Last week we heard from a woman who related that she and her husband raised her younger siblings after their parents died. After lovingly incurring half the expenses for her youngest brother’s wedding to a girl whose father has also passed away, she and her husband were delighted when the young couple told them they were expecting and asked her husband to be sandak. Yet, at the brit, her brother asked his wife’s family rabbi to serve as sandak. The rabbi had told them that since neither parent has a father, it was only proper for him to serve as sandak. The reader was mystified how the rabbi could have so easily disregarded the love and dedication she and her husband extended to her brother.
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The reader last week who told of the slight her husband suffered at her nephew’s brit is not the only one who e-mailed us about a perceived insult at a brit. One person wrote that his son rescinded an invitation to serve as sandak at his grandson’s brit. The son said his rabbi maintained that it would improper for him to accept this honor since he had already served as sandak many years before at the brit of one of the infant’s older brothers. Though he accepted his son’s explanation, it is obvious that he remains bothered by the matter and has not received closure.
First, I would like to address all the readers who e-mailed us about their hurtful experiences: You must find it in your heart to forgive and move on. There are so many wrongs that we do against our Creator, but we don’t hesitate to beseech Him for forgiveness, which He readily offers every year during the Holy Days of Awe.
I am reminded of an address that I heard many years ago at a convention of Agudath Israel of America, where Rav Avraham Pam zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, was the keynote speaker. Rav Pam argued that we must be good with others and careful not to be too quick to judge. Look at II Samuel 11-12, he said. In rebuking King David for marrying Batsheva, wife of Uriah, the prophet Natan told David a story about two individuals, one exceedingly wealthy with vast flocks and the other destitute with but one small sheep to his name. The wealthy person did not wish to slaughter any of his own sheep to serve a guest, so he seized his neighbor’s sole sheep instead. No sooner had the prophet related this story that King David, in fury, blurted out: “ben mavet ha’ish ha’oseh zot – deserving of death is one who does such a thing.” Natan replied: “ata ha’ish – you are that man.”
Rav Pam explained that in his rush to judge another, King David pronounced his own judgment. From this, we can learn that even rabbis can make mistakes. My rosh yeshiva at Mir, the late Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz, zt”l, was known to address students embarking on their first foray outside the beit midrash to a new shteller – a new position – with the following: “Do you remember the four chelkei [sections of the] Shulchan Aruch?” After an affirmative answer, he would ask: “And what about the fifth chelek?” When asked what that was, Rav Kalmanowitz would reply: “how to deal with people.”
A rabbi, or anyone in a community position, has to take care never to do anything to anyone that can be construed as unseemly. For to do so may not only cause a chillul Hashem but may be hurtful to that individual or a family member. Indeed, the rabbi or community leader may quickly move on, but the slighted individual will remember the hurt and, in many cases, relive it for years to come.
We cited from Rabbi Enkin’s sefer that there are many who maintain that one may serve as sandak more than once for the same family. We further noted that since the mitzvah of milah is one of those mitzvot incumbent upon the father, the honor of sandika’ot (as well as any other mitzvah related to the brit) is totally within the province of the father to offer to anyone he pleases and no one should make that decision for him – no less usurp the mitzvah for himself.