Eitan's Simchat Ben
Welcome to our welcoming ceremony for Eitan. It's not a Brit Milah; that still awaits him. But we want to celebrate his arrival now (in part, lest we imply by waiting that there is no cause for a simha until he is declared Jewish). We’re proud to call Eitan our son and delighted to share our joy in him with you today.
There are few resources for welcoming a not-yet-converted child so we have done our best to invent a ceremony that works. Your participation as a קהל—as our community—will be an important part of giving our ceremony meaning.
We begin today with Noah and some blessings with a more universal theme than those of the traditional Brit Milah service. Nonetheless, in some places we quote or evoke that liturgy as well, for there are passages that are not recited at a conversion but which we, as parents of a baby boy, want to hear. We are also using elements of Deana's Simhat Bat ceremony, after reworking its Book of Ruth theme to fit the occasion. In addition, we borrow from other welcoming ceremonies for children, adopted and otherwise. We’ll conclude with an explanation of the name איתן ינאי.
We begin with God's promise to Noah; to all of us. It's recalled in the blessing ברוך אתה ה'…זוכר הברית ונאמן בבריתו וקים במאמרו. We invoke this blessing for its promise of the continuity of the generations. Eitan represents our fulfillment of the command "פרו ורבו" (Gen. 9:1 and elsewhere; see commentaries on יורה דעה 1:1 re: adoption). Though זוכר הברית is traditionally reserved for seeing a rainbow, we mention it here, as a זכר of a זכר.
Another blessing that serves to express our gratitude is a favorite of the mara d'atra here, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman:
Blessed are You Ruler of the Universe who in goodness renews the work of creation each day
It is sobering to depart, as we did, on the eve of ,יום הזיכרון Remembrance Day, to bring back a son. Here too we take comfort in the promises to Noah. We turn to Rabbi Nahman of Breslow’s prayer for peace (abridged from the version said every week here at Kol Haneshama):
Master of Peace, Ruler to whom peace belongs, establish peace among your people Israel and may peace increase among all peoples of the world...Master of Peace, bless us with peace. Amen.
One of the sources we drew upon for today’s ceremonyi has a composite blessing that expresses our hopes that our son will be an active seeker of peace:
May Torah light your path and may your way be one of pleasantness. Shun evil and do good, love peace, pursue it, and help bring peace in the world (after Proverbs 3:7, Psalms 34:15, and Mishnah Avot 1:12).
Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light for my path (Psalm 119:105)
Our path to Eitan was not simple, but he is our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; his smile our light in the darkness. We were drawn to verses about light for we first saw the light in Eitan's eyes in a photograph around Chanukah time and he is truly an אור איתן in our lives. We pray that the light of Torah will illumine his life.
THE GREAT BESTOWER OF GOOD הטוב והמטיב
The very fact that this blessing was traditionally not said for a daughter has made it very popular for modern-day Simhat Bat ceremonies! Like many families, we say it when a second bottle of wine is brought out at the Shabbat table. Today we are saying it to share with you the joy of bringing home our second child.
III. WITNESSING התחייבות ההורים, עדות הקהל
(Parents' commitment and witnessing by the congregation)
At Deana's Simhat Bat we explained that she became part of the Jewish people with her conversion abroad but we wanted to celebrate with our community and have them add their "gushpanke." Everyone present was invited to accept her into the community as Ruth was accepted into that of Naomi and Boaz. We said "עדים אתם היום..." and you responded ".עדים"
We are asking you to be witnesses again today, but not to affirm what a בית דין said. We have no doubt that this ad hoc community welcomes Eitan, now as much as after a conversion, but even as far as כלל ישראל is concerned, there is nothing that he is obligated to do to be accepted. His future בית דין will take responsibility for asserting that גיור is to his benefit. We are the ones obligated to do everything in the coming months and years to prepare him for the day that he can himself assume מצוות. There is no reason to wait, since it is again our commitment that we are asking you to witness today. By becoming witnesses to our commitment to our child, you validate our formal welcoming of our son.
