Three distinct values are celebrated at a bris. We gather to celebrate the miracle of a new life entering the world. There is nothing more miraculous than a newborn baby. Those present are asked to affirm that some things in this world happen not because of human cleverness and ingenuity, but because of a divine miracle. No matter a person’s theological beliefs, seeing a newborn baby can stir feelings of the miraculous in our midst. Every religious tradition has its own way of celebrating the miracle of new life, and Judaism is no exception.
We also celebrate the blessing of family and parenthood. We should never take for granted the sharing of wisdom and love between the generations that enriches our lives. A highlight of the bris ceremony is the naming of the child, which pays tribute to relatives from past generations. A bris also celebrates the journey of parenthood as mothers and fathers raise their child through the stages of life.
Finally, it is a celebration the miracle of the continuing story of the Jewish people. Those familiar with the history of the Jews understand that, by logic and reason, we should have disappeared from the stage of history at many different points in time. But we didn’t. Here we are, the tiny Jewish people, continuing our way in the world, still making huge contributions to human civilization, and thriving in a land of our own. How is that possible? Our continued existence is nothing less than a miracle enabled by parents in each generation who affirm their determination to continue our story. That is something that should be acknowledged and celebrated.
These values are given symbolic expression by circumcision, our people’s oldest continuously practiced ritual. No other ritual in Jewish life has been performed for as long in an unbroken chain of tradition. At a bris, it is done as a symbol of our unyielding, adamant determination to continue our story in each new generation.
Rabbi Cooper has been a Mohel for 30 years and is active in New Jersey and New York.