Over the last few years I have written shiurim on various parshiot around this time of year and dedicated them to the memory of my dear parents z”l, whose yartzheits we will commemorate in a couple of weeks time. This year, however, I have the privilege of dedicating the shiur to the z”chut of our newly born grandson
בעזרת ה’ שיגדל לתורה , לחופה ולמעשים טובים
We are used to attending life cycle events – britot, bar and bat mitzvot, weddings and, unfortunately, also funerals. But how many of us have ever participated in a “weaning” party? What exactly do we mean by such an occasion? That is a difficult question to answer. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that Avraham made a feast ביום הגמל את יצחק” – on the day that Yitzhak was weaned” (Bereishit 21:8).
Prior to trying to explain why Avraham would celebrate such an event, let us look at the first of our Jewish life cycle events, discussed in last week’s parsha, and referred to in this week’s parsha, in connection with Yitzchak’s birth.
There is much written about Brit Mila and its significance. We will look at two commentaries which relate to this mitzvah. Sefer Hachinuch points out that the human body requires completion by man in order to hint to man that in the same way that he can perfect his body he also has the ability to perfect hi soul by righting his actions.
In these words, the Chinuch is explaining why Hashem did not create man already circumcised if that is what He wanted. He suggests that there is significance in the final “tikkun” of the body being done by man. Mori veRabi Harav Amital zt”l, commented often on this idea and stressed that not everything natural is good just because it was created by Hashem. On the contrary, God wants man to use his abilities to perfect and purify the natural world.
Rav Hirsch, in his comments on this mitzvah, points out that the brit mila is called an “ot”, meaning it is a sign which is meant to symbolize our relationship with The Almighty. However, says Rav Hirsch, it is not sufficient just to remember the idea; we also have to preform an action. This is how the system of mitzvoth works. The action must symbolize an idea but the idea cannot be realized without the action. Brit Mila is a prime example of this notion.
Both of the ideas cited above relate to the significance of the Brit Mila rite and justify why we celebrate such an event. But, the ideas mentioned, are mostly internalized by the parents and family of the child and less so, if at all, by the child himself.
Let us now return to Avraham’s feast on the weaning of Yitzchak. Radak surmises that this may have been the custom in those days and Avraham was simply following the standard protocol. He therefore invited his friends round to celebrate what they may have seen as a significant event in the child’s upbringing. Radak goes on to suggest that at this juncture, which Chazal say is when the child reaches two years of age, it is possible to teach the child letters as he begins to form words and sentences.
Rashbam points out that Chana too made a feast when Shmuel was weaned. This reminds us of the dispute between Chana and her husband Elkana as to the appropriate juncture at which to bring baby Shmuel to the mishkan. As we know, from the familiar story in the first chapter of Sefer Shmuel, Chana, while praying for a child, promises to dedicate said child to serve Hashem. Shortly after Shmuel’s birth, Elkana embarks on a return journey to the Mishkan and urges Chana to come and “pay her vow”. Chana, however, responds that she will keep Shmuel with her until he is weaned.
Rav Amnon Bazak explains Chana’s actions:
“Why indeed did Chana behave as she did? The answer to this question is very simple. Chana’s vow, like many other vows, has both a formal dimension and a substantive dimension. Formally Elkana was right, for Chana had vowed to give Shmuel to God all the days of his life. On the practical level, however, what value would there be in giving Shmuel to God prior to his weaning? What benefit could such a young child bring to the Mishkan of God, when he still needs his mother? Chana is not trying to avoid fulfilling her vow, but she insists on fulfilling it in a meaningful, rather than a formal manner.”
This idea further supports the Radak’s opinion mentioned above. Once the child is weaned, although still very young, he can both be taught certain skills and even contribute to society on some level.
The Gemara (Sukkah 42a) explains that the requirement to educate our children to perform mitzvoth begins at various ages depending on the child’s abilities.
“A child who knows how to shake the luluv, his father (parent) purchases for him a lulav…. When he knows how to look after his tefillin, he buys for him tefillin. When he learns how to talk, we teach him Torah and the reciting of the Shema.”
Therefore, returning to our parsha, we suggest that the brit mila signifies Avraham’s commitment to the mitzvah he received from Hashem. On the other hand, the feast Avraham made on the day Yitzchak was weaned seems to symbolize the beginning of the process of passing on that commitment and tradition to Yitzchak. For Avraham, who had been told many times by Hashem that he would have many descendants who would inherit the land, this event was monumental indeed. Now, not only did he have a son, as Hashem had promised, but everything he stood for, all the ethos he had been espousing to those he encountered, would not end with his death.. His life’s work, his legacy, would now continue through his son. The weaning, and more significantly, the beginning of Yitzchak’s education was surely cause for celebration.
In this day and age, it would seem that this feast has been delayed until the bar/bat miztva of the child. It is at that point that we consider the commitment of our offspring to our Jewish values and urge them to play a role in the furthering of those values. While the timing may be different to that found in biblical times, the notion remains the same. We celebrate the ability to pass on our tradition and legacy to the next generation. May Hashem grant us the wisdom and insight to perform this task in the best way possible.