May I Pass Up This Mitzvah?

Question #1: Inexperienced Father

Abba Chodosh asks me the following question: “Before we relocated for a particular job, I had trained as a mohel. Since our children born since that time were daughters, I never ended up performing a bris without the supervision of an experienced mohel. Now that my son was born, am I required to perform the bris myself?”

Question #2 Successful Mezuzos

Baal Eisektov asks: “Thank G-d, we are inaugurating a new branch of our business. Common practice is to give a rav the honor of installing the mezuzos. But shouldn’t I be doing that myself, because of the principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho?”

Question #3 Sharing the Challah

Leah asks me: “Recently, I participated in a tour of a large bakery, and the mashgiach offered me to take challah there, which I did. Someone afterwards told me that the mashgiach should not have been so free in giving away his mitzvah. Did he, indeed, do something wrong?”

Answer: May I delegate?

One of the most basic rules of business and life management is to learn how to entrust responsibility and tasks to others. Does this concept extend to the observance of mitzvos? If I have a mitzvah to carry out, am I permitted to assign it to someone else?

All of the questions asked above are contingent on the same basic underlying issue: Under what circumstances may I hand over the performance of a mitzvah that I could do myself?

The basics

The Gemara rules that one fulfills a mitzvah when it is performed by an agent, although it is preferable to do it himself (Kiddushin 41a). This is called mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho, it is better to perform a mitzvah yourself, rather than have someone else do it for you. This rule is not needed in cases of mitzvah shebegufo, where the mitzvah is incumbent on a person to do with and upon his own body, and a sheliach cannot be made at all. An example of the latter case is the wearing of tefillin: I cannot make someone an agent for me by asking that he don tefillin in my stead, because the mitzvah is that the tefillin be placed on my arm and my head.

Anything done wrong?

Our first consideration is: Granted that, under normal circumstances, a person should perform the mitzvah himself, has he violated anything by requesting that an agent do it for him? The Gemara implies that a person (a meshalei’ach) delegating someone else to perform a mitzvah for him has done nothing wrong; he has, however, forfeited an opportunity to perform a mitzvah.

However, other factors may have an impact on the final ruling. Let us consider, for a moment, the situation above, where the father has been trained as a mohel, but is lacking extensive experience. What if his wife, the baby’s mother, prefers that he not perform the bris, and that they opt to use an experienced mohel instead? Does Abba’s shalom bayis become a factor in whether or not he should perform the bris? If he is not violating anything by appointing an agent, then I would personally rule that his wife’s serenity is the most important factor. However, this may not be true if it is prohibited to assign the mitzvah to someone else.

Are there circumstances in which it is fine to have the agent perform a mitzvah for me? What are the halachic principles upon which I can base my decision?

Kisuy hadam practices

Much of the halachic literature discussing these questions originates with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam. The Gemara teaches that the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, the Torah’s requirement that one cover the blood with earth after shechting poultry or chayos, such as deer and antelope is incumbent upon the shocheit. According to the rule of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho, the shocheit should cover the blood himself. Yet, it was, and is, common practice that shochatim honor someone else with fulfilling the mitzvah. Is this permitted? Let us see if we can find Talmudic precedents for the practice.

Kohen application

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 110a) teaches that an elderly or ill kohen for whom it is difficult to offer a korban himself may bring his korban to the Beis Hamikdash and ask a different kohen to offer it in his stead. Notwithstanding that it is a mitzvah of the elderly kohen, he may delegate the performance of the mitzvah, since it is difficult for him. Thus, we see that, at least under certain circumstances, one does not violate halachah by asking someone else to perform a mitzvah in one’s place. The Tevuos Shor (28:14) notes that we see from this Talmudic passage that there are situations in which a person is able to perform a mitzvah himself, yet he has the option of passing the opportunity to someone else.

Yibum application

Here is another Talmudic precedent that permits someone required to observe a mitzvah to defer it to someone else. One of the Torah’s mitzvos, yibum, is that a man should marry his late brother’s widow, if his brother left no descendents. The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah devolves specifically upon the oldest surviving brother. If he chooses not to fulfill the mitzvah, then and only then does the mitzvah pass to his younger brother.

The Gemara (Yevamos 44a) discusses a situation in which there are at least seven brothers in a family, of whom five are married without any children. The five married brothers all die, thereby creating five mitzvos of yibum for the oldest brother to perform. The Gemara’s conclusion is that if the oldest brother wants to marry as many as four of the widows, he may, clearly noting that he is not required to do so, even should he have the financial and physical ability to provide the needs of all four widows. The Gemara advises against his marrying more than four, out of concern that he will not be able to provide his new wives with sufficient attention. (We can definitely conclude that marital expectations have changed since the time of the Gemara.)

The Tevuos Shor (28:14) notes that we see from this Talmudic passage that there are situations in which a person could perform a mitzvah himself, yet he has the option of passing the opportunity to someone else. Based on this and other Talmudic sources, the Tevuos Shor justifies the practice of shochatim honoring someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam.

This ruling of the Tevuos Shor can be used to explain the practice that forms the basis of Mr. Eisektov’s question. Why is there a common practice of honoring a respected rav with installing mezuzos at a new business? The answer is that, since the owners are doing it to honor the rav, they view this consideration as a greater mitzvah than performing the mitzvah themselves.

However, other authorities disagree with the Tevuos Shor’s approach, contending that providing someone else with honor is not sufficient reason to justify not fulfilling the mitzvah oneself (Binas Adam #7). Still others are of the opinion that the opposite of the Tevuos Shor‘s approach is true: they posit that asking someone to act as one’s agent is permitted, since one still fulfills the mitzvah, whereas honoring someone with the mitzvah without making him an agent is forbidden (Peleisi 28:3).

Sandek application

Here is another situation in which we see how a respected early authority ruled. “The father of a newborn boy who does not want to be the sandek himself, because he desires to have harmonious family relationships and demonstrate his respect, should give the honor to his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather. However, if the baby’s paternal grandfather prefers that his own father (the baby’s great-grandfather) be honored, then he may give the honor to the great-grandfather, and this is the prevalent custom.” (Leket Yosher) The time-honored role of the sandek, the one who holds the baby during a bris, is, in itself, a mitzvah. By holding the baby, the sandek assists the mohel doing the mitzvah. Since the mitzvah of bris milah is the father’s, logic suggests that a father who is not a mohel should be the sandek. However, since he does not want anyone to be upset and also wants to fulfill his own mitzvah of respecting his parents, common practice is that the father honors someone else with being sandek.

Those who permit honoring someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam would no doubt rally support to their approach from the ruling of the Leket Yosher. Those who feel that the shocheit should not honor someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam will presumably contend that the sandek is not actually fulfilling a mitzvah that is required of him, and that is why its performance can be transferred to someone else. On the other hand, since kisuy hadam is incumbent on the shocheit, they would contend that he may not honor someone else with this mitzvah.

Passing on a bris

At this point, I would like to discuss how these rules affect the laws of bris milah, which was the first question I mentioned above (and the reason why I chose to discuss the topic the week of Parshas Lech Lecha). The Or Zarua, a rishon, writes that it is forbidden for a father who is a qualified mohel to have someone else perform his son’s bris milah (Hilchos Milah #107). (The Or Zarua, a native of what is today the Czech Republic, traveled to attend the yeshivos of the Baalei Tosafos in Northern France. He subsequently became the rav of Vienna, where he apparently opened a yeshivah. The Maharam of Rothenberg was one of the Or Zarua’s disciples.) According to the obvious reading of the Or Zarua, we already have enough information to answer Abba Chodosh’s question above: Abba had once trained to be a mohel, but never practiced. Now that he has his first son, is he required to perform the bris himself, or may he have a more experienced mohel do it? Assuming that Abba can still perform a bris safely, the Or Zarua would seem to rule that he is required to be the mohel.

However, this answer is not obvious. Firstly, the Rema (Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deah 264:1) wonders why the Or Zarua rules that it is prohibited for the mohel to have an agent perform the mitzvah for him. We fully understand that it is not preferred – the Gemara says that it is better to perform a mitzvah oneself, rather than have it performed by someone else. However, the Or Zarua does not say simply that it is preferred that the father perform the mitzvah himself – the Or Zarua prohibits having someone else perform the mitzvah!

In his comments on the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema omits mention of the Or Zarua’s ruling, a factor noted by some authorities as proof that the Rema rejected the position of the Or Zarua (Tevuos Shor 28:14). However, the Shach (Choshen Mishpat 382:4) independently reaches the same conclusion as the Or Zarua, based on his analysis of a statement of the Rosh. The Shach’s comments require an introduction.

A mitzvah snatcher

The Gemara rules that someone who performs a mitzvah that another person is required to do and is planning to perform is charged a fine of ten gold coins for stealing someone else’s mitzvah (Bava Kamma 91b; Chullin 87a). One of the Gemara’s cases is as follows: A shocheit slaughtered a bird, and then, before he had a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood, someone else covered it, thus snatching the mitzvah. The shocheit brought the offending party to a din Torah before Rabban Gamliel, who fined the mitzvah snatcher ten gold coins. Rashi (Chullin 87a s.v. Litein) explains that the fine is for depriving someone of the reward he should have received for the mitzvah.

