BY RABBI ASHER YABLOK / AJT //
I was not at all prepared for the emotions I experienced when the moment finally arrived.
It’s rare that one has the opportunity to bring his own child into the covenant of Abraham, but that was just the beginning of the uniqueness of the event. Though I have trained extensively and performed the procedure hundreds of times, doing so to my son, flanked by my father and father-in-law, was an entirely different experience.
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Allow me to explain.
I always knew that my namesake had been a mohel. Early on in my childhood, my father had taken out the instruments he used to use and told me a little bit about the man I was named after.
I would be lying if didn’t admit that I dedicated more time to collecting Ken Griffey Jr. cards and listening to Pearl Jam, but the image of my great-grandfather and the person that he was stuck with me.
Carrying his exact name only added to the impact his identity had on my development during my years in yeshiva, and I was reminded of it every time I was called up to the Torah. At the same time, even as I studied the laws of circumcision for rabbinic ordination, I never pictured myself as a mohel. Ever!
Enter my wife, Shira.
It sounds cliché to say that she completes me, but that is exactly what she does (and in more ways than I could have imagined when we first met).
She thinks I can do anything and when someone suggested I become a mohel, having seen me peel an orange with a knife, she thought it was a great idea. I thought she was just being nice, and a little bit silly, but the truth is that it reminded her of her grandfather, Rev. Noah Wolff.
Shira’s grandfather has been a mohel in the Midwest for 61 years and, having performed over 20,000 circumcisions, is Chicago’s most prolific mohel. He had performed the circumcisions on two of my sons, not the only ones of his great-grandchildren he has brought into the covenant of Abraham.
She said he peeled oranges the same way. Although I was undeterred from my focus on Jewish Education, I began to imagine what it would be like to be the next link in both of our families’ traditions.
Fast forward to the morning of July 24th 2013, the 8th day of my newborn son’s life.
I was standing before my son preparing to bring him into the covenant of Abraham Having received the instruments from my wife’s grandfather and trained with renowned mohel Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, I felt totally prepared and completely frozen.
I had done hundreds of procedures before and studied the requisite laws numerous times, but nothing prepared me for the emotions I felt at that moment. And yet this is exactly the way it was done the first time in Jewish history when Abraham was instructed to circumcise his son Isaac.
It wasn’t that I doubted my abilities, nor did my family; it was the big picture that overwhelmed me. Here I was presented with the opportunity to personally transmit a tradition, my tradition, which has been transmitted parent to child since the time of our forefather Abraham.
Moreover, it is a tradition that signifies the unique partnership man has with his maker in perfecting the raw materials with which he is provided in this world. As Rabbi Paysach Krohn writes:
Food, clothes, and even our places of habitat are all commodities that we put together from what we are provided with by our generous Creator … man, too, needs to be perfected. The act of ritual circumcision brings man to that perfection. The Bible itself uses the word ‘perfect’ in recording God’s command to Abraham that he circumcise himself. “Go before Me and become perfect,” (Genesis 17:1) is the way the topic of ritual circumcision is introduced.
My wife and I certainly aspire to perfection, however elusive it may be, and know that we will continue to do whatever it takes to nurture our children towards reaching each of their own versions of perfection.
In my case, performing this great ritual has taught me how big of a role each and every one of us plays in achieving that goal, regardless of the outcome. The bris and the ceremony that followed was a beautiful celebration and took just about every ounce of emotional energy my wife and I had left after the labor and delivery of our son.
In retrospect, I can’t imagine ever considering passing such an awesome opportunity and remain genuinely inspired by the special bonds doing so on my own has created.
It has always been my privilege to represent others in performing a ritual that has bound the Jewish people throughout its history. Doing so for my own child reminded me, all the more so, of the tremendous power, beauty and sanctity of our great tradition.
About the writer
Rabbi Asher Yablok is the Dean of Judaic Studies at Yeshiva Atlanta.