The Cry of a Baby, The Cry of a Nation


brisBy Rabbi Dovid Fleischmann

It is a well known tradition that the cries of a baby boy at the time of his Bris ascend to Heaven and are received in their purest form. At this time it is also an unparalleled opportunity for those who are present to connect with his cries with personal prayers and they are also accepted with similar regard.

It seems obvious that the uniqueness of the little baby’s wails is the fact that he is crying from pain he is experiencing while undergoing and performing the commandment of Hashem, and this deserves a distinct attention from the giver of this commandment. However, what is the secret of the latter part of this tradition, in what way can we, as mere bystanders, join and unite our prayers with his cry, what gives our prayer the quality that allows it to cling to this special power?

In my experience as a Mohel I have met two types of parents. There are those who are apprehensive about the procedure, about the pain the child will endure during and after the Bris. The Bris is unfortunately viewed as a necessary evil, something we must perform because so we were commanded, and the suffering that is entailed is felt but accepted.

There is another type of parent, the one who realizes that the Bris is a gift, an opportunity for the young infant to personally be bonded and fixed eternally with his Creator. The Bris is a procedure that will symbolize throughout his life his own unique connection with Hashem, as part of the Chosen Nation and as an individual with a promise and a destiny to make his mark on the world.

I am reminded of a story told about Reb Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav, when he noticed a father who was shielding himself from the sight of his newborn son’s Bris. The Brisker Rav asked him what he was doing, to which the father replied that he can’t stand the sight of blood. The Brisker Rav’s response was typical of his personality and his ideology, “but that’s not blood, that’s דם ברית (blood of a Bris)!”

The distinction between regular mundane blood and the blood that is let as a component of the Bris process was so stark and matter-of-fact, that the Brisker Rav couldn’t understand how queasiness from the sight of blood could have any effect upon the sight of blood from the Bris.

However, at the same time there is an obvious sensitivity to the pain that the baby endures. We don’t praise Hashem before ברכת המזון (Grace after Meals) with the words שהשמחה במעונו (To Whom happiness is in his dwelling place) as we do after a wedding meal. The reason given is that we are sympathetic to the pain that the baby is experiencing. Similarly, some commentators explain why the father of the baby doesn’t recite the blessing of שהחיינו (blessing recited upon uncommon opportunities) is also out of consideration to the suffering of the baby.

It seems that although we acknowledge the distress of the infant, we also appreciate the great achievement that is his Bris. We celebrate the ability of a Jewish boy to be branded with the mark that signifies his pact with the Al-mighty, and at the same time recognize that he is in pain.

But, I think there is a deeper understanding than this.

When Avraham our forefather established a treaty with Hashem, he was shown the suffering and tragedies that his children would have to bear. When Yaakov was shown the great destiny that was to be the future of his descendants he was also shown the great length of the years of exile that would be their fate. Why was this so important for Hashem to show at a time that He was demonstrating his closeness to His people?

The answer is quite obvious. The uniqueness and individuality of Klal Yisroel is not only that we take great lengths to perform the commandments of Hashem, nor is it only the fact that we are consistent and driven to unfailingly commit ourselves to live our every moment according to what He prescribes for us in His Torah. The complete Jew is also measured by the quality of his commitment, his willingness to suffer for his beliefs, his acceptance that his comfort and pleasures, his wants and desires, his tranquility and yes, his very life is secondary to the will of the Creator.

Perhaps this is the secret of the power the cries of the baby wield as he undergoes the Bris. The cries of the baby are an expression of a people who appreciate and cherish the intimacy of a relationship with their Creator that transcends and overrides any personal feelings of identity and self. It is a cry that says although we are hurt and wounded because of Your word, we recognize it as a sign of our connection and devotion. We treasure this bond and its value has no boundary; no pain or hurt can separate us from our Father in Heaven.

Our nation’s history is replete with events and junctures that are conspicuously marked by the tragedy and destruction that befell our people. We’ve had our fair share of דם ברית (blood of the Treaty), yet our collective commitment is steadfast and unswerving. Our loyalty to Hashem was confronted by many a challenge, nevertheless the undaunted perseverance of Klal Yisroel met and faced each one with tenacity and resolve. Although our Jewish identity can be recognized as the very motivation of our adversaries’ contention, we’ve come out of each circumstance with a stronger determination to strengthen our devotion to Hashem.

When the Jewish people celebrate a Bris it is a joyous occasion, we join in a סעודת מצוה (Meal in celebration of the performance of a Commandment), and indeed we are happy and cheerful. We celebrate a new baby boy born to one of our own, be it family or friend. We celebrate the induction of this baby boy into the ranks of the servants of Hashem. And we celebrate our unique relationship to Hashem that distinguish us as the Chosen Nation.

At this occasion, specifically when the baby is crying in pain, we have the opportunity to latch on and to cling to his cries and to express our own commitment. We have the ability to bring out the power of our own conviction, of our own דם ברית (blood of the Treaty); that of our personal sacrifices for Hashem, that of our ancestors and those of our nation as a whole. The strength of a prayer propelled by a force of such magnitude is indeed unparalleled, sure to invoke a reciprocal feeling of compassion and sympathy from the שומע קול בכיות עמו ישראל (the One who hears the cries of His Nation Yisroel).

May Hashem hear the cries of the generations of Jews pleading and hurting, expressing their physical and emotional pain, all while cherishing their identity and belief, together with our cries and prayer and finally reveal Himself and bring us close to Him eternally in the Land of Yisroel.

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  1. Nice, poignant article. In my experience as a clinical therapist, the two types of parents signify two kinds of people. It is not necessarily that they are not happy about the mitzva per se, it is a characteristic pertaining to their personality which is likely found in other areas of their daily life. The writer raises a great point about the beauty of the Bris; the opportunity of connectedness to the Creator and deeper meaning of its significance.
    A deeper appreciation for Judaism would benefit today’s generation, so kudos to you.