It is an awesome responsibility to be responsible for a child's material and spiritual welfare—and in addition, to feel responsible for giving him a sense of pride in his land and culture of birth. We are glad to have you backing us.
Now let's practice. When Joel points to you, you say ".עדים" We paraphrase from ספר רות.
When Boaz said on the occasion of Ruth's entering his community, "You are witnesses today, " all of the nation that was at the Gate of the Elders responded: Witnesses!
Now for the real thing.
You are witnesses today: We commit ourselves, in the name of the One who is called loving and merciful,iii to take care of this child.
You are witnesses today: We commit ourselves to enter him into the covenant of our forefather Abraham.
You are witnesses today: We commit ourselves to nurture him, sustain him, and guide him in the paths of Torah, in accordance with the duties incumbent upon Jewish parents.
שכל המלמד את בנו תורה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו למדו לו ולבנו ולבן בנו עד סוף כל הדורות
Whoever teaches their child does not teach their child alone, but also the child's descendants and so on to the end of all generations. [BT Kedushin 30a]
IV. What's in a Name?
God and God of our ancestors, sustain this child for his father and mother.
God before whom our ancestors walked, God who has been our shepherd all our lives until this day, the angel who redeemed us from all ill, bless this boy and let our names and the names of our mothers and fathers be upon him.vi
Thanks to God who is good, whose mercy endures forever.
Thanks to God who is good, whose mercy endures forever.
God of Israel, shelter in your Shechina this child Eitan Yannai who has come into our lives and strengthen our hands to raise him to Torah, to huppah, and to good deeds.v
About the Name
Eitan, formerly Bryan Otoniel, is named first for himself, as Avraham was named for Avram and Sarah for Sarai. (Likewise, our Deana began life as Diana). Bryan means "strength" and "Otniel" means God's strength. Eitan is a translation. [He gives new meaning to [חזק ואמץ A near anagram of איתן is תאנה, figvi—the name of a flowering fruit, in memory of Joel's paternal grandmother Florry. It also harks back to a theme of our wedding: "עת הזמיר הגיע," the passage from the Song of Songs that ends with "the fig tree ripens its early figs." vii
Vort [word] about: דבר תורה איתן האזרחי
Rashi and other commentators (see esp. R. Yosef Caspi on Kings I 5:1) indicate that Eitan HaEzrahi, mentioned in Kings I, was not only musically talented (as a Levite), but also a highly educated philosopher, second only to King Solomon in wisdom.
קרב יום אשר הוא לא יום ולא לילה...תאיר כאור יום חשכת לילה
Hasten the day which is neither day nor night…Brighten as with the light of day the darkness of night.
from the Haggadah (אור רוב נסים (ויהי בחצי הלילה by Rabbi Yannai (7th c.?)
Yannai, which was another candidate for the first name, retains the final syllable of Bryan. In the models of Yannai the paytan and Yannai the amora, we add learning and creativity to strength of Eitan. In English, we are spelling the name Y-A-N-N-A-I; the middle letters spell Anna, Chaia's paternal grandmother. The initial Y/י is in loving memory of Chaia's late Uncle Joe.
A Final Blessing for Eitan Yannai:
יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחנך:
ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום:
Bon Appetit! בתאבון
i "Simhat Lev: Celebrating a Birth," published by Shulamit Magnus in Lifecycles, vol. 1, Debra Orenstein (ed.), Jewish Lights, 1994, pp. 68–75.
ii From the Brit Milah liturgy.
iii The wording of this and the third commitment (in Hebrew and English) are based on language in the “Brit Immuts” found in Anita Diamant’s The NEW Jewish Baby Book—Names, Ceremonies & Customs: A Guide for Today’s Families (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993), pp. 231–32.
iv From Genesis 48:15-16, in Magnes, "Simhat Lev."
v Based on the adaption of BT Shabbat 137B and the Brit Milah liturgy in Magnes, "Simhat Lev." For הנודע לנו thanks to Avraham Leader.
vi Thanks to Tirza Hayutman and Avrum Goodblatt for finding us a flower connection.
vii As translated many years ago by the Bach sisters of Minneapolis, "the fig tree figgeth."
Used by permission of the author