By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Referring to the month of Elul, the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chaim 581) writes in the introduction to the halachos of this month, “Umol Hashem Elokecha es levavcha v’es levav zarecha – Hashem will remove the blockages and obstructions surrounding our hearts, allowing the mutual love, Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li, to flow unimpeded.”
This chodesh Elul, the words of that posuk are more than just a call to teshuvah. The Ribbono Shel Olam Himself chose, as an example for the process of coming closer, the mitzvah of milah.
At a bris, we watch a newborn infant, still a baby but with the potential of a great life ahead of him, be welcomed to Am Yisroel.
During the moments before the cries fill the air, everyone gathered welcomes Eliyohu Hanovi to the room and recognizes the significance of what is about to take place. “Umol.” A layer of skin is removed from the baby, representing subservience to Hashem and the removal of barriers between man and G-d, the mechitzah hamavdeles bein Yisroel l’Avihem shebashomayim.
We stand now during this season of “Umol,” challenged to protect this mitzvah and publicly proclaim that we will not permit anyone to teach us how an age-old practice that represents the covenant between Hashem and His people should be performed. We have no need for any suggestions about how to improve the process.
Brisos have been performed for thousands of years, just as they were performed by Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov and transmitted to us by Moshe Rabbeinu.
Brisos have taken place not only in shuls and catering halls, but also on hills, in valleys and in caves, in bunkers and in cellars, always as prescribed.
Standing at a bris, someone remarked to the Brisker Rov that he had a hard time viewing a bris milah, because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. The Rov admonished him, saying, “This is not blood. This is dam bris.”
When you observe the performance of a bris milah, the Brisker Rov was saying, you are viewing the act of a mitzvah. You are viewing the krisus bris between our people and Hashem. You are watching one of the most hallowed acts in a Jew’s life. You are not just seeing blood. You should be rejoicing, not complaining.
Those who mock us and vilify us speak of the ugliness of blood. We see the beauty and glory in dam bris. We see the blood and remember the posuk which we then proudly proclaim for all to hear: “Va’eevor olayich v’ereich misboseses bedomoyich, va’omar loch bedomayich chayi, va’omar loch bedomayich chayi.” Hashem tells us that the blood is the blood of life. It sustains life and, through it, we shall live.
When the New York City Department of Heath cites cases of metzitzah b’peh leading to infants contracting the herpes virus, we are confident enough to know that there has to be a mistake. In previous editions of this newspaper, we investigated the two cases they point to and proved that despite the department’s best efforts to intimidate the parents in order to advance their agenda, these parents did not capitulate. It is obvious to any objective observer that no relationship between bris milah and herpes exists in those cases. We are currently investigating another two similar cases in which authorities intimidated parents in order to manufacture evidence to further their anti-milah jihad.
The natural reaction to the city’s ongoing milah crusade is to shrug our shoulders and say, “Shalom yihiyeh li. It is not my problem. I am neither a mohel, nor an askan. I’m just a regular guy. Why should I get involved?”
As believing Jews, we have to realize that this is personal. There is an ongoing crusade against metzitzah by city officials, and it is you, and your beliefs, and your practices, and your Yiddishkeit, that are being targeted.
The groundwork is being laid. Subliminal allegations that we are negligent, unsanitary and uncaring of our children are pressed to foment the notion that religious people are not only backward, but also evil, and they must be monitored and controlled by government. Sometimes, it is incumbent upon us to clearly articulate what we stand for and what we are all about. We cannot, and should not, always attempt to be diplomatic and all things to all people. There are times when, for the greater purpose of advancing our agenda, people feel they can compromise, play political word games, and massage an issue until it goes away.
At other times, even those who are more diplomatically inclined admit that a debate is a contest for one specific agenda against another. When our group is fighting for the truth, for our deeply felt beliefs, and for continuing what we have been doing for thousands of years against a group that seeks to obfuscate and concentrate on demagoguery, it is not a time for silence. Now there is the potential to force the other side to discuss ideology and have the people choose. People who are strong in their beliefs have no problem forcing debates on issues.
The battle is uneven, because we are not all united in our purpose, while those who fight us are. We cannot get together on the things we believe in, because dozens of tangential issues divide us. Our enemies don’t let such considerations enter their lexicon, and although there is much that divides them, they don’t let that get in the way of their mission of battling religion and Torah.
