Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
On erev Shabbos Parshas Bo, a Far Rockaway resident decided to bring a gift for his friend’s shalom zachar. He spent 35 minutes on the round-trip delivery route. The newborn’s dad was grateful for his friend’s effort but said, “I’m Sefardi. We don’t make shalom zachars. We make a Brit Yitzchak.” Is there any connection between a shalom zachar, celebrated Friday night, and a Brit Yitzchak, which is a meal the night before the bris? Does it make sense to say, “We don’t make shalom zachars. We make a Brit Yitzchak instead”? Based on a Tosfos studied recently, it actually does! The Gemara (Bava Kama 80a) relates that Rav, Shmuel, and Rav Assi visited either a bris milah or a Yeshua HaBen. What is a Yeshua HaBen? Yeshua means saving or salvation. Rashi opines it is a pidyon haben. The words saving and redemption are related. Tosfos disagrees. Tosfos suggests that a Yeshua HaBen is a party to thank Hashem and celebrate the fact that the mother and the baby survived childbirth. There is no source for making a shalom zachar in the Gemara. However, the Terumas HaDeshen suggests that this Tosfos and his explanation of the Gemara is the source for making a shalom zachar. In fact, now we know what the purpose of the shalom zachar is! It is to thank Hashem for the health of the baby and the mother. The Rema codifies this Terumas HaDeshen as practical halacha and says there is a custom to make a shalom zachar. It is interesting to note that according to this explanation, the shalom zachar can be made even if the baby is not present. The family members can still thank Hashem that everyone is well. The Noda BeYehuda disagrees with this explanation of Tosfos.
After all, if the seudah is to thank Hashem that the baby survived childbirth, why does Tosfos imply the seudah is only made for the birth of boys? Therefore, the Noda BeYehuda says that while it is true that the seudah is to thank Hashem, it is only made in conjunction with the bris milah. Therefore, the seudah is made specifically the night before the bris. One possible answer for the Terumas HaDeshen is that indeed there is a mitzvah to make a seudah for the birth of a girl as well. Indeed, many people often make a kiddush to thank Hashem. However, for a boy, there is a time constraint. The seudah thanking Hashem should be made before the bris milah. We want the father to have the proper feelings and emotions during the bris. Therefore, the custom developed to have the celebration on the Friday night before the bris. However, there is no strict timeframe to make the celebration to thank Hashem for the birth of a girl. Rebbe Simlai (Nida 30b) says that a fetus learns the entire Torah while in its mother womb. However, when the child is born, an angel hits the child on its mouth and it forgets everything. Many commentators are puzzled by this passage. What is the purpose of teaching the baby Torah only to have it forget it? When the child forgets the Torah, it creates a vacuum. When the baby is born, it will have a thirst for Torah knowledge. This gives the child an inner drive to learn Torah to help him combat his evil inclination that fights so hard against Torah study. The Gemara in Megillah says that if a person states, “I exerted and found [Torah],” believe him. The point of the Gemara is that mastery of Torah is acquired through much effort. It is not possible to truly understand Torah with superficial application. The child needs the added boost of the vacuum to give him to impetus to master Torah. It is interesting to note the choice of words used in the passage.
The Gemara states, “I exerted and found” not “I exerted and acquired.” “Found” implies something one had before. This fits well with the Gemara in Niddah. The baby learned the entire Torah in the womb; he is now finding what he lost. The Maharshal suggests that this is the reason for a shalom zachar. The infant had the whole Torah, but it was taken from him. We visit the new baby to comfort him on his loss. The Derisha says that this may also be a hidden reason behind why the bris is performed on the eighth day. The Torah wants us to wait after seven days of mourning are completed for the loss of the baby’s Torah. Further, this explains the custom of serving lentils or chickpeas at a shalom zachor, because they are a food for mourners. Following these ideas, Rav Yaakov Emden suggests that the term “zachor” in shalom zachor actually refers to remembering and not to a male child as is commonly assumed. The idea behind the shalom zachor is that we want the baby to start remembering Torah concepts that he forgot. Resting on Shabbos and the divrei Torah at the shalom zachor will begin this process of reminding the baby of the Torah that he lost. Shabbos is an apropos time for remembering Torah, as we fulfill the mitzvah of “zachor” by reciting Kiddush. Rav Yaakov Emden suggests that perhaps this is the reason that a shalom zachor is only made for a boy, because only a boy is taught the entire Torah in the womb. According to this explanation, it would seem that if the baby is not present, a shalom zachar should not be made. Common custom does not follow this ruling.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.