When citing this Gemara, the Rosh (Chullin 6:8) recounts the following story: The father of a newborn asked a mohel to perform the bris, but a different mohel performed it without getting permission. Subsequently, the first mohel sued the second mohel in Rabbeinu Tam’s beis din for stealing the mitzvah. Rabbeinu Tam ruled that, although the interloping mohel’s act was despicable, for a variety of technical reasons not germane to our topic, there are no grounds to fine the mohel for stealing the bris.

The Rosh agrees with the ruling, but for a reason that Rabbeinu Tam did not mention: Although the father told the mohel to perform the bris, the mohel does not thereby become the “owner” of the mitzvah, unlike the shocheit in Rabban Gamliel’s case, who was already obligated in the mitzvah.

The Rosh closes his discussion with the following words: “However, if the father does not want to perform the milah, all Jews are obligated to perform the bris. The words that the father spoke to the mohel did not have sufficient weight to transfer ownership of this mitzvah to him, thus making it impossible to fine a second person who performed the mitzvah, albeit without permission.” Based on this Rosh, the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 382:1) concludes that someone who performed the bris on a child whose father was intending to carry it out himself must pay the father ten gold coins, but if the father asked a mohel to perform the bris, then the interloping mohel is absolved of any fine.

Can the father make an agent?

The following question is raised relative to the comments of the Rosh: We see from the Rosh that the interloping mohel who takes the mitzvah away from the father is fined, whereas if he takes the mitzvah from a different mohel, he is not. But why is this so? In the latter instance, he also “stole” the mitzvah from the father, since the first mohel was the father’s agent, and the interloping mohel was not? Thus, the father would have fulfilled the mitzvah through his agent had the first mohel performed the bris, but he was deprived of the mitzvah by the second mohel (Ketzos Hachoshen 382:2).

There are a few ways to resolve this question. The Ketzos Hachoshen concludes that when the Torah gave the father a mitzvah to circumcise his child, the Torah was not simply asking him to make sure that his son has a bris, but was requiring the father to perform the bris himself. The father cannot make a mohel an agent to circumcise his son, just as one cannot make an agent to don tefillin. Neither of these mitzvos can be performed through agency. Therefore, when the father asks a mohel to perform the bris for him, he is demonstrating that he does not intend to perform this mitzvah himself, and the second mohel did not steal it from him. This appears to be the way the Shach (Choshen Mishpat 382:4) understood the Rosh also, and for this reason he writes: “We can demonstrate from the words of this Rosh that a father who is a mohel is not permitted to give the mitzvah to someone else… I saw many men who are capable of performing the bris themselves who honor others with the mitzvah. In my opinion, they thereby are abrogating the important mitzvah of milah. The local beis din should take action to stop this.”

Everyone is an agent

However, there is an alternative way to explain the Rosh, which reaches a different conclusion. The Mishneh Lamelech (Bechoros end of 4:1; see also Terumas Hadeshen #188) contends that once someone revealed that he does not want to do a mitzvah himself, anyone who performs it is his agent. Therefore, when a father appoints someone to perform his son’s bris, any Jew who properly performs the bris milah is now acting as the father’s agent. The second mohel did not deprive the father of any mitzvah.

According to the second approach, no matter who performs the bris, the father has fulfilled the mitzvah, and he is not in violation for appointing an agent. However, if this is true, why does the Or Zarua prohibit a father from appointing someone to circumcise his son? The Tevuos Shor explains that there is a difference between honoring someone else to perform the mitzvah that one would prefer to do, which is permitted, and having someone else perform a mitzvah because one is not interested to perform it. In the latter case, failure to fulfill the mitzvah oneself violates mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho. The Tevuos Shor thus concludes that one may appoint someone else to do the milah. He also concludes that it is permitted for a shocheit to honor someone else with performing kisuy hadam. As I mentioned above, there are other authorities who disagree with this conclusion.

Conclusion:

The following anecdote about Rav Pam demonstrates his observing the principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho. Someone offered to mail a letter for him, but Rav Pam told him that he preferred to mail the letter himself, since it was a donation to tzedakah. Since mailing the letter is part of the mitzvah, one should do it himself, because of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho.

 

Must I Keep the Mohel?

Since the beginning of parshas Tazria discusses the mitzvah of bris milah, it is certainly an appropriate week to discuss:

Must I Keep the Mohel?

Case #1:

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Yehudit and Yehuda Newparents decided which mohel they intended to employ, but did not know his telephone number. At the hospital, they asked someone for his phone number, and called to make arrangements. However, when the mohel came to check the baby before the bris, Yehuda realized that this was not the mohel he had intended to use. Could he now use a different mohel?

Case #2:

Billy Rubin’s Bilirubin

Zev Rubin, whose old friends still sometimes call him Billy, asked Reb Leizer Izmil to be the mohel for his son’s bris. However, Billy Rubin’s newborn son had a borderline high bilirubin count, high enough that some mohalim would postpone the bris, whereas others would consider it safe. Billy’s posek ruled that the bris should be performed on the eighth day, but Reb Leizer would not perform the bris until the count drops. May Billy forgo Leizer the razor and instead ask a different mohel to perform the bris on the eighth day?

Case #3:

The Busy Mohel

Avraham has used Reb Moshe as the mohel for his previous sons, and would like to use him for his newborn. However, Reb Moshe is already booked by other families and will not be available until later in the day than Avraham would like to make his bris. Should he wait for Reb Moshe, or use a different mohel who is available earlier?

Introduction:

Although all the names have been changed, each of the above situations is an actual case that I know of. The critical issue in all these questions is whether someone who asked one mohel to perform his son’s bris may then ask a different mohel to do so. Of course, the immediate question is why should one not be able to do so? Isn’t one permitted to switch one’s lawyer, doctor, or accountant, if one chooses?

To introduce our discussion, let me chronicle an event that transpired almost eight hundred years ago. A newborn baby was ill, and it was obvious that the bris would be delayed for several weeks. The father promised the local mohel, Rabbi Levi, that he would be honored with performing the bris.  Rabbi Levi, who was responsible for certain regional communal matters, left on a trip to attend to these responsibilities, assuming that he would return by the time the baby would be ready for the bris. Thank G-d, the baby recuperated faster than expected, and now the father wanted to perform the bris, but had no way of reaching Rabbi Levi. (Remember that cellular phone technology was not that advanced in the thirteenth century.) In order to guarantee that his son’s bris would take place as soon as possible, the father brought a mohel from a different town, promising the second mohel that he would perform the bris whether the first mohel returned on time or not. On the day that the baby was healthy enough for the bris, both mohalim showed up in town, and the question was: Which mohel should be awarded with the mitzvah, the mohel who traveled specially for the bris, or the mohel who had earlier been promised the mitzvah?

Which Mohel should I use?

This question was referred to the Maharam of Rottenberg (the famed “captive rabbi,” who was the posek hador at the time) for a decision. The Maharam quotes Rabbeinu Tam who ruled that once someone asked a mohel to perform a bris, he may not switch and offer the mitzvah to another mohel. Before explaining the basis for Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling, we need to introduce two halachic factors:

Don’t Charge for a Mitzvah

According to halacha, one may not charge for performing a mitzvah (Bechoros 29a; Nedarim 37a). (One may charge for the loss of time from one’s livelihood that resulted. A full treatment of this topic is beyond the focus of this article.) Therefore, since a mohel may not charge to perform milah, he is performing it for the sake of the mitzvah. (The prevalent custom is to provide the mohel with a gift for his services.)

Keep your Word

The Torah says Moznei tzedek, avnei tzedek, eifas tzedek, vehin tzedek yihyeh lachemYou must have honest weights, honest weighing stones, an honest eifah [a unit of dry measure] and an honest hin [a unit of liquid measure] (Vayikra 19:36). The word used by the Torah, hin, however, is similar to the word hein, which means yes. The Gemara understands this to allude to: Your “yes” should always be honest, meaning that one should be true to one’s word, even when no contract was created (Bava Metzia 49a). This is an extension of the idea conveyed by the Navi: She’eiris Yisrael lo yaasu avlah velo yedabru chazav velo yimatzei befihem leshon tarmis — The remnant of Israel does not perform corruptive deeds and does not speak falsehood, nor will you find in their mouths a deceptive tongue (Tzefaniah 3:13). This concept is often shortened in halachic reference to She’eiris Yisrael lo yaasu avlah¸ and refers to the ethical responsibility to be true to one’s word.

The Gemara’s conclusion is that someone who offered a second person a small gift is required to be true to his word. Nevertheless, should the giver renege, the proposed recipient has no claim. A Jew is obligated to keep his word, but this mitzvah does not create a liability against him.

Major Gift

The halacha is different if someone promised to provide a major gift. When one offered a major gift, the potential recipient does not necessarily expect that he will receive it; it is therefore not considered a violation of halacha to reconsider what one wants to do, should circumstances change.

Changing the Mohel

Putting both ideas together, Rabbeinu Tam concludes that once I offered a mohel the opportunity to perform the mitzvah, I cannot change to a different mohel. From my perspective, choosing one mohel over another qualifies as a “small gift,” that I am required to honor. As explained above, although the father may not change mohalim, should he do so, the first mohel has no claim against either the second mohel or the father, even though the father did the wrong thing by changing mohalim.

Which Mohel?

The Maharam concludes that since the first mohel has now returned, the father is required to ask him to perform the bris, since the second mohel was authorized to perform the bris only should the first mohel be unavailable (Teshuvos Maharam quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 264). The Gra explains that since one is not supposed to change mohalim, the second mohel is only being asked if the first mohel would not be available.