The current war against bris milah is being waged under different guises and in various accents, in several countries on various continents. With all the differences, one thing is constant. They despise us, our religion, our customs and our success. They resent our success in rebuilding and revitalizing ourselves a few decades after the Holocaust, when all had thought that the religious Jew would never resurrect himself and they were done with us and what we represent.
Far more harmful than just talking nasty, they have made people in our camp into unwitting accomplices. As the posuk describes Amaleik at the end of this week’s parsha and their ability to prey on the vulnerable, our present enemies prey on the insecure, those who aren’t sure of themselves, and they get them to act in ways they think will earn them the respect of those obsessed with destroying them.
The urge to be respected drives some to act in ways antithetical to their own cause. They don’t recognize that by responding to the critics and offering up compromises, they validate those who are engaging in a campaign of step-by-step destruction of what they hold dear. They permit our antagonists to advance their agenda. Moreover, they do not become any more loved in the process.
The ability of politicians to use Madison Avenue techniques to convince the masses of what is good and proper is evident in the way deviant human behavior has become not only accepted, but a matter of pride, over a short period.
It happened as the moral people slept and thought they had won victories, but, essentially, as they were apathetically ceding territory, the other side was advancing their agenda. They began with small incremental changes and, through them, changed the conversation and the way their actions are perceived in the world. It began with a drive for plain old human rights, with everyone being entitled to live their life as they please. They only said they were seeking to be left alone to live as they please. Once they accomplished that, they sought some basic human rights, and when they achieved that, they moved to the next step. They thus continued to take those baby steps. Today, they call their way of life “marriage” and publicly flaunt their activities and are accepted in the highest positions and welcomed everywhere.
The New York health authorities shake our hands and slap our backs as they assure us that they’re only concerned with one aspect of bris milah and the rest is fine. But they seek to portray that one aspect of the ritual as an act that is life threatening. They bullwhip people into admitting that certain health situations affecting infants which were totally unrelated to bris milah were caused by bris milah. They have no real evidence tying bris milah to the spread of disease, but that doesn’t stop them. They employ terror tactics and turn to false science, fake reports and age-old demagoguery to implant their notions in the public consciousness.
Once they have finished educating the masses about the danger of metzitzah, they will move to their next step. Before you know, the same arguments that are being used against bris milah in Europe will be utilized right here, in New York, home of millions of Jews.
We have to realize that the sinah for our people and our customs is as old as the bris itself. The double standard by which we are judged is as old as our people is.
A mainstream Danish newspaper published the following description of the bris ceremony: “Around the baby stand ten black-clad men, a must in every Jewish circumcision. As usual in Judaism, women aren’t allowed to be present. An untrained rabbi mutilates the baby, who cries and bleeds profusely as the men pray.”
This is what is published in a modern western country. We are not surprised when we read of Saudi clerics perpetrating myths of Jews drinking the blood of gentile children in their neighborhoods, as we reported in this paper last week, but who would imagine that in our enlightened day, Jews would be portrayed in this fashion in the European media?
The same advanced groups who refer to themselves as progressive, and who through convoluted reasoning sanction the murder of infants, are the ones who are suddenly concerned that a rite around for four thousand years hurts infants.
The same country which made a mockery of human feeling, emotion, pain and life now smugly lectures us on how to treat our children. Six hundred doctors in that accursed country signed on to the document that vilifies circumcision. Have the heirs of Dr. Mengele no shame?
Then there are rabbis who travel there and offer compromises, such as stating that mohalim who practice bris milah as prescribed by G-d to our forefather Avrohom take lessons from those very doctors. Have they, too, lost their shame? Don’t they realize that these people are motivated by an inbred hatred of the Jewish people and not by love of children or fidelity to the Hippocratic Oath?
In this country, in the bastion of liberalism, we have been documenting how the experts of the Department of Health are engaging in a stealth campaign to entrap parents and threaten them into admitting that their children were harmed by bris milah. Through the use of faux science and debauchery, they are determined to portray us as uncaring about human life. They set up straw men and offer compromises, which, if submitted to will, only serve to advance their agenda and cement the narrative that Jews and their practices must be monitored by the state, because Jews are baby killers and are more concerned about some ancient ritual than about life. Have they no shame?
We are the people who brought civility to this world. We were the first to ban infanticide. We don’t need to be lectured or take lessons from baby killers just because they have medical school degrees.
