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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 27 Oct 2017 07:30 PM and ends Sat 28 Oct 2017 08:31 PM
ז' חשון ה' אלפים תשע"ב
On the second day of Rosh Hashana a few years ago, a congregant asked me if it is permissible to do a bris on Yom Kippur. I replied that not only was it allowed but there is even a midrash that our forefather Avraham, the first Jew, had his own bris on Yom Kippur.
Many people are surprised to learn that a bris can be performed on Shabbos or Yomtov. They know that we're forbidden to cause bleeding on these days and assume that performing a bris would definitely be forbidden. However, according to Halacha, if it's the 8th day since birth and the baby is well enough to have his bris on the proper day, we don't delay. Obviously you're not allowed to drive to the bris or perform any unnecessary forbidden action, yet the bris itself is not just permitted, it's a mitzvah.
The fact that the mitzva of bris supersedes Shabbos and Yomtov is learned from three separate verses in the torah, one of them in this week's Parsha. It demonstrates the greatness of this remarkable mitzvah and that by circumcising our children we connect with Hashem in the most direct way possible; higher even than regular 'weekly,' earth-bound connections.
Wouldn't you just know it, the very next day a local family had a son, exactly eight days before Yom Kippur, leaving us no choice but to schedule the circumcision ceremony for the morning of the fast.
I approached the bris with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation. On the one hand a Yom Kippur bris presents somewhat unusual challenges for a mohel. I'd have to wake very early, walk quite a distance while wearing slippers, 'perform' on an empty stomach and then maintain concentration throughout the rest of a day of prayer and sermons.
However, more than the attendant physical difficulties was the fear that I might inadvertently transgress the holy day. A weekday bris is far easier, with much less pressure on the mohel. You do what you have to do and move on. However on Shabbos or Yomtov you've got to be much more careful to only do things that are absolutely essential. Although the bris itself is permitted, it is quite possible that one might inadvertently perform a forbidden act while setting up or cleaning up afterwards. Imagine breaking Yom Kippur while attempting to do a mitzva.
However, is it really my mitzvah? I'm just the agent of the father, acting on his behalf; he's the one with the mitzvah of circumcision. Who says a mohel has to risk his own Yom Kippur to help someone else fulfil their religious responsibilities?
The Rebbe once addressed this issue and was quite scathing about a mohel who would contemplate acting in such a way. The Rebbe suggested that any mohel who is unwilling to perform a bris on Shabbos or Yomtov should not be entrusted with such a sacred responsibility even during the week.
A Bris is described as any act of pure holiness and integral to our identity as Jews. For a parent to willingly hand over their child is analogous to offering a sacrifice to Hashem. The entire concept of bris is associated with self-sacrifice and a super-rational connection with the Infinite; the entry of a Divine soul into a physical body. When a mohel does a bris he is acting as the conduit connecting the new Jew to Hashem. The Mohel can only effect this transformation if he too is willing to sacrifice himself in the sake of a higher cause.
Just as Avraham, the first Jew, transformed history by undergoing the ritual of circumcision, so too the ceremony of Bris connects every Jewish child with Hashem. The fact that a bris may be performed even on Yom Kippur is the clearest demonstration possible that this mitzvah transcends all other levels of reality.
Throughout history, in all times and climes, we have stayed faithful to G-d, even to the point of actual self-sacrifice. We are connected to our creator by an unbreakable covenant and will continue to cleave to Him forever.