Where is Yossele?

At this point, we can address Yehudit and Yehuda Newparents’s predicament, in which the mohel they had called was a perfectly competent mohel, but he was not the mohel they had intended to use. The story that happened was a bit humorous. I attended the bris of people I knew, and asked them how they knew the mohel that they had used. Yehuda told me that he would tell me the story about their choice of mohel after the bris.

The Newparents had decided to use the international renowned “Yossele the mohel” of Yerushalayim (now, zt”l, of blessed memory), but, like most people, did not know Yossele’s family name (Weisberg). Yehudit asked one of the observant nurses at the hospital if she knew the phone number of “Yossele, the mohel,” and, knowing how busy Yossele can be, she immediately called and reserved Yossele. When the mohel arrived to check the baby before the bris, Yehuda realized that this was not the mohel he had expected. Before the mohel left, Yehuda asked if he had a business card, and his perusal confirmed his suspicion. Indeed they had called a mohel named Yosef, but he was not the famous “Yossele, the mohel.”

Now, a bit flustered that he had arranged for an unknown mohel to circumcise his son, Yehuda made inquiries and determined that, indeed, Yosef the mohel appeared to be qualified. Still, Yehuda was faced with a halachic question. Could he change mohalim, since he had never intended to ask this Yosef to be his son’s mohel?

Yehuda called his rav to ask whether he would be permitted to change the mohel. The rav ruled that although Yehuda could change the mohel, since Yosef the mohel was indeed a qualified mohel, he should not change mohalim, as this might offend the mistaken mohel.

By the way, the original Yossele the mohel wrote a four-volume encyclopedia on bris milah, called Otzar HaBris, in which he quotes that one may switch to a different mohel if the second mohel is more expert or a bigger tzadik (Volume 3, page 188, quoting Migdal Oz). So, according to Yossele the mohel, the Newparents could have used Yossele the mohel instead of Yosef the mohel whom their rav told them to use. Obviously, their rav disagreed, and they did the proper thing by following his directions.

Dad surprisingly shows up at his own son’s bris

The Yaavetz discusses the following case: The father of the newborn is himself a mohel, but he thought that he would not be able to be at his own son’s bris, and therefore arranged for a different mohel to perform the mitzvah. In the end, the father was able to attend. Is it a violation for him to perform the bris himself? The Yaavetz rules that performing the bris himself is a major gift, and that he may perform the mitzvah himself (quoted in Sefer HaBris of Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, page 4). The idea is that someone who cannot perform the mitzvah himself will anyway need to ask a mohel to perform it for him, so which mohel he chooses is a “minor” gift. However, when he is able to perform the mitzvah himself, having someone else perform it instead is the loss of a major gift on which halacha permits him to renege.

Zeide surprisingly shows up at his grandson’s bris

Dovid is learning in kollel in Eretz Yisrael in an area where it is not easy to procure a mohel for a Shabbos bris. His father, who lives in America, is a mohel with a very busy practice. When Dovid’s son was born on Shabbos, his father told him that he would be unable to arrive for the bris because of other commitments, so Dovid arranged for a local mohel to be available. Subsequently, Dovid’s father made arrangements to come for the bris. Is Dovid permitted to switch mohalim and have his father perform the bris?

The rav who ruled on this shaylah held that it is considered a fulfillment of kibud av for the baby’s father to have his own father perform the bris, and therefore, switching mohalim is permitted.

Disputed Bilirubin

At this point, we can discuss Billy Rubin’s bilirubin shaylah. The Gemara rules that if a baby is somewhat jaundiced, a common and not serious condition among newborns, one should delay performing the bris until the baby is well (Shabbos 134a). A dispute among contemporary rabbonim is: at what point does one consider the child to be mildly jaundiced. The diagnosis involved is based on certain physical symptoms and the measure of bilirubin in the blood. (Bilirubin is the pigment [or chemical] that causes jaundice. A higher bilirubin score results in a greater degree of jaundice.) Chassidisha rabbonim and mohalim tend to require a lower bilirubin score until they feel the child is ready for the bris, whereas Litvisha rabbonim and mohalim often feel that the threshold for safety to allow the performance of the bris is higher, and that babies whose bilirubin is in the middle range should not be deprived of having a bris in the correct time.

Billy Rubin follows Litvisha practices, but had asked a well respected chassidisha mohel, Reb Leizer, to perform the bris. A day before he was expecting the bris, the mohel examined the baby and felt that the bris should be delayed until all symptoms of jaundice disappeared.

Billy mentioned this to his posek, who was not convinced that the bris should be delayed, and instructed him to bring the baby to a different mohel, a well respected Litvisha mohel, to check whether the bris could be performed on the eighth day. The second mohel saw no problem with performing the bris on the eighth day, but to be on the safe side, had them take the baby for a bilirubin test. The second mohel felt that the results of the bilirubin test also did not warrant delaying the bris.

This placed Billy in an uncomfortable position, since his original, chosen mohel still felt that the bris should be postponed. Should Billy use a different mohel so that he can make the bris on the eighth day? Did this not make Billy violate she’eiris Yisrael lo yaaseh avlah, by going back on his word to honor Reb Leizer with wielding the razor?

The posek held that changing mohalim in order to perform the bris on the eighth day is a “major gift” for which one does not violate she’eiris Yisrael lo yaaseh avlah.

Similarly, in case #3, where the mohel who was used for the older sons will not be available until later in the day than one wants to perform the bris, I know rabbonim who ruled that this provides adequate reason to switch mohalim. Since one should perform a bris milah as early in the day as possible, because of the idea of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, one should perform a mitzvah with alacrity, performing it with zerizus is a valid reason to switch mohalim.

Conclusion

Sometimes when a person is involved in performing a mitzvah, he forgets that other considerations, such as keeping one’s promise or offending someone, may be more important. In this particular mitzvah, we see the interplay of both factors, and how the poskim of the generations dealt with these issues.

Shabbos Shirah

By Rabbis Avraham Rosenthal and Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: Shabbos Shirah

Why is this Shabbos called Shabbos Shirah?

Question #2: Shouldn’t I know where I stand?

Should I stand or sit while reciting Oz Yashir?

Question #3: Yom Layabashah

Why do some people recite Yom Layabashah at a bris?

Shabbos Parshas Beshalach is called Shabbos Shirah – the Shabbos of the Song. This refers to the Shiras HaYam, the song of thanks that the Jewish nation sang to Hashem after crossing through the Red Sea on dry land and seeing their enemies drown. The name Shabbos Shirah appears already in early authorities (Sefer HaMinhagim [Tyrnau], s.v. Shevat; Sefer Maharil, Hilchos Teves-Shevat-Adar, #7).

WHY SHABBOS SHIRAH?

It is interesting to note that Shabbos Shirah is the only Shabbos that has a unique name based on the parsha that is not taken from the opening words of the parsha. The Shabbosos of the four parshiyos, Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh and Shabbos Shuva receive their names from the maftir, not from the parsha. Shabbos Shuva, Shabbos Chazon, and Shabbos Nachamu receive their names from the haftarah. The Shabbosos on which we read other noteworthy events do not have a unique name; thus, Shabbos Parshas Yisro is not called Shabbos Aseres HaDibros and Shabbos Parshas Noach is not Shabbos HaMabul. Why does the Shabbos of Parshas Beshalach get this distinction? Additionally, the shirah is not the only seminal topic of the parsha. There is also Parshas HaMan and Parshas Marah, in which Hashem starts giving mitzvos to Klal Yisroel, one of which is Shabbos. Why is this Shabbos not referred to as Shabbos HaMan or Shabbos Shabbos?

The Shirah is unique. The Torah consists of what Hashem said to Klal Yisroel. Az Yashir, however, is what Klal Yisroel said to Hashem, and what they said became part of the Torah. This is because when they sang this shirah, they attained the highest levels of prophecy, as it says, “a maidservant saw at the sea more than what (the great prophets) Yeshayahu and Yechezkel saw” (Mechilta d’Rebbi Yishmael, Beshalach, Mesichta d’Shirah #3). Therefore, we call this Shabbos ‘Shabbos Shirah’, in order to remind ourselves of the great spiritual potential of Klal Yisroel (Sefer HaToda’ah, Shevat, s.v. Shabbos Shirah).

PIYUTIM: YOTZROS AND GEULAH

The authors quoted above discuss two minhagim in relation to this Shabbos. Sefer HaMinhagim writes that, “On Shabbos Shirah, we say Yom LaYabashah, and some places do not say it.” He is referring to the piyut that is often sung at the meal following a bris milah. This piyut was originally part of the davening in some communities and is referred to as a “Geulah.” Let us explain this term.

There was an old custom in Klal Yisroel to recite additional tefilos called Yotzros or Piyutim on Yomim Tovim and special Shabbosos. The most commonly still recited Yotzros are those added to the Shabbos morning davening in some communities, when reading the four parshiyos: Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh. They are incorporated into the first bracha of birchos Kri’as Shema, which starts with the words, “Yotzair or,” hence the term “yotzros.”

Another type of addition is called a “geulah.” While yotzros are added to the first bracha of birchos Kri’as Shema, the “geulah,” as implied by the name, is added to the last bracha, which ends with “Ga’al Yisroel.” The piyut of Yom LaYabashah was added to the davening on Shabbos Parshas Beshalach and on Shabbos and other Yomim Tovim whenever there was a bris. This is probably why it became customary to sing this piyut at the bris meal.

