Monday, September 21, 2015

Bris Milah

Once again the Statue of Liberty is waving to me as I pass Hamilton Bridge. Built over some side water canal, this bridge hasn't been used in all capacity probably more than half a year, and is being fixed continuously for at least the last 19 years. Yeah, that’s how often I pass this bridge: A ramp on the left, a ramp on the right, and pavement in the middle. Additional lanes and other various revamping operations usually keep a number of other lines closed to the general public.    
Well, it’s New York. It costs a lot of money to live in this city and a lot of money to make money. Yeah, if you think there's some hidden message in this last statement, allow me to clarify – I strongly believe something corrupt is going on over here, but well…corruption is going on everywhere.
At least when they stop me again on the FDR drive, the east side highway of Manhattan Island, I can glance at the UN building overhead and hope that this time they are solving some world conflict.  I know the UN doesn’t really fulfill our desire for world peace, but as long as those buffoons, can come knock their shoes on the rostrum and call each other - devils or the axis of evil, and as long as some human lives are saved because they vent their hellish fumes there… it's ok.
Let them talk and let them close traffic on the FDR. It's a small price to pay for the good that comes from there.

I enjoyed the Holidays with my beautiful grandchildren, the smartest and cutest grand- daughters, and with my children we eagerly awaited our newest arrival.  Personally, considering how much Nachas my granddaughters are giving me, I can have a hundred of them, but you know…. we were hoping for a boy.

So Be'ezras Hashem we got one.
He is the first boy born as a Jew in his entire family, and mine.  Ever.
My children converted together with me when they were still small.
Now I have a male descendant with the DNA of our Patriarchs in his veins.
Not that this fact makes me jump with ecstasy, for it was always clear to me that there is nothing more important in life than our own relationship with Hashem. But if this DNA can enhance that, it's good enough for me.
There are certain promises given to Gerim about their descendants, in the words of the Sages. So I hope and pray that those promises, along with the promises given to the Fathers of the Jewish people, will be fulfilled in all of my descendants, and that these two lines of heavenly guarantees will fuse and merge in them.
But before that hope comes to realization, we have to fulfill the will of our Creator as his chosen children - which is the commandment of Bris Mila – circumcision.
Bris Mila happened on the eighth day from the day my grandson was born. This coincided with the first day of Succos, the day we invite Avruhom Uvini himself as a guest in our succos. This fact gives me goose bumps every time I think about it. It is hard to imagine a better ‘hello’ and smile from Heaven than this.

When I think about it, my own Bris comes to memory.
I wrote about it in my book, but since the book is no longer available I will repeat the story and even give some more details.

**********In the early fall of 22 years ago, when I was 27 years old, I took part in the first Jewish circumcision to commence in Poland in some forty five years. It was performed in Warsaw.
There were a few of us attending. Most were from Warsaw, 3 of us were
from Wroclaw. It was arranged by Rabbi Schudrich who, at the time, was working in kiruv in Poland. For almost half a century, Poland officially didn’t have a Mohel to perform circumcision.
When I came to the US, in the synagogue where I attend prayers, I met an older Jew whose father was a Mohel and had been a Mohel in my own native city. He said the problem in Poland was not that there was nobody to perform circumcision - there was nobody who would want to do it to his child.
If you think it stemmed from a lack of conviction, you are wrong. We are talking about a country where, not too far in the past, having this sign on the body meant having the mark of death. Even at that time, 22 years ago, if anyone would find out you are circumcised – at a doctor's office, in the army, etc. - this information could leak anytime and it meant civil death in this rabidly anti-Semitic country.
Above that, it was illegal to perform any procedure without a license from the government, and those laws were very much scrutinized. We were risking arrest and who knows what after that. All of us.
Even the Polish word for circumcision – obrzezanie - has the same root as butchering, bloodbath, etc. Now you can get a small picture of this despised procedure, perpetrated by a despised people with a despised name - and all of it illegal…

Everything was organized in underground fashion. We didn’t know where we would go, who would do it, and what would happen afterward. Adult circumcision is quite a serious procedure, even when you don’t have all of the above listed disadvantages stacked against you.
We came by train to Warsaw on the morning of the day when it was supposes to happen.
In the Synagogue, we got the address of the place where circumcision would be performed. It was in some dental office located in an apartment building in Mirow, which once used to be a Jewish neighborhood like Boro Park or Williamsburg is today.
We walked the very same cobblestones from which, some fifty years earlier, Pinkert’s funeral company walked every morning and collected the dead bodies put there by the inhabitants of Warsaw’s Ghetto. The buildings were redone, but many streets were the same streets, the same stones soaked with blood of the butchered Jews who inhabited this once biggest Jewish city.

