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Friday
Jan232015

THE SHLICHUS OF BRINGING JEWS INTO THE COVENANT OF AVROHOM AVINU

This week we read Parshas Bo, which describes the birth of the Jewish People as a nation on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt in the merit of the blood from the two mitzvos they were given, Korban Pesach and bris mila. To this day, bris mila is a mitzva that is still observed by many Jews, even those who are not yet fully observant in other areas. Beis Moshiach spoke to three Lubavitcher mohalim about their work and how it impacts the parents and extended families.

Dozens of guests filled the small hall somewhere in central Israel to celebrate the bris mila of the baby born to the young couple. The Lubavitcher mohel, RAvrohom Chaviv of Yerushalayim, wearing his white mohel coat, began to sing, as he usually did, and asked for the baby to be brought in.

The baby was passed from one to the next and reached the experienced mohel, when suddenly one of the uncles of the parents of the baby, a man about 65 years of age, walked quickly over to R’ Chaviv, glared at him, and stood between him and the chair of Eliyahu. His hands were folded over his chest, his fists were balled up, and as he blocked the mohel’s way he screamed, “What they did to me 65 years ago I won’t allow to be done to this baby.”

There was silence in the hall. R’ Chaviv waited for a family member to intervene, remove the interfering uncle and let the ceremony continue. But nobody moved. Whispering could be heard here and there. Apparently, this was not altogether a surprise. “The truth is that at an earlier meeting they warned me about the attitude of the extended family toward Judaism, but I had not expected a scene like this,” said R’ Chaviv.

All eyes were on the mohel. They seemed more curious about his reaction than about the bris of the baby.

“I was in shock,” says R’ Chaviv, “but I knew that I had to do something immediately. I gave the baby to one of the parents and announced that we were having a break in the ceremony and everyone was asked to be seated.

“They all sat down around the tables and I began lecturing. I repeated sichos of the Rebbe about bris mila and spoke about the world being created in a complete fashion, except for the oral, which Hashem left on man’s body so that parents can be partners with Hashem in man’s creation. When a bris mila is done, I said, the parents bring their son to his completion and thus become partners with Hashem in creation.

“Then I went on to describe the process of circumcision, and I said that it is medically helpful and prevents a number of diseases that the uncircumcised can suffer from. I said that today in Africa children are routinely circumcised, and that a very high percentage of babies in the free world undergo a procedure similar to bris mila for hygienic reasons. Then I began talking about the eighth day and about the physiological development of the baby on the eighth day which helps it heal.

“I continued speaking, on and on, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the uncle moving away from the chair of Eliyahu and slowly moving toward the edge of the hall. I finished my lecture and announced that now we would be doing the bris mila ceremony. The crowd rose, the uncle stayed off in a distant corner, and we got started as though nothing untoward had occurred just half an hour before.”

Many years passed since Hashem commanded Avrohom to circumcise all males. Since then, the Jewish people have faithfully kept this mitzva. Even in eras or families where other mitzvos were not observed as punctiliously or at all, bris mila has a place of honor.

The skilled practice of circumcision has been preserved and transmitted from one generation to the next. Wherever Jews have lived, there has always been a mohel nearby who performed the circumcisions and transmitted the craft to the next generation so it would not be forgotten.

***

We spoke to three Lubavitcher mohalim and asked them about their work, about the sense of mission, and the additional quality they bring with them as Lubavitchers.

TREMENDOUS INFLUENCE

One of the most famous, veteran mohalim in Eretz Yisroel is R’ Menachem Fleischman of Rechovos. To many, “Fleischman” is synonymous with “bris mila.” He has nearly forty years’ experience of doing brissin among all kinds of people.

R’ Fleischman has a friendly face, is well-spoken, and has personal charisma that makes one connect to him immediately. He is gifted with a sweet and powerful voice that brought him indirectly to work in this field.

“About forty years ago,” he relates, “I was a chazan in the big shul in Rechovos where R’ Elimelech Stein was the shochet and mohel. He approached me when I was recently married and had started working as a teacher.

“R’ Stein was used to the chazan of a k’hilla also serving as the mohel and shochet, as it was done in Europe. Since in modern day Eretz Yisroel it is not necessary for every k’hilla to have a shochet, he began talking to me about learning mila from him.

