חג הכנסה לברית | Ḥag hakhnassah labrit – On Entering the Covenant by Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

חג הכנסה לברית
שחר אילה כהן הודוס
On Entering the Covenant
Shachar Ayala Cohen-Hodos

ברוכה הבאה!
יוֹנׇתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע בְּסֵתֶר הַמַּדְרֵגׇה הַרְאִינִי אֶת־מַרְאַיִך הַשְׁמִיעִינִי אֶת־קוֹלֵך כִּי־קוֹלֵך עׇרֵב וּמַרְאֵיך נׇאוֶה:
While the grandparents bring the child to the parents everyone says:

Blessed is she who arrives!
My dove in the cleft of the rocks, hidden by the cliff, let me see your face; let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is pleasing.[1]Song of Songs 2:14


זה הכסא של אליהו הנביא זכור לטוב.
The shaliach tzibbur says:

This is the throne of Elijah the Prophet who is remembered for the good.[2]Cf. Pirkei deRebbi Eliezer, ch. 29


לִישׁוּעָתֵּךְ קִוִיתִּי יי. שִׂבַּרְתִּי לִישׁוּעָתֵּךְ יי, וּמִצְוֺתַיִךְ עָשִׂיתִי.
Everyone says:

For Your salvation I long, God.[3]Genesis 49:18 I hoped for Your salvation, God, and I performed Your commandments.[4]Psalms 119:161


רָחֵל אֵם הַבָּנִים עִמְדִי עַל יְמָנִי וְשִׂמְחִי בְִבִתֵך.
אֵלִיָהוּ מַלְאָךְ הַבְּרִית עַמוֹד עַל שְׂמָאלִי וְהָעֵד.
שִׂבַּרְתִּי לִישׁוּעָתֵּךְ יי.
שָׂשׂ אָנֹכִי עַל אִמְרָתֵיךְ, כְּמוֹצֵא שָׁלָל רָב.
Parents say:

Rachel, “Mother of the Children,” stand to my right and rejoice.
Elijah, angel of the covenant, stand to my left and witness.
I hoped for Your salvation, God.[5]Psalms 119:161
I rejoice over your word, like one who finds abundant spoils.[6]Psalms 119:162


שָׁלוֹם רָב לְאֹהַבֵי תוֹרָתֵיךְ, וְאֵין לָמוֹ מִכְשׁוֹל.
Everyone says:

There is abundant peace for the lovers of Your Torah, and there is no stumbling block for them.[7]Psalms 119:165


אַשְׁרֵי תִּבְחַרִי וּתְּקִָרְבִי תּשׁכּוֹן חַצֵרֵיך,
The shaliach tzibbur says:

Happy is the one You choose and bring near to Your court.[8]Psalms 65:5


נִשְׂבְּעָה בּטוּב בֵּיתֵיךְ קְדֹשׁ הֵיכָלֵיךְ.
Everyone says:

May we be satisfied by the goodness of Your House — Your Holy Temple.[9]Psalms 65:5


בא”י אמ”ה שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה.

בא”י אמ”ה אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצונו להכניסה בברית אשר כרת אתנו בחורב.

אַתֶּם נִצׇּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֵיכֶם רׇאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְֹרׇאֵל: טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךׇ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךׇ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךׇ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךׇ:   לְעׇבְרְךׇ בִּבְרִית יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֶיךׇ וּבְאׇלׇתוֹ אֲשֶׁר יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֶיךׇ כֹּרֵת עִמְּךׇ הַיּוֹם:   לְמַעַן הׇקִים־אֹתְךׇ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעׇם וְהוּא יִהְיֶה־לְּךׇ לֵאלהִים כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר־לׇך וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךׇ לְאַבְרׇהׇם לְיִצְחׇק וּלְיַעֲקֹב: וְלא אִתְּכֶם לְבַדְּכֶם אׇנֹכִי כֹּרֵת אֶת־הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת וְאֶת־הׇאׇלׇה הַזֹּאת:   כִּי אֶת־אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה עִמׇּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם לִפְנֵי יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֵינוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה עִמׇּנוּ הַיּוֹם: (דברים כט:ט-יד)

Parents hand child to the sandek and say:

Blessed are You, Ruler of the World, Who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time.