Although the minhag of reciting Yom LaYabasha as a piyut during davening has fallen into disuse in most communities, there are still many who are accustomed to sing it during the meals of Shabbos Shirah (Darchei Chaim v’Shalom #832; Siddur Beis Aharon [Karlin]; Sefer Mo’adim LeSimcha, pg. 74).

MINHAGEI HATEFILAH

In many communities there were and still are various minhagim regarding the davening on this Shabbos. In Frankfurt, there was a custom to sing Az Yashir during Pesukei d’Zimra and also to sing from “MiMitzrayim ge’altanu” until “Tzur Yisroel” in birchos kri’as Shema (Sefer Moadim LeSimcha, pg. 69, quoting seforim of minhagei Frankfurt).

In several kehilos, although the custom is not necessarily to sing Az Yashir, they recite it posuk by =posuk (Minhagei Mattersdorf; Darchei Chaim v’Shalom #832; Minhag Belz). It seems, however, that there are two minhagim as to how the Shirah is said. In some locations, the entire congregation, including the chazzan, recites each possuk in unison; while in other shuls, the chazzan recites a possuk and the tzibbur repeats it. It has been suggested that these two approaches of how to recite the shirah have their roots in a disagreement in the Gemara.

The Gemara (Sotah 30b) discusses how the Bnei Yisroel recited the shirah after Kri’as Yam Suf. One opinion maintains that Moshe said one posuk and the Bnei Yisroel repeated it; Moshe said the next posuk and they repeated that posuk as well, and so on. According to another opinion, Moshe initiated the shirah and the rest of Klal Yisroel attained prophecy and were able to join in with him, reciting it simultaneously (Sefer Nachalah LeYisroel 10:56, quoted in Sefer Mo’adim LeSimchah, pg. 70).

It is worthwhile to point out that the Mishnah Berurah (51:17) writes regarding the daily recital of Shiras HaYam in pesukei d’zimra: “One should recite shiras hayam joyfully, and he should imagine that he crossed the sea that day. One who recites it with joy will receive forgiveness for his sins.”

MINHAGIM DURING KRI’AS HATORAH

When leining from the Torah on fast days, most shuls have a custom that three pesukim are first recited aloud by the tzibbur and then by the ba’al kriah: 1) Shuv mei’charon apecha (Shemos 32:12), 2) Hashem, Hashem [the thirteen Divine attributes of mercy] (ibid. 34:6-7), and 3) veSalachta (ibid. 34:9). One of the sources of this minhag is the Avudraham (Seder HaParshiyos veHaHaftaros in the name of Rav Saadiah Gaon). However, he maintains that this custom of reciting pesukim out loud by the tzibbur was not limited to these three pesukim. Rather, he quotes that there are ten such pesukim where the custom is to do so, seven of which are in this week’s parsha: 1) Hashem yilachem lachem (ibid. 14:14), 2) Vaya’aminu baHashem (14:31), 3) Hashem Ish milchamah (15:3), 4) Mi chomocha ba’eilim (15:11), 5) Mikdash Hashem konanu yadecha (15:17), 6) Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed (15:18), 7) Ki macho emcheh (17:14), 8-9). However, this custom has fallen into disuse, except for the pesukim of the fast day reading.

The generally accepted minhag is that when leining Az Yashir on Shabbos Shirah, a special, melodious tune is used instead of the regular trop (cantillations). However, different shuls have varying minhagim as to which pesukim are read with the special tune (Sefer Moadim LeSimcha, pg. 73).

It is also common practice to give honor to the Rav of the community by giving him the aliyah in which Shiras HaYam is read (Shu”t Radvaz #304; Magen Avraham 428:8).

In the event that there are many people who require an aliyah on Shabbos and it is customary to add aliyos beyond the mandatory seven, the minhag is that the Shirah is read in one aliyah and not divided (Avudraham ibid.; Sha’arei Efraim 7:25).

STANDING UP

In many kehilos, the minhag is to stand during the aliyah of Shiras HaYam from “Vayosha” until the end of the Shirah (Sefer Ketzos HaShulchan 84, Badei HaShulchan 22). One reason is based on the idea that the recital of the Shirah by Moshe and Bnei Yisroel was comparable to the recital of Hallel (Mishnah Sotah 27b). The halacha is that Hallel is to be said standing (Shulchan Aruch 422:7), because one is testifying to the fact that Hashem did miracles for us, and testimony must be said while standing. Therefore, the custom is to stand during the Shirah, and perhaps this is also the reason why many people have the practice of standing for Az Yashir, when reciting it during pesukei dezimra (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 14:4; Badei HaShulchan ibid.).

Another reason for standing during the Shirah is based on the Zohar (Lech-Lecha 81b), which says that Dovid HaMelech merited to be the ancestor of Moshiach, because he stood up in order to say Shirah, as it says (Tehillim 119:62), “I will arise to praise You” (Siddur Tzelosa deAvraham, pg. 168).

On the other hand, there are those who do not have this minhag to stand during Krias HaTorah (Kaf HaChaim 494:30). It is reported that although Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky z”l stood during the leining of the Aseres HaDibros, he remained seated during Az Yashir (Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. I, pg. 120 #85).

Additionally, there are those who argue that if one is sitting during leining, he should not get up for the Shirah or the Aseres HaDibros. This is based on a Gemara (Brachos 11b-12a) that in the Beis HaMikdash the Aseres HaDibros were read together with Krias Shema on a daily basis, and it was suggested to institute this outside the Beis HaMikdash, as well. However, it became necessary to abandon this plan, due to the heretics who tried convincing the simple people that only the Aseres HaDibros are the truth, while the rest of the Torah is not, chas veshalom. They reasoned that since it is only the Aseres HaDibros that are being read, it must be the only thing that Hashem said at Har Sinai (Rashi ibid.). Based on this Gemara, some maintain that if we stand up, specifically, for the Aseres HaDibros or Az Yashir, this will lead people to claim that only these two parshiyos are Toras emes.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. IV, #22) maintains that this is not a reason to abandon the custom of standing while these parshiyos are read. The Gemara was speaking of a specific incident, and we cannot extrapolate a new prohibition from there. Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, suggests that if one wishes to be stringent and is concerned about the above argument, he should stand up a few pessukim before the Shirah or Aseres HaDibros. In this way, he will not be standing up specifically for these two parshiyos, and there can no longer be a claim that only these are emes (Shu”t Teshuvos veHanhagos, vol. I, #144; see also Pischei She’arim to Sha’arei Efraim 7:37).

If one is accustomed to sit during Aseres HaDibros or the Shirah and he finds himself in a shul where the tzibbur stands, he must act in accordance with the local custom (Sha’arei Efraim ibid.; Shu”t Igros Moshe, ibid.).

* In this week’s article in Yated Neeman, Rabbi Kaganoff discusses the custom of feeding the birds on Shabbos Shirah.

EATING WHEAT

In addition to the custom of giving wheat or other food to birds on Shabbos Shirah, there is another fascinating minhag connected to wheat and Shabbos Shirah. There is a discussion among the poskim regarding the correct bracha acharonah to be recited after eating wheat. This topic is beyond the scope of our discussion. However, the Bach writes (Orach Chaim 208) that, “according to the custom of eating whole wheat grains on Shabbos Shirah, one should be careful… only to eat them during a meal.” In order to gain an appreciation of the age of this custom, one should keep in mind that the Bach lived over 350 years ago. This minhag was prevalent in Western Europe and is also cited in Minhagei Frankfurt and Minhagei Chasam Sofer.

One reason cited for the custom is because the manna looked like grains of wheat. Therefore, on Shabbos Shirah when the parshas =haman is read, we eat wheat, as a remembrance of the manna (Likutei Mahari’ach, Teves).

Rav Yehudah Michal Benga Segal, a trustee and a ba’al tekiah of the Frankfurt kehillah over 250 years ago, in his sefer Koach Yehudah, suggested another possible reason behind this custom. Although the primary time for commencing the Pesach preparations is Purim, as is indicated by the halacha that one begins studying Hilchos Pesach thirty days before the holiday (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 429:1), some things required more time. One such item was wheat for matzos. The grains had to be checked, ground, sifted and stored in a chometz-free environment, all of which took much time and effort. Owing to the poor travel conditions of European winters, these preparations had to be started well before Purim.

Therefore, the Pesach wheat was bought for Shabbos Shirah, which is usually two months before Pesach, in order that it be ready for grinding to make the Pesach matzah flour. Once they had the Pesach wheat, they would eat some of it on Shabbos Shirah. This was based on another minhag, cited in the poskim (Magen Avraham 430:1, quoting Maharshal), to eat specifically Pesach wheat or flour before Pesach. The reason behind that minhag is beyond the scope of our discussion (see Sefer Mo’adim LeSimcha, vol. III, pg. 66). Interestingly, some have a custom of preparing a kugel from Pesach flour for Shabbos Hagadol (Luach Minhagei Belz).

THE TEN SONGS

According to the midrash (Mechilta d’Rebbi Yishmael, Beshalach, Mesichta d’Shira, #1), ten songs were sung to Hashem: 1) On the night of Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, 2) after Kri’as Yam Suf, 3) by the well in the desert (Bamidbar 21:17), 4) Moshe’s transcribing the Torah, which is referred to as a shirah (Devarim 31:24), 5) Yehoshua sang shirah when he stopped the sun in Givon and the moon in Emek Ayalon (Yehoshua 10:12), 6) Devorah and Barak ben Avinoam sang shirah after Sisra’s defeat (Shoftim 5:1), 7) Dovid sang shirah when he was saved from his enemies (Shmuel II 22:1), 8) Shlomo sang shirah when he inaugurated the Beis HaMikdash (Tehillim 30:1), 9) King Yehoshafat sang shirah and was saved from the enemy (Divrei HaYamim II 20), 10) the shirah that will be sung in the future when Moshiach comes (Yeshayahu 42:10).