Our Torah is a Toras Chaim, a book of life. Our G-d is merciful. Our religion celebrates life. We have managed to survive all the attempts to destroy us. We have outlived them all and we will triumph over these do-gooders and their enablers as well.
We need to remind ourselves of the age-old truth, which stretches all the way back to the time our people gathered around a mountain and became one.
They, the elected officials who are constantly looking over their shoulders, counting campaign funds and poll results while flashing their insincere smiles, are nothing. They are here today and gone tomorrow. The highbrow moral talk is undermined by their own immoral behavior, again and again. We have nothing to fear.
One is reminded of a story about Rav Yosef Yitzchok, the rebbe who led the Chabad chassidus during the darkest years of Russian oppression, keeping the fires going with literal mesirus nefesh, risking imprisonment and torture each and every day.
A high-ranking Communist official, frustrated with the rebbe’s stubborn refusal to cease and desist from spreading the word of the Living G-d, once pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the rebbe.
The rebbe remained unbent. In the immortal words of the Jew in golus, he said to the official, “What you hold in your hand doesn’t scare us. It can only frighten someone who has but one world and many gods. We Jews have two worlds but only One G-d.”
The gun was returned to its holster.
Diplomacy should not be confused with weakness. There is a gaping chasm between the two. Perhaps the most effective shtadlan the people in tiny Eretz Yisroel had was Zev Wolfson, whose backroom deals and alliances with American politicians resulted in steady and very necessary help for Israel. On several occasions, he singlehandedly saved the government from financial and military collapse.
Mr. Wolfson was defined by a previous shtadlan many years back as “Es Ha’Elokim ani yorei.” He feared no man and he was beholden to no one but Hashem. When he felt it was the only way to accomplish his goal on behalf of the Jewish people, he dropped diplomacy and bonhomie and exchanged them for effectiveness and focus.
Astute politicians understood that it would be smartest to work with Zev, even though he didn’t do the sweet-talking thing. He cared deeply, he worked for his Creator, and he engendered respect as a result. It would do us well to learn this lesson.
Rabbi Moshe Sherer was a storied askan, who gave his life for the advancement of the Jewish people through statesmanship, oratory, political skill and stamina. Rav Aharon Kotler fueled him, as he did Mr. Wolfson, with clarity of purpose, yiras Shomayim, and a willingness to swallow humiliation and rejection in the process of fighting for His glory.
More often than not, however, Rabbi Sherer succeeded. His inspiration was an immigrant whose own speech was so rapid that the words seemed to trip over each other and who had no concept of the inner workings of Congress. Rav Aharon knew only that we must fight to assure the right of Yidden to live in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch. Torah is primary and everything else is secondary. There is no compromise when it comes to Torah.
Rav Aharon fought to establish the primacy of Torah here and in Eretz Yisroel. The tremendous rejuvenation that took place since the era of the German attempt to destroy us is testament to the vision and determination of him and people like him.
The Kashau Rov, Rav Refoel Bloom, purchased an old campus in suburban Westchester from the city at a sharply reduced price, intending to transplant his kehillah there. Due to a misunderstanding between the city and Kashau, at some point after the sale, the city stopped paying the heat for the building. The pipes froze and burst, causing much damage and great monetary loss. Kashau was unable to come up with the money for the repairs and additional expenses, and was unable to pay the mortgage in a timely fashion.
Subsequently, during the months following the sale, the value of real estate in Westchester skyrocketed. The city sought to reclaim the parcel and resell it at a much higher price.
The Kashau chassidim appealed to Rabbi Moshe Sherer to intervene on their behalf and forestall the sale of the property. Rabbi Sherer explained to the city authorities handling the matter that the chassidim had not realized that they were responsible to heat the building as soon as the sale had gone through. They had assumed that the city would maintain the property until they moved in.
Additionally, Rabbi Sherer found someone to bring the mortgage payments up to date, providing the city would stop its proceedings against them and permit them to move in.
The Kashau Rov went to the home of a local askan to discuss the offer and to seek his intervention with the mayor. The askan told the rov that he thought he could convince the mayor that the inexperienced chassidim had been in over their heads and should be given another opportunity, but he told the rov that he needed something in return.
At the time, chassidim were protesting policies of the liberal mayor. The askan advised the rov to instruct his chassidim to refrain from demonstrating against the mayor while he was appealing for his goodwill.
