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The Shalom Zachor
By Larry Fine
We all know that when a boy is born a brit is in the makings. However what is lesser known is the tradition of the Shalom Zachor. This very special custom follows the birth of a boy: the Ashkenazic Jews make a party on the first Friday night following the birth of a boy and this is called the "Shalom Zachor", whereas the Sephardic Jews make a "Brit Yitzhak" on the evening preceding the brit. There are no specific halachic (Jewish Law) rules regarding this and there is really no clear requirement for it in the Talmud yet the concept of the Shalom Zachor has become a tradition that many look forward to with simcha. The words themselves mean shalom to the zachor, the male baby.
Several suggestions as to the root of the custom have been suggested. One is that the newborn soul has eight days to wait until his brit. During these eight days the child must assimilate the divine influence from each of the seven spiritual elements which were responsible for the seven days of creation: Chesed, Gevurah, Teferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut. The last mentioned, Malchut, is the last and lowest of the spiritual influences, it is the influence through which the day of Shabbat was created and is tied up with the purpose of the creation and its perfection, similar to the brit which enables the child to grow to his perfection fulfilling his purpose in the creation.
On each day of the week the spiritual influence of that day illuminates both the spiritual and physical worlds and all that is in them. On the Shabbat, the influence of Malchut comes into the worlds and the soul of the new baby experiences the heavenly bliss of the spiritual Shabbat and its soul begins to appreciate the meaning and purpose of this world.
Now according to the Rabbis, before the child was born, while waiting in the womb of his mother to come out, he learnt all of the Torah. Just as he came out of the womb, an angel taps him on the lips and causes him to forget everything that he had learnt. This is a very sad time for the soul since the loss of all of the Torah that it had learnt is very painful to the soul.
Therefore on the Shabbat, when all men cease their work and have extra time at night, they gather in the house of the new born baby and wish the father mazel tov and comfort the new soul which is distressed from the loss of the precious Torah which it had learnt. Consequently it has become traditional to serve something similar to the meal of mourners to the guests that come to visit: garbanzo beans, which in Hebrew are called humus and in Yiddish called arbis. Garbanzo beans are round to symbolize the cycle of the soul which comes into the world and goes back to where it came from.
Humus is very simple to make. Just take a large pot of water and put the garbanzo beans in it and boil, boil, boil. It takes a long time to soften up these beans, just like it takes a long time for the soul to accomplish its job here in this world. It takes about one hour and forty-five minutes in a pressure cooker to make the garbanzo beans soft.
Once the beans are ready, add salt and black pepper to taste and serve. They taste great warm and go well with chilled beer.
from the November 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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