The midrash points out that the first nine songs were referred to in the feminine form, shirah, while the last one, shir, is masculine. The reason for this is that, generally speaking, after a woman gives birth to a child, she will eventually repeat the entire process, thus subjecting herself again to the pains of childbirth. This cycle of childbirth, pain and childbirth represents our existence in this world. Hashem brings salvation, which prompts shirah. He again puts us through trial and tribulation, and again saves us. This is all true until Moshiach comes, when the shir that will be sung is “masculine.” A man cannot give birth. Once we experience the final geulah and sing that final shir, there will be no more pain and suffering. May we merit to see it very soon!

 

Is Swift the Way to Go?

newborn baby boyQuestion: The Early Birds

Avraham and Sorah Adler* are celebrating the bris of their firstborn son! Avraham knows that one should perform a bris as early in the morning as possible, and, therefore, he would like to schedule it for immediately after the “neitz” minyan, which begins the Shacharis Shemoneh Esrei exactly at sunrise. Sarah feels that she will have no difficulty having herself and the baby ready in time. However, the new grandparents feel that the bris should be scheduled later, so that more guests will arrive. Who is correct halachically?

Answer:

There is a principle of the Torah, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, that one should perform a mitzvah as soon as the opportunity arrives. To quote the Gemara: One may perform a bris milah any time during the day, but one should try to perform the mitzvah as soon as possible (Pesachim 4a). Thus, since the earliest time to make a bris milah is at sunrise, one should perform it as soon as one can.

As a source for the law of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara mentions that when Avraham Avinu was commanded to bring his son, Yitzchak, to the Akeidah, the Torah emphasizes that Avraham got up early in the morning to fulfill his mitzvah. We also find another Biblical source in which Dovid Hamelech lauds those who perform mitzvos at the first opportunity; I hurried and did not delay fulfilling Your commandments (Tehillim 119:60).

Our enthusiasm to carry out Hashem‘s commandments should manifest itself in a desire to perform mitzvos as immediately as possible. We should bear this in mind for every opportunity that presents itself, whether it be to perform a chesed or to fulfill one of the laws that we do not necessarily understand. As an example of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara requires one to check for chometz as soon as the evening of Erev Pesach begins, and not wait until later that night.

In a different article, we discussed whether it is more important halachically to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion, hiddur mitzvah, than to perform it earlier. Briefly put, most authorities contend that it is of greater importance to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion than to perform it earlier, whereas the Gra contends that performing the mitzvah earlier is preferable.

Berov Am Hadras Melech

We can now analyze the issues involved in our question: When should one schedule a bris? Should one schedule the bris at the first possible moment, because of the mitzvah of zerizus, or should one delay the bris in order to have a larger crowd attend, which is itself a halachic preference, called berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King. The question is whether berov am hadras melech is similar to performing a mitzvah in a mehudar way, and therefore is a reason to delay the bris so that more people can attend (according to the majority opinion that hiddur mitzvah is preferable to zerizus), or is it preferred to perform the mitzvah at the first opportunity?

Why should there be a difference?

Hiddur mitzvah means that there is an improvement in the quality of performance of this specific mitzvah, such as using a nicer sefer Torah, purchasing a more beautifully written mezuzah, or davening with greater concentration. Most opinions contend that it is preferable to perform a mitzvah in a more proper fashion than it is to fulfill observing the mitzvah earlier. However, berov am hadras melech does not change the quality of the actual mitzvah performed. The Bris Milah is not performed in a more meticulous fashion because more people attended. Having more people in attendance is a halachic preference, but it does not make the bris into a more mehudar mitzvah.

Zerizim Versus Berov Am Hadras Melech

Can we prove that one should delay performing a mitzvah in order to accomplish berov am hadras melech? It appears that we can.

The Mishnah teaches that Hallel is always recited immediately following Shacharis, whereas shofar blowing is performed before and during the Musaf davening. The Gemara asks why we make sure to recite Hallel early, yet we delay blowing shofar. The Gemara suggests that the reason that the shofar is blown during Musaf, and not during Shacharis, is because more people attend Musaf than Shacharis (sigh — I guess times have not changed) – thus, there is greater berov am hadras melech to blow shofar at Musaf than at Shacharis. The Gemara, however, counters that were this logic true and berov am hadras melech supersedes zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, why is it that Hallel is recited after Shacharis? Should not its correct place be after Musaf so that more people participate? Thus, the two rulings appear to contradict one another, the practice of Hallel implying that zerizim is preferred, and the practice of shofar implying that berov am hadras melech is. Obviously, this cannot possibly be! There must be a method whereby we resolve this contradiction.

The Gemara responds that the shofar is not blown until Musaf for a completely different, historical reason. At a certain point in history, the government prohibited the blowing of shofar and posted guards in the shuls during Shacharis; at that time, the point in davening when shofar was blown. The guards dispersed when they noted that the Jews were no longer blowing shofar in Shacharis. The Sages then instituted blowing shofar at Musaf, because by that time the government guards were gone (Rosh Hashanah 32b). Thus, the practice of blowing shofar around Musaf is because of exceptional circumstances unique to shofar that should not be applied elsewhere; otherwise, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos supersedes berov am hadras melech, not the other way around.

Review of the Rules

Based on all these points, we should prioritize our mitzvah performance in the following way:

  1. According to most authorities, hiddur mitzvah is the first choice. When one is certain that one will be able to perform the mitzvah later in a more mehudar fashion, one should delay in order to do so. An example of this is delaying kiddush levanah until motza’ei Shabbos. (According to the Gra, one should perform kiddush levanah at one’s first opportunity.)
  2. When delaying may result in missing the mitzvah altogether, one performs the mitzvah as soon as possible. The same is true if delaying the mitzvah for the hiddur may result in a long delay – we perform the mitzvah as soon as possible.
  3. Although having many people in attendance enhances the observance of the mitzvah, the idea of berov am hadras melech does not take precedence over performing the mitzvah earlier, and certainly is less important than performing the mitzvah in a more mehudar fashion.

When Should I Schedule the Bris?

We can now address the Adlers’ question. The authorities indeed conclude that one should not delay a bris in order to enable more people to attend. The preferred practice is to carry out a bris at the end of Shacharis. The original and favored practice is to perform it immediately after uva letziyon and before aleinu, such that all those who attended shul present for the bris, accomplishing both zerizin makdimim lemitzvos and berov am hadras melech (Shach, Yoreh Deah 265:24).

In this context, I want to share the words of the Aruch Hashulchan, who notes that when the Mishnah lists mitzvos that can be performed all day long, it omits mention of bris milah. To quote the Aruch Hashulchan:

It appears to me that this omission is intentional. The reason being that although other mitzvos should be performed as soon as possible, there is not as much concern about delaying the mitzvah slightly as there is in regard to mitzvas milah, which is the seal of the holy covenant. Since through this mitzvah the child enters sanctity, there is major concern not to delay…. We should therefore reprimand those who delay performing the mitzvah for several hours for inane reasons such as not all the invited guests have arrived…. Delaying the bris until the afternoon is very sinful (Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 262:8).

The Aruch Hashulchan then proceeds to ask why we wait until after davening to perform the bris milah, to which he answers that davening includes several mitzvos, and since there are several mitzvos involved, davening should precede the bris milah.

Thus, Avraham and Sorah are correct that they should follow the precedent of their namesakes and perform their son’s bris as early in the day as they can. Although their parents are correct that, in general, one should try to perform a mitzvah in a way that many people can participate, this does not, however, preempt performing the mitzvah as swiftly as possible.

A Busy Mohel

Sometimes the bris needs to be delayed because the mohel one has chosen is not available earlier, due to other brisim he has to perform. I will leave it for a different time to discuss whether this provides sufficient reason to choose a different mohel, who is available as early as one wants to schedule the bris.

I would like to note that some yeshivos have rules when brisim can be scheduled, because the roshei yeshivah are concerned that the frequency with which brisim occur can result in many disruptions to the regular seder hayeshivah. It is certainly within the rosh hayeshivah’s prerogative to make such a rule. In my opinion, the bris should be immediately after Shacharis (in actuality immediately before Aleinu at the end of Shacharis), but the seudah should be scheduled for later in the day, when it is less disruptive to the sidrei hayeshivah.

In Conclusion

Our entire discussion revolves around whether and when it is important to perform a mitzvah without delay or if there are other mitzvah calculations that supersede the early performance of the mitzvah. The main point is that our attitude towards the performance of mitzvos should be one of enthusiasm – we are overjoyed with the opportunity to fulfill Hashem‘s commandments and therefore rush to perform His mitzvos as soon as we possibly can. This zeal must sometimes be tempered with a different type of passion — the desire to perform the mitzvah in an optimal way. It is wonderful that Jews share these two enthusiastic emotions and try to seek balance between them.

*The story is real, although the names have been changed to protect privacy.

 

Doubly Blessed – How many Berachos do we recite at a twin bris?