The door looked like any other door in the building, but in the small apartment was a legal dentist's workplace. I don’t remember if the owner was there, but most likely not. All the other personnel had taken the day off. The only people who were awaiting us there was our Mohel - Rabbi Yitzchok Fisher from New York (later my neighbor in Monsey), his assistant, and Rabbi Schudrich.
I will skip this rather graphic part of the story, as well as what the next few days felt like. If anybody wants to reconsider his plans for an adult circumcision, please contact me in private. But just as I didn’t blink an eye then, I wouldn’t blink again.

For anybody else the day of my grandson's Bris Mila and the Bris itself could be just another Bris, as tens of them are happening on a daily basis in a few-block radius in the city. Maybe there is some curiosity to it, but still…Maimonides Hospital in the Boro Park neighborhood has the highest birth rate in the country.  
But for me, that day, the day of my circumcision and the day of circumcision for my first Jewish-born descendent are defining moments of my life.
There is no exaggeration if I say that my own circumcision was in fact only leading to this and other, Be'ezras Hashem – with the G-d’s help, Brisen to come.

But let me ask you –What are you thinking after reading the above? The guy is boasting about his own righteousness, is that how it looks?
Didn’t we say just few days ago in Slichos – Lo vchesed vlo vmaasim buni lfuneichu – Neither with our kindness nor with our good deeds are we approaching You. As paupers and beggars we are knocking at Your door.
Lushon Hakoidesh – the holy tongue is an amazing language of communication. The amount of information that can be contained in every sentence, every word, every letter and every dot is just incredible. The word Buni is built from four letters – Bays – Alef – Nun – Voov. Buni: Coming to, approaching.
When we read the same word with a slightly different pronunciation, it becomes BAni: in ourselves, with our very essence. And when we read the very same word as BeOni it means ‘in mourning.’
Who has to be eradicated if it is us given to Him, and whom are we mourning?
If we take the second letter, the letter Alef, away from this word, the word will change meaning. Bni Lfuneichu: My son, my descendent before you.
“Not with my kindness nor with my deeds, but with my child I stand before You Hashem.”

Now… what is the meaning of Alef itself, who is the Alef?
Alef is one, and One is HBH. But it can't be that we eradicating Him from the sequence.
This Alef is the second letter in the word and in fact it is a secondary Alef, which is eliminated – our own illusionary Alef, our ego - Ani.
“Not with ourselves are we coming to You Hashem, but we offer You our children.”
WE are in fact our children – BAni – my true me is Bni - my child, each of them separate.
”Not with our kindness, not with our deeds, not with anything that we may consider our own, but with the very gift from You, our future generations!”

I grew up on the land where Cain killed Heivel.
He recognized him by the sign on his body.
Not for the first time in Jewish history was this mark a death sentence.
I was aware of the consequences that could've happened to me, and what I could bring onto my descendants with Bris Mila. But I was also aware of the thousands of Jewish parents who didn’t blink, knowing all of this way better than me. They knew it from their family experience, but for me it was theoretical.
The awareness of my Creator was within me when I walked the autumn streets of the Polish capital.
Now was the time to show readiness, just as the first believer, Avruhom did. He did and all of his children followed. I wanted myself and my descendants to be part of these people.

This essay was written a year ago when my grandson Shloime Zalman was born.
Hashem should bless him, his parents and siblings with a life of peace and plenty, and all as a means to serve HBH and grow spiritually. May they use all of their potential for the good of Klal Yisroel, and may he in particular be a source of Nachas to his parents.