“He was not a Chabad Chassid, but I told him that I don’t make a move without asking the Rebbe. I wrote to the Rebbe and asked about my future and presented learning mila as an option.”

The Rebbe’s answer was, “Your consideration to learn the skilled craft of mila is correct and may Hashem grant you success.” 

Young R’ Fleischman threw himself into the study of mila with R’ Stein and later with R’ Shlomo Miller and began serving as a mohel. He later merited additional acknowledgments from the Rebbe about his work as a mohel when he went for dollars, and he even received a letter from the Rebbe in which the Rebbe added in his own handwriting, “Hatzlacha in your holy work and in general.”

Aside from his work as a mohel, R’ Fleischman is also a district supervisor of mohalim for the Israeli chief rabbinate, and he also teaches mila to the next generation of mohalim.

As a Chabad Chassid, R’ Fleischman considers his work a shlichus in every respect. His excellent reputation enables him to regularly meet with a variety of people in Israeli society and in the Jewish world in general. He is even invited to do brissin in various countries. He says that a mohel who considers his work a shlichus and approaches it correctly can have a decisive influence on the family even down the road.

“Lately, sad to say, there is a trend to have circumcisions done by doctors. Some of them are not even religiously observant and it is not certain that they are doing the circumcision according to tradition. So when a religious G-d fearing mohel shows up, and explains and includes and reassures and acts professionally and pleasantly at the same time, he makes an enormous Kiddush Hashem. Word gets around, people talk. A mohel like that can, with one bris, change the opinion of another ten couples who will circumcise their son with a G-d fearing mohel and not a doctor.”

STARTING
WITH THE CHILDREN

R’ Avrohom Chaviv of Yerushalayim is known among the French speaking Jews of Eretz Yisroel. He serves as a shliach and rav at a Chabad House for French Jews in Yerushalayim, and is also an expert mohel with twenty-five years of experience.

Despite his graying red beard, he is quite youthful. His speech is quiet and captivating and seems to fit perfectly with his piercing blue eyes. Whether he is performing a bris or leading a farbrengen or giving a lecture, he radiates a level of energy that is hard to withstand and his charisma sweeps up the crowd and touches them on the deepest levels.

R’ Chaviv has a medical background, since in his youth he started medical school in Marseilles in southern France. But his studies ended when he decided to make aliya. His involvement in the field of circumcision actually began at home.

“I was always interested in it. I knew that there are details in the mila process which the Halacha demands and which many mohalim bypass or abbreviate. When I attended brissin, I always stayed close to the mohel to see how he did the bris and I noticed that many of them are not particular about all the details.

“When our first son was born, I decided I would circumcise him myself so that everything would be done properly. I contacted R’ Yehuda Gayat who was one of the famous mohalim in Yerushalayim and considered an expert with an international reputation. I told him what I wanted to do. He came, explained exactly what I had to do, stood at my side, and scrutinized every move I made while I myself did the actual bris. The first bris was a success and I continued with my other children. After circumcising my first three sons, I decided to seriously study the profession. I learned by R’ Yehuda Gayat and R’ Shlomo Mahpoud, both known as experts. I later also received my legal certification at the Asaf HaRofeh hospital.”

A DIVINE CALLING

Unlike the first two mohalim, R’ Menachem Mendel Cohen, or as he is nicknamed in his place of shlichus in Tel Aviv, HaRav Mendy, represents the young generation of mohalim. He is 37 and has nearly ten years of experience.

In addition to his work as a mohel, R’ Mendy is a shliach in the Neve Eliezer and Neve Chein neighborhoods in eastern Tel Aviv on the border of Ramat Gan.

“A decade ago, I was at the Kinus HaShluchim when I suddenly felt a strong desire to be a mohel. I simply felt the desire to bring baby boys into the covenant of Avrohom Avinu.

“I wrote to the Rebbe and asked for a bracha for outstanding success in this. That same day, I met a shliach who is a relative and who asked about my shlichus. I was a young, new shliach at the time and he asked me why I didn’t study mila and perform circumcisions among my mekuravim in Tel Aviv.

“I told him about the thought I had during the Kinus. I told him I was starting shlichus and did not have the means to study this profession which was very costly. A few days later he told me that he shared our conversation with a number of relatives and they decided to join together and cover the costs of my learning mila.”

