Sunday, May 13, 2007
Hair today, hair tomorrow?
Well, the theory was that we would cut My DS's hair today (between his secular birthday, which is tomorrow, and his Hebrew calendar birthday which was the 23rd of Iyyar (last Friday) sort of using convenient scheduling as counting for his third birthday, but he had other plans). THe ceremony is called (in Yiddish) Upsherin, and normally occurs on a Jewish boy's third birthday, or on Lag B'omer. It marks both the child's entry into childhood and out of the gender ambiguity of babyhood, and at the same time the beginning of his Jewish education - the start of his learning Torah (in theory, there's no reason it couldn't be done for girls - if I had had a daughter, I'm sure that I would have done so for her) and so it is also a tradition to eat sweets shaped like the Hebrew alphabet.
DS was all excited that our friend, whom he calls Rav Moshe, would cut it, but then he couldn't go through with it at the last moment. We even had another friend (R. Josh) offer R. Moshe to take a little chunk of his ponytail (which he did --not much-) but clever son maneuvered R. Josh to get his snip first and then backed out. But we did get one little symbolic snip of hair off him, and he very much enjoyed his Hebrew alphabet shaped (homemade- whoa, I am turning out to be an Ima who bakes!) gingerbread cookies. I think he ate perhaps 12. Or more. (Actually, despite the rather large number I was relieved that they turned out wellenough for him to like - they improved since yesterday night when I made them. I find theat the Joy of Cooking recipe that I used was desperately lacking in ginger - how can gingerbread be made with so little ginger? So I replaced some of the molasses with caro syrup (because I ran out of molasses mostly) and nearly tripled the amount of ginger - it still wasn't enough. Next time, I'll use six times the amount, which should work).
I have to admit though, that I'm kind of relieved. I really like his hair long, despite all the trauma it takes to brush it, and I do know that the fact that other people - both kids and adults, I've noticed- think he's a girl (because of his pretty, androgynous) face and long hair treat him more gently than they usually do boys, and I am quite certain that that is part of the reason that he is such a gentle and sweet person. Still, the plan is that we will cut it, soonish. Maybe I can put it off some more by getting him used to finger combing, which seems to make him less agitated than using the brush.
May DS's life be blessed and filled with righteousness and Torah. May he be a holy Jew, who cares for others and himself with equal zeal. May he make the world a place of holiness and light, may he live in joy and be the cause of people saying, "If he worships that God, that God must be worth worshipping" a cause of kiddush hashem, honoring God.
Here's the planned text ( snipped and snapped from various places around the net. I did not write this, except for a short piece of it, I merely edited it. Much of it comes from here and there is also a fabulous picture which does not look like my DS, but is a great of example of what his hair will look like soon, if we don't cut it):
Traditionally when we give a child his first haircut, we give him sweets shaped like the aleph bet to wish him that Torah should be sweet in his mouth, just as we ask in the daily morning blessing for Torah. Let’s say that together, and then we’ll cut his hair and learn just a little something.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לַעֲסוֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה:
וְהַעֲרֶב־נָא יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ אֶת־דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ בְּפִֽינוּ, וּבְפִי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנִהְיֶה אֲנַֽחְנוּ וְצֶאֱצָאֵֽינוּ, וְצֶאֱצָאֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֻּלָּֽנוּ יוֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶֽךָ, וְלוֹמְדֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ לִשְׁמָהּ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמְלַמֵּד תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל
Transliteration:. Baruch ata Hashem Elohainu Melekh HaOlam asher kidshanu bimitzvosav vitzivanu la'asok b'divrei torah. V'haarev na Hashem Elokeinu et divrei Toratecha b'finu u’befee amcha bait yisroel, v’neeheyeh anachu vtzetzaeinu vtztezaei kol amcha bait Yisrael koolanu yodei shimecha vlomdei toratecha l’shma. Baruch atah Hashem hamelamayd Torah l’amo Yisrael. Baruch atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam asher bachar banu meekol ha’amim v’natan lanu es Torato. Baruch attah Hashem notayn Hatorah..
Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to engage ourselves in the study of Torah. Please Hashem, sweeten the words of Your Torah sweet in our mouth and in the mouths of Your nation, the family of Yisrael. May we and our offspring and the offspring of Your people, the House of Yisrael, all of us, know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are You, Hashem who teaches Torah to His people Yisrael. Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe who selected us from all the peoples and gave us His Torah. Blessed are You, Hashem, Giver of Torah.
The Yiddish name for this first haircut ceremony is upsherin. The Yiddish phrase comes from the German word sheren-shear, and auf-off a Yiddish word meaning to "cut off." The custom is first mentioned in "Sha'ar HaKavanot" by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the student of the great 16th century Kabbalist, R. Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572) who writes that his teacher, on the 33rd (lag) day of the counting of the Omer, the day marking the passing of the first century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, took his family and his young son to R. Shimon's gravesite and performed his first hair, cutting with great joy and festivity, "according to the well known tradition."