Blessed are You, Ruler of the World, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and Who commands us to enter into the Covenant which You made with us at Horev.

You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God — your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer — to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that God may establish you this day as God’s people and be your God, as God promised you and as God swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day. (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)


וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי יְהוׇֹה הֵן אֲנִי עֲרַל שְֹפׇתַיִם…
וַיׇּעׇף אֵלַי אֶחׇד מִן־הַשְּׂרׇפִים וּבְיׇדוֹ רִצְפׇּה בְּמֶלְקׇחַיִם לׇקַח מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ:   וַיַּגַּע עַל־פִּי
Parents say:

Moses appealed to God saying, “See, I am of uncircumcised lips . . .” (Exodus 6:30)
Then one of the seraphim flew over to me with a live coal, which he had
taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched it to my lips . . .


 וׇאֶשְׁמַע אֶת־קוֹל אֲדֹנׇי אֹמֵר אֶת־מִי אֶשְׁלַח וּמִי יֵלֶך־לׇנוּ וׇאֹמַר הִנְנִי שְׁלׇחֵנִי: (שמות ו;ישעיה ו)
Some wine is taken from the wine cup and put on the child’s lips.

Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” and I said, “Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)


וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עׇרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם וְעׇרְפְּכֶם לא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד: כִּי יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֵיכֶם הוּא אֱלהֵי הׇאֱלהִים וַאֲדֹנֵי הׇאֲדֹנִים הׇאֵל הַגׇּדֹל הַגִּבֹּר וְהַנּוֹרׇא אֲשֶׁר לא־יִשׇּׂא פׇנִים וְלא יִקַּח שֹׁחַד: עֹשֶֹה מִשְׁפַּט יׇתוֹם וְאַלְמׇנׇה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לׇתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִֹמְלׇה: וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת־הַגֵּר כִּי־גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרׇיִם: אֶת־יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֶיךׇ תִּירׇא אֹתוֹ תַעֲבֹד וּבוֹ תִדְבׇּק וּבִשְׁמוֹ תִּשׇּׁבֵעַ: הוּא תְהִלׇּתְךׇ וְהוּא אֱלהֶיךׇ אֲשֶׁר־עׇשׇֹה אִתְּךׇ אֶת־הַגְּדֹלת וְאֶת־הַנּוֹרׇאֹת הׇאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר רׇאוּ עֵינֶיךׇ: בְּשִׁבְעִים נֶפֶשׁ יׇרְדוּ אֲבֹתֶיךׇ מִצְרׇיְמׇה וְעַתׇּה שׇֹמְךׇ יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֶיךׇ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשׇּׁמַיִם לׇרֹב: וְאׇהַבְתׇּ אֵת יְהוׇֹה אֱלהֶיךׇ וְשׇׁמַרְתׇּ מִשְׁמַרְתּוֹ וְחֻקֹּתׇיו וּמִשְׁפׇּטׇיו וּמִצְוֺתׇיו כׇּל־הַיׇּמִים: (דברים י-יא)
The following is read from the klaf:

Cut away the thickening around your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. For the Lord your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You must revere the Lord your God: only God shall you worship, to God shall you hold fast, and by God’s name shall you swear. God is your glory and your God, who did for you those marvelous, awesome deeds that you saw with your own eyes. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons in all; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. (Deuteronomy 10-11)


וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי בֶּן־אׇדׇם אֵת אֲשֶׁר־תִּמְצׇא אֱכוֹל אֱכוֹל אֶת־הַמְּגִלׇּה הַזֹּאת וְלֵך דַּבֵּר אֶל־בֵּית יִשְֹרׇאֵל:   וׇאֶפְתַּח אֶת־פִּי וַיַּאֲכִלֵנִי אֵת הַמְּגִלׇּה הַזֹּאת:   וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי בֶּן־אׇדׇם בִּטְנְךׇ תַאֲכֵל וּמֵעֶיךׇ תְמַלֵּא אֵת הַמְּגִלׇּה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן אֵלֶיךׇ וׇאֹכְלׇה וַתְּהִי בְפִי כִּדְבַשׁ לְמׇתוֹק:   וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלׇי בֶּן־אׇדׇם לֶך־בֹּא אֶל־בֵּית יִשְֹרׇאֵל וְדִבַּרְתׇּ בִדְבׇרַי אֲלֵיהֶם:
The klaf is then rolled.