With his family’s support, R’ Cohen tackled the study of mila with R’ Assouline of Hadera and when he completed the intensive course, he was ordained as an expert mohel.

“I am extremely grateful to the legendary mohel, R’ Menachem Fleischman. I attached myself to him and he patiently explained everything to me and was always gracious. I learned the practical side of things from him, which is worth a fortune, and that is why I owe him so much.

“I am also indebted to R’ Tzvi Hirsch Junik of Nachalat Har Chabad with whom I consult about any question I have. He is a mohel for twenty years and always answers my questions pleasantly.”

R’ Cohen is sought after among the shluchim and their mekuravim. A bris mila celebration that a shliach makes is not a private affair. It is a community Chabad House event, and R’ Mendy is the right person for this sort of event.

MOHEL – A SHLIACH IN EVERY RESPECT

The common denominator among the three Lubavitcher mohalim is the feeling of shlichus. They each consider their profession as a way to enter the hearts of families and have an impact on them.

“I consider mila a central tool in my work of shlichus,” says R’ Cohen. “Through mila I am mekarev so many people to Torah and mitzvos. The bris mila ceremony, beyond the bris itself, is an opportunity to explain things and get to know the family. The relationship with the parents often lasts for years because they consider me their personal rabbi. As a shliach I try to develop the relationship in the best possible way.”

“With us, every family that invites me to do a bris and is not religious is automatically entered into a list of mekuravim,” says R’ Chaviv. “That means they will get matza for Pesach, mishloach manos on Purim, and honey before the Yomim Nora’im. It becomes a long-term relationship.”

We asked the three mohalim to tell us special stories and moving experiences that they’ve had in their years in the field.

“I once went into a house to perform a bris,” says R’ Fleischman. “I went over to an older man with a white beard who was standing with the family, held out my hand and said, ‘Mazal tov, Zeide.’ He smiled and said, ‘I’m not the grandfather. I’m the father.’ He was 60 and this was his one and only son.”

R’ Fleischman told of another bris that was particularly moving and sad. “A young woman called me and asked me to come and circumcise her son. We arranged a time and place. Two days before the bris, the father called and said his wife had died of a virulent infection. He asked whether the bris should be done as planned or postponed. Of course I told him that the bris needs to be done on the eighth day. The bris took place on time and was one of the brissin I will never forget.”

BETWEEN THE GEFILTE FISH AND THE CHULENT

“One Shabbos, our family sat down to the Shabbos day meal when we heard loud knocking at the door,” recounted R’ Mendy Cohen. “At the door were the two sons-in-law of R’ Motty Gal a”h, the shliach of Ramat Gan.

“R’ Gal was sick already and we were afraid to hear the worst, but they had something else to say. They said that one of the mekuravim, who lived in Kfar HaMaccabia, had reserved a famous mohel from B’nei Brak to perform the bris of his son on Shabbos morning. The mohel arrived along with his grandson at the appointed time and was very impatient. When he heard that the mother was nursing the baby and the baby was not ready for the bris, he left his young grandson to perform the bris and he left.

“The mother refused to allow the young grandson to perform the bris. She holed herself up in her room, crying. The family did not know what to do. They told the Gal family that they were stuck without a mohel. R’ Gal’s sons-in-law, who were there, quickly set out walking to me, a distance that took about an hour, without even knowing my exact address.

“In the end, they came to me. I said goodbye to my family, took my instruments and the three of us walked to Ramat Gan to do the bris. When we arrived, it was already after three o’clock, there was nothing left of the seudas mitzva and most of the people had left.

“We performed the bris and the three of us tried to make it a happy occasion. The parents finally got into the swing of things and it was an unforgettable bris. The family is still in touch with us.”

Another story from Ramat Gan:

“One day, I got a phone call from R’ Benny Kali, a neighboring shliach in Ramat Gan. He told me that the welfare office in Ramat Gan contacted him about a woman whose husband left her and ran away to Russia. She was left in a very difficult financial situation and her two month old son was not yet circumcised since she did not have money to pay a mohel. She tried to contact mohalim, but when they heard her situation they refused to offer their services.

“I told him that each passing day was an issur kareis and I said they should come to the Chabad House immediately. Within a few hours the mother and baby came, accompanied by R’ Kali who was the sandak. We brought refreshments and that day, in the Chabad House, another Jewish child entered the covenant of Avrohom Avinu.”

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