Two weeks ago we had the honor of saying a few words at the brit milah of our newest grandchild Eitan Aviv Zahavy....
The brit milah Jewish circumcision ceremony begins with the mohel greeting the baby, “Blessed be the one who has arrived.”
He then intones as the baby is placed on the seat of Elijah, “This is the seat of Elijah the Prophet, may he be remembered for good.”
Elijah is known as an intermediary between heaven and earth. The bible tells us that he did not die. He ascended to heaven in a flaming chariot. We welcome this mystical personality to the brit milah or every Jewish child.
The verses that follow recited by the mohel in the introduction to the brit milah in fact invoke and invite three of the praying Jewish personalities to the ceremony – the mystic, the scribe and the priest.
1. For your salvation I wait, O Lord. (Gen. 49) לִישׁוּעָתְךָ, קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה
2. I await your deliverance, Lord, and I observe your commandments.(Ps. 119) שִׂבַּרְתִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ יְהוָה; וּמִצְוֹתֶיךָ עָשִׂיתִי
3. Elijah, angel of the covenant, behold: yours is before you. Stand at my right hand and be close to me.
4. I await your deliverance, Lord. (Ps. 119) שִׂבַּרְתִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ יְהוָה
5. I rejoice in your word like one who finds much spoil. (Ps. 119) שָׂשׂ אָנֹכִי, עַל-אִמְרָתֶךָ-- כְּמוֹצֵא, שָׁלָל רָב.
6. Those who love your Torah have great peace, and there is no stumbling block before them. (Ps. 119) שָׁלוֹם רָב, לְאֹהֲבֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ; וְאֵין-לָמוֹ מִכְשׁוֹל
7. Happy are those you choose and bring near to dwell in your courts. (Ps. 65) אַשְׁרֵי, תִּבְחַר וּתְקָרֵב-- יִשְׁכֹּן חֲצֵרֶיךָ
May we be sated with the goodness of your house, your holy temple. (Ps. 65) נִשְׂבְּעָה, בְּטוּב בֵּיתֶךָ; קְדֹשׁ, הֵיכָלֶךָ
The mystic speaks through the first verse, taken from Jacob’s blessing to his son Dan from Genesis.
The scribe responds in the second verse taken from Psalms, linking deliverance to the practice of the commandments.
Next, in a non-biblical phrase, the mystic makes a rare call directly to a heavenly figure, to Elijah, who he calls an angel, to come and join the ceremony, to stand over the mohel and aid him in his sacred task of welcoming a new Jew into the covenant.
The mystic then repeats the verse from Psalms, without the concluding invocation of the commandments.
The scribe replies with the assurance from Psalms that he finds joy in the words of the Torah, that he loves the Torah, that the Torah removes all obstacles.
Finally the priest chimes in to assert from elsewhere in Psalms that happiness comes from the Temple. And all those assembled at the brit complete the verse and endorse that belief.
Thus the seemingly diverse introductory sentences that the mohel recites invokes in certain if subtle ways three sources of blessings and three sources of holiness, those of the mystic, the scribe and the priest.
And we can say one bit more. Those at the ceremony at the conclusion wish the baby a life of Torah, Huppah and good deeds.
The mystical element of blessing and holiness, invoked via Elijah at the outset, corresponds to the hope for holiness through the wish to the baby for the mystical union of husband and wife, the huppah.
The scribal element of blessing and holiness, invoked via the Torah, corresponds to the hope for holiness through the wish to the baby for Torah.
And the priestly element of blessing and holiness, invoked via the Temple, corresponds to the hope for holiness through the wish to the baby for good deeds.
And while we find more structured meanings in these passages, the initial sense of the spontaneous recitation of the mohels sundry introductory verses, gives it a freshness that corresponds well with the welcoming of a new Jew into our family.