Thursday, November 20, 2014

Minhagei Worms, Germany (2 of 2)

The first installment is the previous posting. Here are a few more gems from the book "Minhagei Vorms."

1. Rabbenu Tam would be sure to stand during Torah reading and during a bris. The reason for standing during the bris was the same verse from Melachim II 23:3 - that the people stood at the covenant. The reason why the person saying the bracha needs to be standing is because of a comparison from the word לכם to the word לכם that we learn from ספירת העומר. Just as by the counting of the Omer the Torah tells us וספרתם לכם, the Torah tells us regarding the bris, המול לכם כל זכר. Just as we stand for counting the Omer, we stand for the bris. 

2. When there is a bris associated with שחרית we have a custom not to say עלינו until after the bris is over (most shuls today finish davening and then repeat עלינו, but that may be because many mothers bring their babies to the bris a little later than the end of davening (and some mohels have the bad habit of coming late*), and it takes a few minutes from baby's arrival before the bris begins). Why is עלינו not recited until after the bris is over? Because we say in עלינו the following phrase: "שלא עשנו כגויי הארצות" - that He did not make us like the nations of the land. When the child is uncircumcised, he is like the nations of the land. When he is circumcised, we can mark his entry into the mark of the covenant by including him in the missive that we are different from them. 

* I pride myself on coming on time, and not double booking, in order to be sensitive to everyone's schedule. 

3. Why is there a custom to have a party for a bris? There is a gemara that says that "all mitzvos that the Jews accepted with joy they still fulfill with joy" (i.e. with a party), and the classic example is bris milah. 
Furthermore, we are told that Avraham made a big part ביום הגמל את יצחק, Another way to read that is that Avraham made a big party ביום ה+ג מל את יצחק. On day (5+3=8) Avraham מל (circumcized) Yitzchak. And that's when he made the big party - at Yitzchak's bris!

4, We have the custom to say that just as the child entered the covenant so should he enter
"Torah, Huppah, and Maasim Tovim" - learning about (and living based on ) the Torah; the marital canopy; and a life of good deeds. In the footnote on this pronouncement, the author writes "I've been asked many times why Huppah precedes good deeds. Why can't it be the other way around? And I don't really have a good answer."

But I (AB) have a good answer. Simply put, one who does good deeds before marriage knows that a volunteer may step away at any time. But one who is married, in a committed relationship, cannot just go when things are rough. It is true that "chesed begins at home" and a life of good deeds truly begins AFTER marriage, when a person should do good deeds because it makes the other person's life easier and better. It isn't voluntary in the way one can just walk away when one is done. It is a commitment that one sticks with no matter what (again, in a lasting relationship) that outweighs any sense of "I'm volunteering and can walk away whenever I like."

Some of these vignettes are really fantastic. I hope you enjoy them as I have.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Minhagei Worms, Germany (1 of 2)

Over the weekend I picked up a book which discusses the customs of the Jewish community of "Vermaiza" - Worms, Germany. While much of the customs of the Jews of Worms are for the Ages, the book had some interesting insights about some aspects of Bris Milah, and the customs associated with the ancient ritual.

1. The reason we don't say Tachanun - since Eliyahu the Prophet will be in attendance at the bris, all rejoice over his arrival and Tachanun is cancelled.

2. The reason why we still say Lamnatzeach is because of the pain of the child. Targum Yonatan defines the phrase "יענך ה' ביום צרה" (That God should answer you on a day of pain) as "God should accept your cries on the day of circumcision." Obviously, this is an appropriate thing to say on the day of a bris. (Though it too is cancelled if there is a groom in the synagogue).

3. We say "ברוך הבא" at a bris, either because we are welcoming the 8 day old (הבא has the gematria (numerical value) of 8 in 5+2+1). Or because it is a greeting to Eliyahu the Prophet (as someone once pointed out to me, הבא is an acronym for - הנה בא אליהו.)

4. The mitzvah of Bris Milah has two components - Milah (removal of foreskin) and Priah (removal of mucosal membrane) (note - no mention of metzitzah as being essential...), based on the verse in Yehoshua (5:2) "Return and circumcise the children of Israel a second time." The word שנית (a second time) has the same numerical value (760) as פריעת, which is a reference to the second component of the circumcision. When the child is circumcised, people should be standing, based on the verse "ויעמוד כל העם בברית" (Melachim II 23:3) - that the people stood for the covenant.

We'll have more in the next installment from this wonderful book.