It was a big simcha, the birth of twin boys. Avi Habanim, the new Daddy, wondered whether he and Reb Mendel, the mohel, should recite the berachos once or twice. He also wanted to know whether the beracha after the bris, asher kideish yedid mibeten, is recited separately for each baby or not. This would provide extra kibbudim for Avi to distribute –quite an asset in his large family!

Conclusion:

When celebrating the Habanim sons’ bris, the older son was brought to shul first; the mohel recited the beracha of al hamilah prior to performing the older boy’s bris. Avi then recited the beracha lehachniso bivriso shel Avraham Avinu, to bring him into the Covenant of Avraham our forefather. After the bris was completed, Uncle Max was honored with reciting the beracha asher kideish yedid mibeten, and then the baby was named Peretz after Uncle Max’s late father. After Max’s booming baritone rendition was complete, the mohel recited the mishebeirach, wishing Peretz a speedy recovery and then began Aleinu, the customary closing prayer to the bris ceremony.

Now the Second Bris

After Aleinu and kaddish were completed, Reb Mendel, Avi and Uncle Herman (I will soon explain why he, and not Uncle Max) took a brief walk outside the shul, and then Avi’s younger son arrived just in time for his bris. Reb Mendel declared kvatter, the standard announcement politely asking people to end their conversations because the bris is beginning. Mendel recited the beracha al hamilah a second time, and Avi then recited the beracha lehachniso again. After the bris was completed, Uncle Herman was honored with reciting the beracha asher kideish yedid mibeten prior to the baby being named Zerach.

The Dvar Torah

At the banquet celebrating the brisin (this is the commonly used plural, although it does not pass muster for most grammatical purists), Avi began his comments by thanking Hashem not only for the birth of two healthy boys, but also for the opportunity to have had time to analyze a complex halachic topic that he had never previously researched. He then devoted his “Bris Torah” to sharing his research on the question of whether one set of berachos should be recited for both brisin or two sets of berachos should be recited. He began by noting that most early authorities contend that one should not recite the berachos twice, but recite one al hamilah and one lehachniso bivriso for both brisin. When following this approach, those reciting the berachos should be careful not to talk from the recital of the berachos about anything not germane to the bris until the second bris is completed (see Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 265; Gra’z 213:7). (This is similar to the halacha not to talk between the first shofar blasts and the later ones.)

Lehachnisam bivriso

Indeed, even the text of the beracha recited by the father changes to the plural. Under these unusual circumstances, several authorities quote a text in which the word lehachniso has been changed to the plural: lehachnisam bivriso shel Avraham Avinu, to bring them into the Covenant (Beis Yosef; Rama, Yoreh Deah 265:5). The Rama even amends the prayer that includes naming the child to plural by saying kayem es hayeladim.

Among those authorities who follow this approach, we find a dispute concerning when Dad recites his beracha lehachnisam. Some authorities imply that he should recite the beracha lehachnisam immediately after the mohel recites his beracha on the first bris (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 6:9), whereas most contend that he should not recite it until after the mohel performs the second bris (Shu’t HaRashba 1:382). This dispute concerns whether the optimal time to recite this beracha (on every bris) is prior to the performing of the bris, assuming that it is a beracha on the performing of the mitzvah; or afterwards, considering it a beracha of praise (see Tosafos, Pesachim 7a s.v. Beliva’eir). This is a complex discussion on its own that we will need to leave for now; perhaps it is a topic for Avi’s next bris drosha. In order to accommodate both approaches, the father usually recites lehachniso bivriso immediately after the mohel begins removing the foreskin, but prior to his peeling back the membrane underneath which is called the or haperiyah.

Asher Kideish

There is an additional dispute whether to recite the beracha asher kideish yedid mibeten (recited after the bris and before the baby is named) twice or only once. Rabbeinu Yeruchem implies that one should recite it after each bris, whereas the Beis Yosef disagrees, contending that it should be recited only once — after the second bris. I would like to note that a much earlier authority than the Beis Yosef, the Tashbeitz (2:42), already ruled exactly as the Beis Yosef did — that it should be recited only once, and after the second bris, so that it refers to both brisin.

Avi noted that some might be concerned about the following curious problem. Since we usually name the child immediately after reciting the beracha asher kideish yedid mibeten, and one is now reciting only one beracha for both boys, how does anyone know which child was given which name? (Avi then noted tongue-in-cheek that in his particular instance this probably would not be such a concern, since people could always refer to Chumash and see that Peretz is the older twin.)

Actually, an early halachic source alludes to a response to this question. The Tashbeitz notes that after reciting the beracha asher kideish yedid mibeten, the custom was to pour two different cups of wine and name each baby while holding a different cup, although one recites only one beracha of hagafen for both cups, since there is no interruption between them. He notes that there is no real reason to have two cups for this purpose other than to pacify people. One cup of wine for the beracha certainly suffices. Presumably, each cup of wine was brought near the child who was now being named so that people would know which child would bear which name, although it is also clear from the Tashbeitz that there is no necessity to do this.

Avi continued: According to the Rama’s recommendation that one recites only one naming prayer for both boys, obviously, one is using only one cup of wine. It also seems that one concludes this prayer by saying viyakaru shemam biYisrael Peretz ben Avraham veZerach ben Avraham. Since one recites only one prayer that then names both boys, presumably the naming follows the order in which they were circumcised.

Double Blessings

Avi then noted a more serious issue: If most poskim contend that one should not recite the berachos twice for the two brisin, why did I ignore the majority opinion?! As you can imagine, after researching the shaylah, I asked my rav what to do and followed his advice. However, before explaining his reasoning, I would like to share with you more of my research.

Truthfully, several different authorities, both early and late, recommend different reasons why one should recite separate berachos for each bris. The earliest dissenting opinion is that of the Baal Ha’itur, an early rishon, who rules that each bris always requires its own beracha. Why should this be so? Does the Baal Ha’itur contend that whenever one fulfills a mitzvah twice that each act requires its own beracha? This would mean that when installing several mezuzos one would recite a beracha on each mezuzah, and that a shocheit slaughtering many birds or animals should recite a new beracha before each shechitah. Although there is a recognized, very early authority who indeed advocates this position (Rabbeinu Shmuel ben Chofni, quoted by Mordechai, Chullin #658), the other authorities, Baal Ha’itur included, accept that one recites only one beracha before performing the same mitzvah several times (Tashbeitz 2:42). So why is milah different from all other mitzvos?

Baal Ha’itur himself explains that bris milah is indeed different from other mitzvos because one may not perform two brisin simultaneously. Presumably, he means that because of the principle of ain osim mitzvos chavilos chavilos, one may not “bundle” together two mitzvos and perform them together, as this implies that one finds performing mitzvos a burden. The logic is that since I cannot perform the second bris until after I perform the first, the first bris is in effect an interruption between the beracha and the second bris (Shu’t Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah #250).

Most early authorities dispute with the Baal Ha’itur’s logic. Although they presumably agree that one may not perform both brisin simultaneously because of safety concerns and because of the principle of ain osim mitzvos chavilos chavilos, they feel that this does not create a sufficient reason to require a new beracha on the second bris. Remember that the mohel knows that he will be performing a second bris when he recites the beracha on the first child.

Although most early authorities rule differently, some seem somewhat unconvinced that one is forbidden to recite separate berachos on each bris. For example, someone sent the Rashba a letter inquiring whether it is correct to recite only one beracha when performing two brisin. The Rashba responded that he had never been in attendance when two brisin occurred together and consequently, was unaware of an accepted practice. Logically, he feels that one should recite only one beracha, just as a shocheit should recite only one beracha prior to performing multiple shechitos, although it is clear from the Rashba’s discussion that he would certainly defer to a minhag differing from his ruling (Shu’t HaRashba 1:382).

Later Authorities

Avi continued his discussion by mentioning that the Tur cites the opinion of the Baal Ha’itur, but then quotes his father, the Rosh, who disputed the Baal Ha’itur’s conclusions. The Rosh compares this case to having two newly married couples in attendance at one sheva berachos, and whether one should recite two sets of berachos, one for each couple, or one series of berachos for both. He concludes that one should recite one set of berachos for both couples, and rules that when performing brisin on twins, one should recite only one series of berachos for both. Clearly, there is concern that one is reciting unnecessary berachos, berachos she’ainam tzrichos, which is a violation of halacha. The Rosh then notes that this is true even if there are two different mohalim involved – and even if the two babies are from different families — one mohel should recite the beracha before performing the first bris with the other mohel present and include the second mohel in his beracha. The second mohel should have in mind to be included in this first one’s beracha. He then also rules that the same is true for the beracha recited after the bris, asher kideish yedid mibeten – concluding that this beracha should also be recited only once for both children, and even if the second child is not present when the first bris is performed, since one knows that one will be performing both brisin (Shu’t HaRosh 26:4). Of course, this presents an interesting question, since this beracha is recited after the bris, and one may have already performed the first bris before the second baby arrived. The authorities conclude that even so, one should delay reciting the beracha asher kideish yedid mibeten until the second bris is performed, and then recite it after the second bris with intent for the first bris as well.

To sum up, there is a dispute between the Baal Ha’itur and the Rosh whether one must recite separate berachos on these two brisin, or whether one is required to recite one beracha on both brisin.

