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My Speech at my Son's Bris
(Here is part of my speech at my newborn son's bris this past Sunday, and an extract from the Powerpoint presentation. In the next post, I will discuss and explain the seemingly anti-rationalist approach that we took regarding metzitzah, and explain why it is not anti-rationalist after all.)
Our newborn son, Menachem Asher, has gotten off to an auspicious start in life. He seems determined to make life easy for his parents. He popped out into the world earlier than expected, on the first night of Chanukah, thereby making things much easier in terms of making arrangements for the kids while we went to hospital. And having a bris on the eighth day of Chanukah takes all the effort out of coming up with a dvar Torah.
Of course, one can speak about the significance of the number eight for both Chanukah and Bris Milah. Seven symbolizes creation and the natural world. Eight represents rising above the natural order. Greek culture idolized the natural world, the human form and the natural order. Antiochus prohibited circumcision under penalty of death. Bris milah represents the idea of Jews rising above the natural order. But I would like to speak about a different aspect of Chanukah which ties in to the name and namesake of our son.
As I explain at length in my forthcoming Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, there is a certain animal that is integral to Chanukah. It’s not the elephant; it’s the leopard, which symbolized Greece in Daniel’s prophetic vision of the Four Kingdoms. The leopard’s trait is azzus, brazenness, which represents Alexander of Macedonia’s brazen expansion of his empire. However, there is no such thing as a negative trait. Brazenness can also be used for the good; as it says in Avos, “Be as brazen as a leopard to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” The positive manifestation of brazenness is to stand up for what’s right and not to be intimidated by those who mock or persecute you. The Maccabees used brazenness for the good in fighting for the Jewish people without being intimidated by the Greeks.
Our son is named after his grandfather, my father, whose Hebrew name was Menachem Asher. He was a ba'al teshuvah, a brilliant scientist and a pillar of the community, but what I would like to speak about is the trait that he shared with the Maccabees.
My father was not the kind of person that you would think of as being brazen. He was very quiet, shy, good-natured and mild-mannered. But he exemplified the positive aspect of azzus. He possessed incredible integrity, and he would do what his conscience told him to be the right thing regardless of whether it was popular. In Manchester he voted Labor, which he did because he felt it was kinder to the poor. To give some indication of how much this was going against the popular trend in the Jewish community, consider that many years later in Israel when he met a Mancunian and they were trying to figure out if they knew each other, the person finally said, “Oh, I know who you are – you’re that person who voted Labor!”
When my father started working at Machon Lev he realized that it was missing something that universities in England had - a safety officer who would be responsible for enforcing safety protocols. Needless to say, this did not make him the most popular person in the college. But he did it because he knew it was important.
I hope that my father’s legacy will live on through my newborn son. I hope that he will be good-natured and mild-mannered – but that he will stand firm to always do the right thing.