The Mitzvah of Bris Mila – circumcision – is mentioned in this week’s Parsha. Bris Mila is similar to a sacrifice in certain ways. A bris creates a wound which is forbidden to make on Shabbos, however, when the eighth day falls on Shabbos it is permitted, just as sacrifices were offered in the Temple on Shabbos.
The eighth day is designated for the Bris and, so too, the Torah tells us that sacrifices are only fit if the animal is at least eight days old. A reason given by our Sages is that before the animal is offered to G-d it needs to be first enveloped by the sanctity of the holy day of Shabbos. A baby before entering into the covenant of a Bris also needs to first experience the sanctity of Shabbos.
The Sandek – the person honored with holding the baby during the Bris – is compared to an altar and is the recipient of Heavenly blessings. The Sandek is also invested with the power of bestowing blessings.
Often, parents will honor a family member, a Rabbi or a Sage to be the Sandek for their child. Rabbi Chaim Kanievski o.b.m. who recently passed away, was often sought after to be Sandek. And it was an honor he would not turn down. When his health allowed it, his driver would take him to the location, and often he was honored to hold the baby of many Brisim in one day.
When Reb Chaim advanced in age, the babies were brought to him so that he would be Sandek.
He once pointed out that he was a Sandek 13 times in one day! The number 13 is significant in relation to Bris because in the portion when G-d commands Avraham to perform a Bris on himself the word Bris – covenant – appears 13 times in the Torah.
Before the circumcision, the baby is placed on “The seat of Elijah the Prophet.” Elijah is the angel of the Bris. Our tradition is, that Elijah is present at each Bris. During a conversation Reb Chaim had with a grandson, it became apparent that Reb Chaim with his holy eyes saw Elijah at Brisim. He was asked until when does Elijah stay? He said until the conclusion of Benching – grace after the meal!
A lot has been written about Reb Chaim – about the potency of his blessings and statements. We had a person in our midst who lived in a different sphere.
This past Shabbos my wife Malki shared the following story with me. A wealthy person asked Reb Chaim to be Sandek and picked him up with a brand-new luxury car. Reb Chaim got into the car, but the car would not start. After spending some time trying to get it started with no results, they flagged down a cab to take Reb Chaim to the Bris. Just as Reb Chaim got into the cab they were able to get the luxury car to start. They paid the cabbie for his time and Reb Chaim again entered the luxury car when it immediately stalled and would not start up again.
Realizing something is amiss, Reb Chaim asked the owner of the car how he had gotten the car. It turned out that the owner was in the upper management of a bank and the car was given to him as a reward for reaching a certain loan milestone.
Reb Chaim asked about the structure of the loans, and it turned out that it was in violation of the law of taking interest from a fellow Jew.
It became clear that Heavenly intervention prevented Reb Chaim from benefitting from a car that had been acquired through usury.
When a baby is brought in to have the Bris, the Mohel calls out, “Boruch Habah ― Blessed is the one who is entering.” Daas Zekainim points out that the numerical value of the word ‘Habah’ is 8. Blessed is the baby who is being circumcised on the eighth day.
Toward the end of our Pesach Seder, when we would open the door for Elijah, my father o.b.m. would call out Boruch Habah! Then we would proceed to recite the passage.
Why are we evoking a statement that is attributed to a Bris, at the Seder? During the Bris/naming proceedings we recite a verse from Ezekiel which we recite at the Seder as well. “And I said to you: ‘In your blood, live! And I said to you: In your blood, live!” The verse makes two references to blood. It refers to when the Jews were about to leave Egypt, they were first commanded to circumcise themselves which involves blood, and only then were they able to slaughter the pascal lamb and dash the blood on their inner lintel and door posts which provided them with protection. Thus, a Bris and the Passover Exodus are associated with one another.
So when we welcome Elijah into our homes at the Seder it is appropriate to extend the greeting that is afforded to him when he attends a Bris!
We may not see him – but some great people do!