Other reasons

Other, later authorities present completely different reasons why one should not recite the berachos on two brisin together. The Beis Shmuel (Even HaEzer 62:3) quotes the Perisha as stating that one should not make two brisin together because of ayin hora, just as one should not perform two wedding ceremonies together. According to the Perisha, the concern is not about the berachos, but about the ceremony itself, and that therefore one should complete one bris ceremony before beginning the next one. However, most other authorities do not share this concern (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 265:11 for one approach why).

We should note that the Perisha’s approach results in a different procedure than the Baal Ha’itur would advise. According to the Perisha, one should not bring the second baby to the location of the bris until after the first bris is complete, whereas according to the Baal Ha’itur, one may bring both babies at the beginning and conduct the two brisin step-by-step, one after the other.

Avi then mentioned a different approach to the opinion of not bringing the two babies together. If we remember the Baal Ha’itur’s position, he contended that simultaneously performing the bris for both babies violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, bundling together mitzvos. However, the Baal Ha’itur was not concerned that bringing the babies together violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos. However, there are authorities who feel that bringing two babies together with the intent of performing their brisin consecutively involves a problem of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos (see Magen Avraham 147:11). Thus, we have two authorities who advise against bringing the two babies together to perform their brisin together. We are now going to present a third reason not to do so.

Interrupting the Berachos

Most authorities rule that if someone interrupted after reciting the beracha for the first bris, he must recite a new beracha for the second bris. They contend that it is prohibited to interrupt, because this now causes the recital of a new beracha, which is a beracha she’ainah tzericha, an unnecessary beracha. For this reason, the Maharshal reached an interesting conclusion: Departing from the Rosh’s conclusions, he contended that when two different families are making a bris, one should have them each recite its own berachos. He voices two different reasons for his conclusion:

1. There is likelihood that they will interrupt, which requires a new beracha, but fail to recite the beracha.

2. When dealing with two families, one needs to be concerned with the possibility that they will get into a fight over who recites the berachos.

As a result, the Maharshal recommends making certain that the two brisin have an interruption between them to guarantee that they require two separate berachos. This alleviates the possibility of a machlokes and also guarantees that the proper berachos will indeed be recited (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 6:9).

The Shach’s Conclusion

The Shach (Yoreh Deah 265:15) takes the Maharshal’s concerns even further, being concerned that even in the case of twins, there will be interruptions between the two brisin, and that one should therefore separate between them. In taking this position, he is disputing the conclusions of most Rishonim, and those of the Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and Taz, although one could argue that he was not disagreeing as much as reflecting changing patterns of human behavior. It may be that in earlier generations, people exhibited better self-control and remained quiet between the two brisin, whereas in his generation they did not.

Differing Customs

“If I have not yet put you to sleep,” the erudite father continued, “I will return to the original dispute I mentioned above between the Baal Ha’itur and the Rosh whether one must recite separate berachos on these two brisin, or whether one is required to recite one beracha on both brisin. Among the later authorities, there is much discussion whether the custom follows the Baal Ha’itur or the Rosh. The Bach records that in his day, this was dependent on local custom, some places following the Baal Ha’itur’s approach of reciting separate berachos, and others following the Rosh. He mentions that the custom in Cracow followed the Rosh. The Bach concludes that the preferred practice in a place without an established custom is to bring one baby and perform his bris with its berachos, and then, when finished, bring the second baby and recite all the berachos again separately.

“What is the Sefardic Custom?

“The Tashbeitz, who was the Chief Rabbi in Algiers, a Sefardic community, reports that he attended many brisin of twins and never saw two berachos recited. This is also the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, usually the source for all Sefardic custom and practice. Nevertheless, some authorities quote an old, established practice in Egypt, a Sefardic community, of performing the first bris with all its berachos, then reciting pesukim and similar things to create an interruption, following which they performed the second bris with all the berachos again (Shu’t Darchei Noam, Yoreh Deah #27, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 265:10).

“A similar practice is noted in Nineteenth Century Hungary (Shu’t Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah #250). Thus, it appears that in different places throughout Jewish history there were different established practices. However, Rav Elyashiv takes much umbrage at this practice, claiming that since most authorities quoted rule that one should recite only one beracha, they were also aware of minhagim, and that the places where the minhag was otherwise are the exception, not the rule (Introduction to Otzar HaBris).

“With this information, I asked my rav a shaylah, and he told me that he has attended many brisin of twins, and that the practice is always to perform one bris, make a slight interruption, and then begin the second. He told me that some people provide refreshments between the two brisin, both to accomplish more of an interruption and to have a “bris seudah” for the first twin.

“In Conclusion

“Prior to thanking all those who have helped us, I want to share with everyone the idea that we should recognize the paramount importance of being careful with our berachos. Here we see how much ink was used to clarify whether one should recite one or two berachos. Certainly, it behooves us to be careful about our recital of our berachos.”

Who should I Choose as Sandek?

clip_image002Since both last week’s parsha, and this week’s (V’Yera) discuss the mitzvah of bris milah,  I thought we would discuss who one honors as sandek at a Bris.

Question #1:

Aharon calls: “I would prefer asking my Rosh Yeshivah to be sandek, but I know that my father is expecting the honor. What should I do?”

Question #2:

As I arrive for the bris, the two new grandfathers approach me: “We would like to ask a psak halachah: Which one of us should be the sandek?”

Question #3:

“I would like to ask my father to be the sandek, but my wife feels that her grandfather should be honored.”

Question #4:

“At a Sefardic bris I noticed that the sandek remained sitting even after the bris itself, and the baby remained on his lap through the naming ceremony. Afterwards, the sandek remained seated, and the attendees lined up to seek his blessing. Why were they doing this?”

Answer:

The greatest of the honors given at a bris is holding the baby during the bris itself; the person who does this is called the sandek (Maharil). Many authorities rule that the sandek receives greater honors than either the mohel or the father of the newborn, ruling that he has preference over them for an aliyah on the day of the bris (Rama, Yoreh Deah 265:11; Magen Avraham 282:18; cf., however, Shaarei Efrayim 2:12, who notes that this depends on local custom, and in his locale they did not give aliyos to the sandek or the mohel.)

Why the Sandek?

Why should the sandek deserve the highest honor? After all, if we honor him because he is performing a big mitzvah, then the honor should go to the mohel who is performing a far greater mitzvah – the bris itself. On the other hand, if it bestowed because it is a personal celebration, then it should go to the father of the baby.

The halachic authorities explain that since performing a bris milah is considered like the offering of a korban (Zohar, Parshas Lech Lecha), the sandek’s lap functions as the mizbei’ach, the altar, on which this korban is offered (Maharil; Toras Chayim, Sanhedrin 89b). The Maharil compares the sandek’s role to that of the kohen offering the ketores, the incense, in the Beis Hamikdash, explaining that for this reason the sandek is granted top honors. However, others note that this analysis is unclear, since it is the mohel who “offers” the korban by performing the mitzvah, and therefore he should be more closely compared to the kohen offering the ketores, not the sandek who is functioning as the mizbei’ach” [Shu”t Noda BeYehudah, Yoreh Deah 1:86]. We will discuss this point later.

Halachic sources mention that one should strive to perform the mitzvah of being sandek and even spend large sums of money to accomplish this (Migdal Oz, quoted in Sefer HaBris pg 313). These authorities suggest that it is for this precise reason that the sandek has preference for an aliyah – he receives honor for showing that he endears mitzvos so much that he is willing to spend much money to fulfill them.

We find many customs associated with being honored with sandek. In some places, the sandek paid for all the costs of the seudah, the festive meal served in honor of the bris. In other communities, there was a custom that the sandek paid for the first schar limud – the first Torah tuition of the child. The source for this second custom is the brachah given immediately following the bris, kesheim shenichnas labris kein yikaneis letorah ulechupah ulemaasim tovim, just as he entered the bris, he should enter studying Torah, marriage and good deeds. The sandek, who participated in the bris, thanks the parents for being honored by participating in the next step, the child’s growing in Torah.

Sandek Segulos

Some explain that being sandek is a segulah for wealth, although many dispute the existence of such a segulah, noting that many great talmidei chachamim were sandek numerous times yet remained poor as shul mice.

Another famous custom, mentioned by early authorities, is that a family should not honor the same person with sandek for a second time; which means that each of their sons requires a different sandek (Maharil; Rama). Although many authorities dispute whether one need follow this custom (Shu”t Noda BeYehudah), this practice is fairly common in Ashkenazic communities with one exception: That the local rav or rosh yeshivah is often presented this honor many times.

As a matter of fact, the honor of being sandek was considered so special that some communities had the custom that the father did not choose the sandek; instead, the community sold the right to the mitzvah and used the funds for charitable purposes (Otzar Habris 2: pg 255; see Derishah and Taz, Yoreh Deah 249:1 who discuss use of maaser kesafim to purchase the right to be the sandek). In other communities, they always gave the honor to the local rav (mentioned in Shu”t Noda BeYehudah, Yoreh Deah 1:86). However, in most locales, the father chooses this honoree. What factors should one consider when choosing the sandek?

The Greatest Tzadik

The Rama says that one should choose the biggest tzadikim that one can find to be the sandek and the mohel (Yoreh Deah 264:1). It is because of this Rama that many honor their rosh yeshiva, rav or a different talmid chacham with being sandek. Other sources require only that the sandek be a “good Jew,” meaning someone who observes the mitzvos properly, so that Eliyahu Hanavi will want to join him at the bris (Ohr Zarua; Rikanati #590, quoting a Medrash; Maharil). Although they certainly agree that it is preferable to choose a big tzadik, should one risk offending a family member?

