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UNDERSTANDING THE BERIT YITZHAK A DISCUSSION WITH RABBI HAYIM ARKING OF OHR HALACHA

By: Pnina S. Souid



There was once a man who came to his rabbi to share the wonderful news that he and his wife had a baby girl. The rabbi asked if he was making a celebration.

“We were thinking of maybe sponsoring a small mazzaon Shabbat morning,” the man replied.

“How many years are you married?” the rabbi asked.

“Two.”

“Tell me,” the rabbi continued, “if you would have waited ten years to have this child, would you be making a bigger celebration?”

The rabbi was showing the new father that we sometimes take our blessings for granted, and fail to appreciate them as much as we should. Feeling genuinely grateful and blessed when we are privileged to celebrate a happy occasion is a source of merit through which we can become worthy of more celebrations in the future.

Scrambling for a Minyan

We have many beautiful customs which we observe at special occasions to arouse our feelings of gratitude and draw our attention to Gd as we celebrate. One such custom is the “berit Yitzhak,” also called “Zohar,” which is held in a family’s home the night before a newborn baby’s berit.

I recall once entering a home for a berit Yitzhak, and when I walked in, the place was in a frenzy.”

“Do we have ten men?!”

“Let’s call your brother.”

“What about your cousin? Can’t he come?”

The commotion stemmed from the time-honored tradition to have ten men assemble in the home and recite portions from the Zohar, the primary text of Kabbalah.

What is the purpose of this custom, and in what ways can the participants – especially the new father – make the most of this special experience?

Earning Protection

Torah study in the house where a child is before a berit brings great merit to the child and all those involved, serving to protect them from harm.[1] Such protection is necessary because the yetzer hara (evil inclination) attempts to interfere with our performance of this special mitzvah, which protects us from Gehinnom.[2] Studying the night before the berit also brings holiness and blessing to the child.[3]

Learning any part of Torah is beneficial on this night, and various customs exist regarding the specific text to study.[4] Our communities have adopted the practice to study the text known as Sefer Berit Yitzhak, which is comprised of a portion of Zohar in Parashat Lech Lecha, and a second portion –read by the father –excerpted from the introduction to the Zohar. These portions teach us about the importance and power of the mitzvah of berit milah, the many rewards granted to those who fulfill this mitzvah, and the importance of guarding the berit milah from impurity.

The text begins by expressing praise for Hashem’s greatness, emphasizing specifically His greatness as manifest in the creation of a child. The Zohar then speaks of Abraham Abinu and the high level he attained through his performance of berit milah, and it proceeds to describe how Hashem brings together husband and wife, and the importance of studying Torah.The text also includes praises of Eretz Yisrael, which Abraham’s descendants have earned in the merit of berit milah. It concludes with a discussion of the laws and customs of berit milah, and of the great blessings bestowed upon a family that brings its child into the covenant of Abraham Abinu.

It is customary to have a minyan of ten men attend the study session, because the Shechinah (Divine Presence) rests in the presence of a minyan, thus elevating the experience to an especially lofty level.[5]However, if it is difficult to assemble ten men who can remain throughout the entire reading, and they would have to divide the reading among them, it is preferable to begin with fewer than ten men and hope that a minyanarrives afterward.

Achieving a “Tikkun

The great Kabbalist Rav Mordechai Sharabi, zt”l, taught that the study of this text achieves its desired spiritual effect (“tikkun”) only if it is read in its entirety, from beginning to end. Therefore, at least one person, or the baby’s father, should try to read through the entire text. This can be done before or after the guests come or leave.

The text of the Zohar is, of course, very difficult to understand. There is a commentary entitled Berit VeTorah which was inspired by our community’s thirst for greater understanding of the Berit Yitzhak and, more generally, of the greatness of berit milah. While it does not provide a linear translation, the Berit VeTorah commentary summarizes the concepts presented in the text in a manner that makes them readily accessible to readers of all backgrounds.

The berit milah reflects the notion that when a new child is born, he not only joins a family, but he joins our special nation that has a uniquely close bond with Hashem. The beautiful custom of berit Yitzhak serves to draw our attention to the singular significance of the berit, to remind us that the birth of a new child is a festive occasion for the entire community and the entire Jewish Nation, which now welcomes a new member to its “team” who will, hopefully, make a significant contribution to our nation’s historic mission and help bring Am Yisrael closer to its destiny.

Those interested in enhancing their berit Yitzhak are invited to contact Rabbi Hayim Arking at 732.331.7002 or by email: rabbiarking@ohrhalacha.org.



[1]Zecher David, chapter 30.

[2]Zecher David, end of chapter 17.

[3]Rav Haim Palagi, Tochahat Haim, Parashat Lech-Lecha.

[4]Zecher David, chapter 33.

[5]Sanhedrin 39.