According to Torah law (Leviticus 19:23), we may not eat the fruit of trees that were planted for the first three years. This is the law of orlah, literally "concealment."
In various places, the Torah compares a person to a tree, most well-known here, from deuteronomy:
- "A person is like the tree of a field..." (Deut. 20:19)
The 16th century Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal of Prague, wrote in 1578,
"'For man is a tree of the field,' and his branches are in heaven, for the head, which is the root of a man, faces upwards, and this is why man is called a 'tree of the field' planted in heaven, and through his intellect, he is planted in his place, which, if all of the winds were to come and blow, they would not move him from his place" (Sefer Gur Aryeh, Genesis 9:21).
The reference to the winds refers back to the mishnah (Avot 3:22): "Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place."
This inverts the comment there by R. Eleazar ben Azariah: One whose deeds outweigh his learning is like a tree with fewer branches than roots. For Loew, the intellect/learning served as one's roots. But the original statement of the mishnah is also important: the context of the entire statement shows that R. Eleazar ben Azariah clearly meant that neither deeds nor learning are possible without the other. An ignoramus cannot be pious, but similarly, learning without action is also lacking holiness. One needs to engage continually in both, and neither can be ignored.
Perhaps this is why the first haircut traditionally results in the first signs of peot – peot also being the plural of the word to which we refer to what we leave in the corners of the fields for the poor. Rabbinically, at least one sixtieth of the entire crop is for the poor. "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger; I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:9-10).
ט וּֽבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת־קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָֹֽדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִֽירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּֽט: י וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶֽעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּֽעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:
And just a few verses later in the same chapter, we read, “You shall not round the corners of your heads, nor shall you mar the corners of your beard.” (Lev.19:27)
לֹא תַקִּפוּ פְּאַת רֹֽאשְׁכֶם וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶֽךָ
Using the same language of peah.
The Birchat Hatorah – is said once in the morning and covers Torah learning for the whole day. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald of NJOP explains that Torah is not only to be studied, but is meant to be an all-encompassing involvement. Usually, when a Jew makes a bracha and departs from an activity, like leaving a Sukkah after eating and drinking, and then re-enters the Sukkah to again eat or drink, the blessings are recited again. But the blessing for Torah is recited only once in the morning, and never again, even though a Jew may open the Torah to study many times a day. The reason for this is that the obligation of Talmud Torah, studying Torah, is continuous. This is what is meant by the verse from Joshua, "v'hagita bo yommam v'lailah," You should be aware and conscious of the mitzvah of Torah study all day and all night.
Why the third year? The term "orlah" appears in three different references in the Torah, regarding 1) fruits, 2) Brit Milah, and 3) the pursuit of truth. But what does the word "orlah" literally mean? And what is the connection between these three references?
The first reference, in Leviticus 19:23, is that fruits which grow during the first three years are classified as "orlah" and not eaten.. Orlah, as defined by Nachmanides, means "blocked up."
The second, and perhaps most famous reference to "orlah," is the foreskin removed during circumcision (Genesis 17:11). The commentators explain that this orlah also refers to blockage -- in this case a spiritual blockage. A Jewish boy does not receive the full measure of his soul until the circumcision is performed, and for this reason the Torah notes the consequence of "spiritual excisement" for any Jewish male who does not have a Bris Milah (Genesis 17:14).
(On a conceptual level, it applies to girls as well -- as women also recite the line in Grace After Meals referring to "the Brit which You [God] sealed on our bodies.")
The third reference to "orlah" is when God tells the Jewish people to "remove the orlah from your heart" (Deut. 10:16).
וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם וְעָרְפְּכֶם לֹא תַקְשׁוּ עֽוֹד
Here the reference is symbolic; the Almighty is exhorting us to pursue truth. Doing so requires removing that which prevents one from seeing the truth -- the "barriers of the heart."
It is therefore fitting that the day of the young boy's "upshern" (when he symbolically leaves the category of "orlah" vis-a-vis his hair) is also the day that he traditionally begins his Torah education. For Torah study is the primary way to unplug spiritual blockage, and to remove barriers that prevent one from seeing the truth.
The first cut is done at the front of the head, at the spot where the boy will later place his tefillin upon becoming Bar Mitzvah.
After snipping, people give the boy a blessing for success in Torah. It is also a good idea to take the boy to receive blessings from great rabbis.
Upsherin day also includes learning the Aleph-Bet with the child. This is so the Torah should be "sweet on his tongue!"
We also teach the child the verse: "The Torah was commanded to us through Moses, an inheritance for all the Jewish people" (Deut. 33:4).
תּוֹרָה צִוָּה־לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מֽוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַֽעֲקֹֽב
These are the first words a Jewish child should be taught to say, since this communicates how each Jew has a unique, personal relationship with the Torah.