The Kashau Rov looked at the askan and said, “Ehr iz nisht mein baalebos uhn ehr kehn mir gurnisht tohn (He doesn’t own me and he can’t do anything to me. No deal.).”
The rov proclaimed that he had only one “Baaleboss,” and although he risked losing his property, the money he had spent years raising, and his dreams for his kehillah, he was not about to capitulate to anyone.
The mayor showed no mercy and the city continued moving to have Kashau evicted from the property. The matter went to court, where it appeared almost certain that the city would win. However, in an unanticipated decision, the judge ruled that since the Kashau chassidim had already moved in, it would be too costly, time-consuming and inconvenient to evict them, and thus the land had little value in a sale.
The Kashauer Rov’s “Baalebos” took care of him.
A few years ago, when New York City began its campaign against metzitzah, the authorities claimed that they were only focused on one specific mohel, against whom, they claimed, they had proof that he was spreading the herpes virus. They said that they weren’t seeking to interfere with bris milah. Rather, they only wanted to stop that specific mohel.
The Kashau Rov’s grandson became involved. He met with a top advisor to the mayor, and after exchanging pleasantries, the mayoral assistant said to him, “Are you prepared to negotiate?” He responded, “Yes, I am.” A broad smile broke out across the lips of the bureaucrat. The Rov continued, saying, “Yes, I am prepared to negotiate your unconditional surrender!”
He knew who the real Baaleboss is.
During the period when the Communists sought to control Jewish ritual and life, the Chofetz Chaim remarked that it was wrong to allow the Communists to assume they held that power. When a talmid pointed out that they were physically capable of forcing Yidden to capitulate, the Chofetz Chaim replied, “Mir hubben gedarft gein mit bezzems (We should have gone with brooms to fight them). Az der Rinono Shel Olam vil, shist ah bezzem (If Hashem wills it, a broom can also shoot bullets).”
The Gemorah in Maseches Brachos (20a) relates a conversation that took place between Rav Poppa and Abaye. Rav Poppa asked why it is that previous generations merited having miracles preformed for them and his didn’t. He proved that the reason could not be that the previous generation was more proficient in Torah study. Abaye responded that the previous generations were moser nefesh for kiddush Hashem and that is why they were deserving of the miracles that were performed for them.
A study of the generations prior to ours would indicate a readiness to be moser nefesh for kiddush Hashem. They realized what was primary and what was temporal, and when the times demanded it, they were moser nefesh. In our day as well, there are mesirus nefesh Yidden. Perhaps we should learn from their example.
We live in difficult times, with the specter of a nuclear war upon us. The economy is in recession and many people, yeshivos and organizations are desperately in need of financial assistance. Our mesirus nefesh for mitzvos can make the difference in sparing us from war and ruin.
This week’s parsha instructs us to remember what Amaleik did to us when we left Mitzrayim, The posuk (25:17-18) states, “Asher korcha baderech,” which Rashi explains to mean that all the nations of the world were frightened to attack us, but Amaleik showed the way for them, cooling the fears of the others.
“Vayezaneiv becho,” they grabbed hold of you, “kol hanechesholim acharecha,” all those of you whose sins weakened them, “v’ato oyeif veyogei’a,” and you became tired and weakened, beaten down by them, “velo yorei Elokim,” because Amaleik didn’t fear Hashem.
The Baal Haturim (ibid.) offers a fascinating gematria. He writes that the numerical value of the words “vayezaneiv becho” is equal to the numerical value of “zeh milah.” Amaleik mocked milah.
A klipah, or remnant, of Amaleik is alive in every generation, and it seeks to pluck the weak from among us and cause us to become demoralized, apathetic and ready to capitulate to those who don’t fear Hashem. They battle us in every way they know how, militarily and through demagoguery, including through mocking the mitzvah of bris milah.
Zachor. We must remember their objective. We must remember how they operate and not capitulate to them and those who follow their example.
There is a well-known shittah in halacha that dictates that, in the event of a bris on Rosh Hashanah, the baal tokeia should be the one to perform the metzitzah, so that the blood of the bris milah should be on his lips as he blows the shofar, creating an extra source of zechus for the tzibbur.
May our battles and campaigns for kevod Shomayim mingle with our tefillos at this time of year, so that we will be remembered for a healthy, good and peaceful new year by the Zocher Habris.