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Saturday, November 5, 2011

וכרות עמו הברית - Bris Morning Davening

There is a custom that on the morning of the bris, the segment in ויברך דוד (Vay'varekh David) that talks about the relationship between God and Avraham, and how it was forged through the bris, is recited responsively. (It is from Nehemiah 9:6-11. The Vay'varekh David part is from Divrei Hayamim I 29:10-13) Ideally by the mohel and the sandak, but otherwise by the mohel and the congregation. Everyone should, of course, recite all the words along quietly when they are being recited aloud by mohel, sandak, chazzan, etc.

This custom is recorded in a number of places. The Artscroll book on Bris Milah elaborates on this subject in the notes on pages 110-111, and Yossele Weisberg Z'L also quotes a number of sources to this effect in the first volume of his 4-volume "Otzar Habris", in footnote 22 on page 181.

This is the reason why just about every siddur makes a space in the middle of a verse (which should really not be done) to indicate that this is when the recitation for a bris begins. It is because this recitation was included in the siddur that we now - virtually everywhere - distinguish between "Vay'varekh David" and "V'charos Imo HaBris." Even though this break should only take place at a minyan where participants in a bris taking place that day are in attendance - the demarcation was made, and a 'minhag ta'us' (mistaken custom) is the run of the mill in just about every shul I have ever attended.
נחמיה פרק ט 
ז) אַתָּה הוּא יְקֹוָק הָאֱ-לֹהִים אֲשֶׁר בָּחַרְתָּ בְּאַבְרָם וְהוֹצֵאתוֹ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים וְשַׂמְתָּ שְּׁמוֹ אַבְרָהָם
ח) וּמָצָאתָ אֶת לְבָבוֹ נֶאֱמָן לְפָנֶיךָ       וְכָרוֹת עִמּוֹ הַבְּרִית לָתֵת אֶת אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי הַחִתִּי הָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי לָתֵת לְזַרְעוֹ וַתָּקֶם אֶת דְּבָרֶיךָ כִּי צַדִּיק אָתָּה

I mention all this because I davened at a shul recently, on a morning when I was to be the mohel for the bris, and I went up to the Bimah to do this recitation at the appropriate time in the davening. (for the record, I only say two verses responsively - some say the entire אז ישיר (Az Yashir - Song of the Sea) responsively) When I was finished, a few people were waiting for me to tell me (one of them was visibly mad upset that I had done this) "That is not the minhag (custom) in our shul."

I apologized and chose not to ask why every siddur in the shul has the break in the middle of the verse, if not to leave open the possibility of marking one of the references to the covenant of circumcision that appears in the daily prayers that this person says every day, which happens to be appropriate to note in mornings like this one when we will be celebrating the bris at the conclusion of the morning service. 

[In his defense, it's probably not the custom because it happens to be that this shul doesn't have a bris every day of the year. It couldn't be because of ignorance, could it?! I highly doubt that the ritual committee voted against this "responsive reading on mornings when there is a bris in shul."]

It is a harmless minhag, and even helps get people in the mood of what will be taking place that day. There is no reason not to do it. And there is certainly no reason to get upset about it.

May all of us be blessed to achieve a greater appreciation for the bris, its significance, and the role it plays in our lives. And if a tiny inconvenience in davening can help us at least on the morning of a bris, I think it's worth it.

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