Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shalom Zachar: Sources, Reasons, and Cute "Khaps"

There is a custom that on the first Friday night after a boy is born, his family hosts a party celebrating his arrival. This party is called the “Shalom Zachar,” שלום זכר – which can be translated any number of ways, most likely “Greetings, male child.”

In honor of the birth of our son, this class was prepared for and shared at his Shalom Zachar celebration. I present it here with the name of the source and what is presented in the work cited:

Why is it called Shalom Zachar?

Torat Emet – Through one method of gematria (Jewish numerology/’geometry’), the words Shalom Zachar equal the same amount as the word Bris, for which the Shalom Zachar is a pre-cursor.

Shalom = 376 :: Zachar = 227 :: add 7 (letters) + 2 (words) = 612
ש = 300, ל = 30, ו = 6, ם = 40
ז = 7, כ = 20, ר = 200

ב– 2, ר– 200, י– 10, ת– 400
altogether 612

Talmud Niddah 31b - כיון שבא זכר בעולם בא שלום בעולם – When a male זכר comes to the world, peace (שלום) comes to the world (He brings cause for celebratory parties, including one which takes place on the Sabbath, which is a day of peace)

Matamim (A book which describes the reasons for customs) – זכר equals the words ז' כר – 7 gifts God sends to those who have a male child. Milah, Pidyon Haben, teaching him “Torah Zivah Lanu,” teaching him to read, wearing tefillin, teaching a profession, marrying him off. We celebrate a “shalom zachar” because of the things which come with the arrival of a male child.

Why We Come to Greet the Baby

Matamim – As per the Moses story in Exodus 4, the one who is to be circumcised is called a groom. From elsewhere, we know a groom is compared to a king. The words לבד מאשר יושיט לו המלך refer to the treatment of a king [it appears in the context of whom may visit Achashveirosh, the king in the Esther story]. The beginnings of those words, their acronym, spells מילה, circumcision. Just as everyone comes to greet the king; and just as everyone comes to greet the groom on the shabbos before his wedding, so do we visit the ‘blood groom’ on the shabbos before his bris

Bris Avos – It seems to me, the reason we visit the baby is because when a guest comes to town, people come to greet and visit him on Shabbos. This is particularly so if he is a famous Tzaddik. And the baby is considered a Tzaddik, as the Magen Avraham writes…

Magen Avraham - And I saw one cantor who [, on the Sabbath, when praying for the ill is generally downplayed,] was accustomed to blessing those who had difficulty having babies [during labor?]. This is permitted according to everyone, because the baby is a Tzaddik, and he can bend the merits of the world.

Why We Have a Shalom Zachar (and why it’s Friday night)

Talmud Bava Kama 80a - Rav, Shmuel and Rav Asi went to the house of the “Shavua haben” (week of the son), and some say it was the “house of Yeshua Haben” – where the son was saved.

[Rashi says this refers to a Pidyon Haben, others say it refers to the bris, based on “week of…”]

Tosfot there - Rabbenu Tam believes it refers to when the son is born. Since he was saved from inside his mother, the language of “saved” is used – there was a custom to prepare a feast/meal, [before any meal celebrating the bris.]

Terumat Hadeshen – Even though it is explained in the name of Rabbenu Chananel that there was a custom to prepare a meal when a boy was born, because he’d been saved, this is not a disagreement with Rashi who says the Gemara refers to the pidyon haben meal. One of the sages proved from there that [the shalom zachar] is, according to Rashi, a seudas mitzvah (meal celebrating the fulfillment of a commandment), based on the idea that Rav attended the event (normally he only attended those kinds of meals, and not plain meals)… That it is our custom to enter the home to taste something at night – this is a fulfillment of a seudas mitzvah, and the reason why it is done Friday night is because everyone is home.

Midrash Vayikra Rabba 27:10 – … [A newborn animal that is to serve as a sacrificial offering is to stay] with its mother for 7 days… There is a parable to a king who entered a country saying “Anyone who wants to see me will not be allowed to until after you are approved by the matron.” In other words, an animal may not be brought as an offering until it has lived a shabbos, and the bris cannot take place until the baby has lived a shabbos.

