Two Rabbis: Mohel, Father and Sandek…

Rabbi Oshy and Rebbetzin Zeesy Deren and family with little Shlomo Shneur Zalman before Shabbat. (Photo - Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg)

RABBI ASHER DEREN (Rabbi #1 – The Father and The Sandek)

Going through the checklist… Caterer, Decor and Drinks? Tick. Photographer? Tick. Invitations? Tick. Honours? Tick. Ok, let the Bris Begin! (we also have the Mohel and the baby as well).

Well, maybe that’s what a Bris was like for most of us, during what we call BCE – Before the Covid19 Era. But for our family, Shabbat 28 March 2020 / 3 Nissan 5780, the first Shabbat in lockdown, we experienced something very different as we welcomed our precious baba, whose arrival into our family in middle of last week’s Shabbat dinner felt like a gift literally straight from heaven, into the sacred covenant of our nation with God. This one felt almost surreal, perhaps more like the imagery we read about in books of our history. From the glorious moments in our past, like when Jewish families in Egypt huddled in the quarantine of their homes right before the Pesach night in Egypt and performed the Bris milah then opening their bodies and souls to an eternal covenant with Hashem at Sinai. Or the darkest moments in our journeys through bitter exile as mothers and fathers, sometimes even just one or the other, risked their lives in Concentration Camps and Soviet Gulags to perform this sacred ritual with their precious newborn, hidden from the prying eyes of our worst enemies.

There was something raw, pure, holy and mystical… sitting alone in the room, holding this beautiful newborn child on my lap, his doting mother crouched at his side holding his hand and soothing his tears, as our dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg, gently performed the Bris, bringing our newborn son in to the ancient heritage of our people. It felt like the room was filled with guests, as the generations before us came and celebrated together with us, in the shadow of an ugly virus spreading across the globe.

The ancient circumcision ritual of our ancestors preparation for their journey to Sinai three thousand years ago when “all flesh was healed,” was now casting a protective glow over our quiet celebration in the absence of our many beloved friends who couldn’t join us because they needed to protect their life – as Torah tells us that this precedes all other considerations in Jewish law.

The indomitable faith of Zeesy’s great-grandfather Reb Elchononon Shagalov – who was killed by the KGB for the crime of ignoring the communist regimes attempts to outlaw his profession as a Mohel, as he risked (and ultimately gave) his life for the Mitzvah to bring hundreds of babies and adults into the covenant of Avraham Avinu – was now replacing his dozens of South African grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who surely would have been with us in Blouberg for this special moment.

And the pure joy of an intimate Shabbat lunch shared with our beloved nuclear family, with songs, reflections, and of course our precious guest of honour, little Shlomo Shneur Zalman, felt like a genuine Seudas Mitzvah, without all the frills, as the joy and celebration remained faithful to its original holiest intent, the absence of Facebook Live or even Zoom, not withstanding. Yes, we are grateful to Hashem that before Shabbos Bubby and Zeidy Deren joined our many friends and family for our pre Shabbos virtual Shalom Zachor and gave blessings through the screen, and that after Shabbos Bubby and Zeidy Goldman joined in from Johannesburg with Bubby Goldman sharing stories of her father, Rabbi Shlomo Shneur Zalman Kazen whose name our son carries.

And with that we are most grateful to Hashem for His timeless blessings, the gift of a new healthy child that we were entrusted to raise to Torah Chuppah and Good Deeds, the joy of his enamoured siblings, the ability to raise them all together in that path, and the eternal truth that no lockdown or virus was able to take that away from us.

“Our Sages relate that when the prophet Elijah complained to God that the Israelites were no longer observing the precept of circumcision, Hashem replied, “They will continue to circumcise their sons…and you will be present to observe every bris.” To this very day a special chair is set aside at a bris for the prophet and he is invited to “stand on the right side” of the mohel “and support” him. I felt the presence of the great prophet very tangibly at the brit milah of Shlomo Shneeur Zalman, the son of my dear friends Rabbi Asher and Zeesy Deren.” – RABBI MATTHEW LIEBENBERG (Rabbi #2 – The Mohel)

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