He said to me: Man, whatever you find there, eat! Eat this scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel. I opened my mouth and he gave me this scroll to eat, saying to me: Man, feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you. So I ate it, and in my mouth it turned sweet as honey. God said to me: Man, come! Go the house of Israel and speak to them in my words.[10]Ezekiel 3:1-4


כשם שנכנסה לברית, כן תכנס לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים.
The rolled klaf is dipped in honey and put to the child’s lips.

Everyone:

Just as she has entered the covenant, so may she be introduced to the study of Torah, the founding of a household and a life of good deeds.


שחר אילה, אַת הַיִי לָנוּ לאַלְפֵי רְבָבָה, נָקוּד אַלוּפַת רְבָבוֹת.
Shaliach tzibbur says:

Shachar Ayala, “may you become thousandfold myriads,”[11]Genesis 24:60 read as “may you become a teacher of thousands.”


בא”י אמ”ה בורא פרי הגפן.
Parents say:

Blessed are You, God, our God, sovereign of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.


אֶלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אַבוֹתֵינוּ וְאִמוֹתֵינוּ, קַיֵם אֶת הַיַלְדָה הַזֹאת, שחר אילה, לאִמָהּ וּלְאָבִיהָ. יִשְׂמַח הָאָב בְּיוֹצֵא חֲלָצָיו ותָגֵל אִמָּהּ בִּפְּרִי בִטְנַָה, כַּכָּתוּב, יִשְֹמַח־אׇבִיךׇ וְאִמֶּךׇ וְתׇגֵל יוֹלַדְתֶּךׇ. ונאמר, וׇאֶעֱבֹר עׇלַיִך וׇאֶרְאֵך מִתְבּוֹסֶסֶת בְּדׇמׇיִך וׇאֹמַר לׇך בְּדׇמַיִך חֲיִי וׇאֹמַר לׇך בְּדׇמַיִך חֲיִי. ונאמר זׇכַר לְעוֹלׇם בְּרִיתוֹ דׇּבׇר צִוׇּה לְאֶלֶף דּוֹר:  אֲשֶׁר כׇּרַת אֶת־אַבְרׇהׇם וּשְׁבוּעׇתוֹ לְיִשְֹחׇק:  וַיַּעֲמִידֶהׇ לְיַעֲקֹב לְחֹק לְיִשְֹרׇאֵל בְּרִית עוֹלׇם:
Shaliach tzibbur says:

Our God and God of our ancestors, sustain this child Shachar Ayala for her mother and father. May the father rejoice in his offspring, may the mother rejoice in the fruit of her womb. As it is written: Let your father and mother be happy; let the one who bore you thrill with joy.[12]Proverbs 23:35 As it says: I passed by you and saw you weltering in your blood, and I said: Live through your blood, yea live through your blood.[13]Ezekiel 16:6 As it says: God remembers the covenant forever, the word pledged for a thousand generations.[14]Psalms 105:8


הוֹדוּ לַיי כִּי טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדוֹ.
זאת הקטנה גדולה תהיה. כשם שנכנסה לברית, כן תכנס לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים.
Everyone:

Give thanks to God, for God is good, God’s mercy endures forever.[15]Psalms 136:1
This small one will grow. Just as she has entered the covenant…


ברוכה הבאה!
יוֹנׇתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע בְּסֵתֶר הַמַּדְרֵגׇה הַרְאִינִי אֶת־מַרְאַיִך הַשְׁמִיעִינִי אֶת־קוֹלֵך כִּי־קוֹלֵך עׇרֵב וּמַרְאֵיך נׇאוֶה:
Everyone:

Give thanks to God, for God is good, God’s mercy endures forever.[16]Psalms 136:1
This small one will grow. Just as she has entered the covenant…

Everyone partakes of the Seudat Mitzvah.

In the weeks leading up to the birth of our first child in 1997, my partner and I spent a lot of time thinking about the brit. Whether it was a boy or a girl we knew that we would have a celebration. If it was a boy we would have a brit, yet we were not happy with the ceremony as it stood. If it was a girl we needed a ceremony which was equally powerful and yet didn’t draw blood.

