel, Rebecca, Bilhah, and Zipah. One of her, against four of them. She’s planning two basketball teams plus three bench warmers. (Total number 13 – Don’t forget Dinah.) Thirteen new family members, thirteen additional checks to support me in my old age. I should complain?
Considering the number of my male descendants (like the stars in the sky), though some of my editors disagree, I think I’ve been restrained in my bris story production. There’s always a new twist to a bris, I remind them.
The ceremony of the brit milah is always tight with dramatic tension.
Tension No. 1: Who’s gonna pay for the festivities? My rule of thumb – which my lovely wife agrees with – is: “those who come the airborne way never ever have to pay”. (Unless the child looks exactly like me.)
Tension No. 2: Orthodox parents don’t reveal the name of the child until the ceremony. So, how do I make an input? I have an inventory of nice, normal Jewish names like Adam, Jacob, Sol, Sammy. I know what’s rolling around in the parents’ head; Melechzedik, Aramahopiitol, Absolam, Zedekiahbenhavel, Shimshon, Abinadab, Jehoshaphat, Meshulam. How will this child, even though loaded with my genes ever get a decent job? Who can spell Zedachomolovovitz?
“Do you, Jehoshaphat Abinadab Bauer, swear to uphold the statutes and traditions of this Supreme court over which you will reign as Chief Justice? Uh, wait a minute, how do you spell that? Oh well, NEXT!” He’ll be lucky to land an executive position as a crossing guard at some god-forsaken New Jersey intersection.
Besides relatives, Elijah, you know, is supposed to be at every bris. It’s a long story, but the short form is that the prophet in the Book of Kings complains about the Children of Israel – tells the Lord that his favorite people are not honoring the covenant. The Lord G-d of Hosts angrily rejects this criticism. He commands the tattle-tale prophet to attend EVERY Bris – the covenant ceremony. And the Tanach says nothing about the prophet enjoying the buffet. Considering the Lord’s mood, I think Elijah is mandated to take in the ceremony, but not the whitefish, lox, and exotic crusty bagels on the richly decorated brunch table. I looked around. I didn’t see him. But invisibility is no challenge to a prophet who has a hot-line to “You Know Who”.
Listen, after logging a few dozen brises over the past few decades, I know the drill.
Phase I – davening, with a special prayer that the mohel isn’t farsighted.
Phase II – The ceremony – the reenactment of the covenant.
Phase III – For us, eating and drinking. For the child, meditation – what a frigid world compared to the warmth of the womb. What a shock. This crowd. These strangers. This alien, oral form of nourishment.
The mohel, Rabbi Yehuda Kaplan of Far Rockaway, did his job with his usual brisk (Ha! Get it?) precision. He is the exclusive provider of services to my grandchildren, Eric and Sarah Bauer. Considering the fertility of my grandchildren, his professional future is as golden and fat as that giant whitefish on the buffet.
We bask in the beauty of child and ceremony. Wearing the proud smile of the Super Zayde, I accept buckets of mazel tovs. This joyous event and the whitefish feast which follows it is due to me, I reflect, and the artistic and culinary skills of Classic Touch Catering. Had I not shared the blessing of Abraham to rival the stars of the sky, these 150 diners would have been seated at their kitchen tables eating toast and scrambled eggs. I was popping with pride until somebody handed ME the object of attention!! He squinted at me critically in that suspicious way that newborns develop the minute they enter our world. I was clearly not the warm thing with the milk. (And this remarkably intelligent child knew it right away.)
But later I noticed everybody got to hold the baby, including two passersby who sniffed the whitefish and lox from the street.
My wife, an RN as well as a great-grandmother, spent a week in Passaic and metaphorically nursed the newcomer as she had ten babies before him. We’re a long way from the stars of the sky, but we’re closer by one! Baruch Hashem, as my Orthodox friends sa