We can now fully appreciate Aharon’s question: “I would prefer asking my Rosh Yeshivah to be sandek, but I know that my father is expecting the honor. What should I do?” Do we find halachic precedent with which to guide Aharon?

Family or Scholar?

I found halachah works that compared Aharon’s predicament to a question that was asked of one of the great authorities of the late 17th – early 18th Centuries, the Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t #69, 70).

A man, let us call him Yaakov, passed on, leaving an adult son from a previous marriage, and a young pregnant widow. Yaakov’s son had recently become a mohel, although he did not have much experience. For previous brissin, Yaakov had used a certain respected talmid chacham as the mohel, and when Yaakov took ill, he had appointed this talmid chacham to oversee the affairs of his children. When the widow gave birth to a boy, she wanted the experienced mohel, to whom she owed much gratitude and who was also a talmid chacham, to perform the bris, rather than the newborn’s older brother who was relatively inexperienced. One can certainly see the logic behind her position, and most of us would probably instinctively side with her opinion.

Nevertheless, the Chacham Tzvi rules that the older brother should perform the bris, because one should give a close relative the opportunity to perform a mitzvah even ahead of a talmid chacham.

Based on this ruling, I found authorities who rule that one should select a family member, provided of course that he is fully observant, for sandek ahead of a talmid chacham. This approach would of course guide Aharon to choose his father ahead of his Rosh Yeshiva, but I suggest that each individual discuss their specific question with their posek.

At this point, let us address the next question that I mentioned above:

Which Grandfather?

As I arrive for the bris, the two new grandfathers approach me: “We want to ask a shaylah: Which one of us should be the sandek?”

This situation actually happened once. Not wanting to ruffle anyone’s feathers, the baby’s father left it for the two grandfathers to decide. Fortunately, they were both easy-going and eager to do what is halachically preferred. I will explain the basis for my answer to them.

In most of our interpersonal relationships, we do not need to decide whom I am required to honor more than another person. However, the particular questions regarding which person to honor as sandek lead us to explore the following issue: Since one must choose only one sandek, whom is the new father required to honor more?

An Early Response

Fortunately, we already find this issue discussed by halachic authorities as early as the Fourteenth Century, in a work called Leket Yosher. There we find the following rulings:

“The father of a newborn boy who does not want to be the sandek himself out of desire to create peace and share honor with others, should give the honor to his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather, ahead of the baby’s greatgrandfather, since the mitzvah of honoring one’s father is greater than that of honoring one’s grandfather. However, if the baby’s paternal grandfather prefers that his own father (the baby’s greatgrandfather) be honored, then it is fine to give the honor to the greatgrandfather, and that is the prevalent custom, based on an adage that one who is sandek for his greatgrandchild will never face gehenom.”

Being Sandek Yourself

We can derive a total of five interesting halachic points from this passage.

1. The father of the child can certainly choose to keep the honor of sandek for himself. The requirement to show honor to others does not preempt my right to fulfill the mitzvah myself should I choose to.

I will mention that, of the hundreds of brissin that I have attended over the years, I have seen the father act as sandek on only a few occasions. However, one highly regarded authority rules that if the father cannot perform the bris himself, which is his mitzvah, he should act as sandek, since the sandek assists the mohel in performing the bris (Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86).

Although the halachic reasoning here is extremely solid, this practice is fairly uncommon, presumably for the exact reasons mentioned by Leket Yosher: the father would prefer to share the honors and the mitzvah with others, and he feels that more shalom is generated this way. Indeed, in both instances that I have seen the father be the sandek for his own child, it was not the first bris in the family, and the family members who might expect this honor had been honored as sandek at previous brissin.

2. A second point we see from the Leket Yosher, is that when determining who should be sandek, one should follow the usual rules governing whom one is required to honor. Thus, since the responsibility to honor one’s father is greater than honoring one’s grandfather, the father of the newborn should therefore honor his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather, with being sandek. Although one is responsible to show honor to one’s grandfather, one has a greater responsibility to honor one’s own father (Rama, both in Yoreh Deah 240:24 and in his responsum #118).

3. The baby’s paternal grandfather may defer the honor to his own father, in order to accomplish his own mitzvah of kibud av, should he desire to. Leket Yosher reports that the common custom was indeed to do this.

4. The Leket Yosher mentions an additional reason to honor the greatgrandfather with being sandek. He cites an adage that being sandek for one’s greatgrandson protects the greatgrandfather from gehenom, although the Leket Yosher quotes no halachic source for this segulah other than that it was common for people to say so. Presumably, even if there is no halachic source for such an idea, the fact that people believe it to be so itself makes it a reason to honor the greatgrandfather.

5. The Leket Yosher makes no mention of honoring the maternal grandfather or the maternal greatgrandfathers. It seems that the reason for this omission is obvious:

Although one is required to honor one’s father-in-law, there is a greater responsibility to honor one’s own father. Thus, in the absence of paternal male antecedents, one should honor the mother’s father or grandfather. However, when the paternal grandfather is present, the responsibility of the baby’s father to honor his own father precedes his responsibility to honor his father-in-law.

At this point, I can present what I answered the two grandfathers. Since the right to provide the honor belongs to the father of the baby, he has greater responsibility to honor his father than he does to honor his father-in-law. Therefore, the paternal grandfather should be the sandek. Indeed, I found that in several places the prevalent custom was to honor the paternal grandfather with being sandek at the first bris, and the maternal grandfather at the second (Otzar Habris Volume 2, page 254).

His Father or Her Grandfather?

At this point, we can also address the third question I raised above:

“I would like my father to be the sandek, but my wife feels that her grandfather should be honored.”

As we see from the above discussion, the father of the baby has a greater responsibility to honor his father over his wife’s grandfather, even though Zeide is a generation older. But I note here that one should realize that each individual situation may have other factors involved, and that the most important factor is that we achieve maximum shalom. Again, one should consult with a rav for guidance.

Let us now examine the fourth question I mentioned above: “Someone attending a Sefardic bris noticed that the sandek remained sitting even after the bris itself, and the baby remained on his lap through the naming ceremony. Afterwards, the sandek remained on his seat, and the attendees lined up to seek his blessing. Why were they doing this?”

“Standing Sandek

Allow me to provide some background. After the mohel performs the bris itself, the baby, now bearing his eternal Jewish sign, is named. There are two widespread customs as to who holds the baby while he is being named.

The prevalent, although not exclusive, practice among Ashkenazim is that someone not previously honored at this bris is called forward to hold the baby while he is named. This honor is usually called either the sandek me’umad, literally, the standing sandek, or amidah lebrachos, the one who stands holding the baby while the blessings and prayers are recited.

The prevalent Sefardic approach is that the sandek remains sitting and continues holding the baby while he is named. In other words, there is one less kibud – the sandek who holds the baby during the actual bris holds the baby throughout the remainder of the ceremony. Although most are familiar with this as a Sefardic practice, many Ashkenazic sources mention it (Rabbi Akiva Eiger Comments to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 265:1, quoting Toras Chayim to Sanhedrin 89b). Indeed, I know several leading Ashkenazic gedolim who prefer this practice.

No “Standing Sandek

What is the basis for this practice?

To understand this practice, we need to present and explain a short piece of aggadic Gemara.

Pouring Wine

The Gemara teaches: Rabbi Berechyah said, “One who desires to pour wine libations on the mizbei’ach, should fill the throats of Torah scholars with wine” (Yoma 71a).

One could interpret this Gemara as meaning that supporting needy Torah scholars is considered as meritorious as offering wine on the mizbei’ach. However, there are several reasons why this interpretation of the Gemara does not explain it fully.

1. Why specifically refer to wine; people who need support require bread rather than wine?

2. The Gemara makes no reference to “needy Torah scholars,” but only to “Torah scholars,” implying that it is not extolling the concept of tzedakah, but some different idea.

3. Why does the Gemara use the seeming unflattering expression fill the throats, rather than a more polite description, such as: should provide them with wine, or give them wine to drink. Filling someone’s throat is not exactly a polite way of saying that one is providing wine.

To answer the above questions, the Toras Chayim explains this Gemara as referring to a very specific time that one is supplying the Torah scholar with wine. As I mentioned above, the Zohar refers to bris milah as offering a korban. If the bris itself is a korban, then the sandek, on whose knees the bris is performed, is a mizbei’ach, and having him drink wine can be compared to offering libations on the mizbei’ach. The Toras Chayim explains that this is called “filling his throat” since we are comparing the sandek drinking the wine to “filling” the top of the receptacles of the mizbei’ach where the kohen pours the wine libations.

Based on this analysis, the Toras Chayim concludes that the sandek should remain sitting with the baby on his lap until after the baby is named and the wine is drunk. He further contends that the cup of wine, or at least some of it, should be drunk by the sandek. As long as the baby remains on the sandek’s lap, he is still comparable to a mizbei’ach.

Based on this concept, Sefardim have a custom that the sandek holds the baby on his lap through the naming, and that the Sandek remains seated for several minutes after the bris. During this time people cluster around the sandek, requesting that he bless them for whatever blessing they would like. Since he has achieved the exalted status of being comparable to a mizbei’ach, he has the ability to bless others.

Conclusion

Although we have shown many ways to prioritize the honor of being sandek, we should note that an important factor in choosing a sandek is that he be someone that Eliyahu would want to join. We should bear in mind that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace. Thus, we should remember that bringing peace to all the baalei simchah should be a highest priority in choosing the honorees.