Matamim – It is called Shalom Zachar because bris milah is the first closeness to holiness that a Jewish soul can attain through the removal of the foreskin, which is a cover for the holy crown which can otherwise not be revealed… he should experience one Sabbath before the bris, because it is the strength of the holiness of shabbos through which all activities of the week are filtered. Anticipation of excising the foreskin helps sanctify the previous shabbos, when we celebrate the Shalom Zachar.

Other Suggestions and Meanings of the words “Shalom Zachar”

Biras Migdal Oz of Rabbi Yakov Emden - 1. Eat fruits and sweets (no need for tons of food), 2. during the 1st week of life (as per BK 80a above), 3. It is called the “Meal of זכר”, 4. זכר means “remember” – we come to visit him for forgetting all he learned in the womb (see below Nidah 30b) [we come on Shabbos because of זכור – “Remember the Sabbath”], 5. Shabbos is the first mitzvah he fulfills, 6. We also “remind” (להזכיר) him of his promise (שבוע) [Another interpretation of שבוע הבן – the “swear of the son”], 7. Why not a similar party for girls? Males have more commandments…, 8. Females are sworn in through their destined spouses


Niddah 30b – One of the most inspiring and moving passages in the Talmud, the baby’s experience in utero is described in great detail, how it is the most peaceful and blissful experience of a person’s life, how Job and others yearned to return to the womb, how a baby has a light over his head and vision to see from one end of the world to the other, how the baby is taught all of the Torah, and how it all comes to an end when the child emerges and an angel taps his mouth causing him to forget all that he has learned.

[Some say this is one of the reasons a baby cries when s/he is born. Others say this is a challenge for every baby to spend the rest of life trying to rediscover and relearn all the things forgotten at birth.

Because of this, another reason for visiting the baby is because he is mourning over the Torah knowledge he lost.

Mishnah Avot 4:22 – Reminds us that we are created, born and live against our will. All of which may be cause enough to mourn.

Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 – The dead are better off than the living, and better off than both of them are those who had not yet been born

Shefa Chaim – There is a custom to serve chick peas at a Shalom Zachar because they are considered a food of mourners (all round foods are considered such), and a source for this idea [reminiscent of the simanim/symbolic foods we eat on Rosh Hashana] is the verse הרבה ארבה את זרעך (Genesis 22:17). If you read that quickly, with a Yiddish pronunciation, you say Harbah Arbes Zar’ekha – which means “Have lots of chick peas with your children.”

Why No Similar Party for Girls?

Dagul Mervava – asks a very legitimate question: With the exception of one or two things related to bris, every reasons for the Shalom Zachar should apply to the arrival of a girl and there should be a similar party celebrating her first Shabbos.

Kings I 8:66 – On the eighth day he dismissed the people, and they blessed the King and went to their homes, rejoicing and delighted of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had wrought for David His servant and for His people.

Talmud Moed Katan 9a – To their homes [tents] – they went home and found their wives in a state of tahara. The rejoiced – because they merited from the divine presence. Delighted of heart – each of their wives became pregnant with a male child…

Talmud Bava Batra 16b
– A daughter was born to Rabbi Shimon and he was disappointed [because he had hoped to fulfill the commandment of Pidyon Haben on the first-born boy]. His father said, “Propagation has come to the world.” Bar Kapara said to him “Your father gave you worthless comfort,” as we are taught in a Braita, “The world cannot exist without males and females – but praised is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females [because he will worry much more about his daughters than about his sons]”

Concluding Thought

Chavot Yair 70 – Suggests a different reason for the party is a celebration of thanks that the mother of the baby survived childbirth. He continues with a debate over what constitutes a סעודת מצוה – a meal hosted in celebration of the fulfillment of a mitzvah, v just a celebratory meal.

The conclusion we arrived at is that no matter what the Shalom Zachar is, it should consist of more discussions of Torah thoughts, and shared divrei Torah. It is very nice that the rabbi comes and speaks. But the rabbi should not be the only one who shares a serious word, thought out idea to provoke thought and to stimulate conversation.

Relatives and friends should be encouraged to participate, to help the celebration of the baby’s arrival, the mother’s being saved, the anticipation of baby’s bris, rise from a party to a sanctification of God’s name.

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