In response to these two concerns I wrote a liturgy for what I called a chag hachnassah labrit/celebration of entering the covenant which could be easily adapted to boys and girls, and I wrote a piyyut (a liturgical poem) for a milah/a circumcision.

As it turned out we had a beautiful girl (whom we named Shachar Ayala) for and with whom we performed the chag hachnassah labrit, and it was only three years later when Oryah Menachem Yitzchak was born that we sang the piyyut.

There were a number of insights into the brit that enabled my writing of this liturgy. First was the recognition that there was both a brit and a milah. That is there was a covenant which predated the circumcision. In Genesis 15 God makes a covenant with Abraham prior to God’s commanding that the covenant have a sign in the flesh. These two are then conceptually separable. The fact that they are invoked separately in Torah strengthens this basic insight. In the aftermath to the golden calf incident Moshe relays God’s anger to Israel telling them that they must circumcise the “foreskin of your hearts” and not stiffen their necks.(Deut. 10:16) The sign of the covenant is not at issue, it is the upholding of the particulars of the covenant itself. The prophets too castigate Israel for being “uncircumcised of heart”/‘arlei lev. (e.g. Jeremiah 9:25)

The second understanding was founded upon a principle that is found in the work of the Izbica Rebbe, R. Moshe Yosef Leiner. In his book Mei Shiloach (“The Waters of Siloam”) Leiner distinguishes between two ways of worshipping God. The first way is the way of “halakhah”. This is a perfectly fine way, a path in which the word of the law is followed. There is however a higher path. This higher path is ratzon hashem/the will of God. This latter way of worshipping God entails an intuitive grasp of the will of God which might even, in certain circumstances, be opposed to the way of “halakhah”. Applying this principle to circumcision I recognized that the circumcision which Abraham was commanded and subsequently performed upon himself and his household—Ishmael and the Isaac—was a circumcision by way of “halakhah.” It was not, however, until the strange episode on the way back from Midian to Egypt that circumcision was done according to ratzon hashem/the will of God.

When God commissions Moshe to take the Israelites out of Egypt, Moshe asks: “Who am I that I might go to Pharoah and that I might lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) This perfectly legitimate question—Moshe is, after all, only a has-been prince who is currently a shepherd in a small desert country. God answers in a tautological way. First God says: “For I will be with you.” Then God says that the sign of God’s presence will be that when you lead Israel out of Egypt “you will worship God on this mountian.” This has got to be a rather unsatisfactory answer to someone who has just been bidden to challenge the world’s single superpower. The conversation continues with Moshe demanding, and God supplying proofs to show the Israelites that Moshe actually had a Divine communication. The initial question is never satisfactorily answered. That is until Moshe picks up his family and they head back to Egypt.

When nightfall comes they camp and God comes seeking to kill Moshe. Zipporah, acting on the intuitive understanding of what must be done—ratzon hashem—circumcises her son and, in a foreshadowing of the blood which will protect the houses of the Israelites, she wards off God’s killing. Zipporah supplies the answer that Moshe sought. If it is possible to “defeat” God, to stop God’s killing, then of course it is possible to stop Pharoah. Zipporah in this milah done as ratzon hashem begins the process of redemption.

The third understanding which framed my liturgical creation was based on a midrash in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer. According to the midrash Elijah is present at every circumcision as a punishment for his not believing that Israel would keep the covenant after Elijah’s face-off with the prophets of the Ba’al. After Elijah defeats the prophets of the Ba’al in a sacrifical face-off when they are not able to draw fire down from heaven but he is, Elijah retreats to a cave and laments to God that he, Elijah, has done all he could and yet Israel “abandoned your covenant.” (I Kings 19:10) As punishment, Elijah must attend every circumcision and attest that Israel is actually reaffirming the covenant.

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Song of Songs 2:14
  2. Cf. Pirkei deRebbi Eliezer, ch. 29
  3. Genesis 49:18
  4, 5. Psalms 119:161
  6. Psalms 119:162
  7. Psalms 119:165
  8, 9. Psalms 65:5
  10. Ezekiel 3:1-4
  11. Genesis 24:60
  12. Proverbs 23:35
  13. Ezekiel 16:6
  14. Psalms 105:8
  15, 16. Psalms 136:1

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