“And on the eighth day you shall circumcise his flesh (Vayikra 12:3)
When a child receives a bris milah, two blessings are recited. Immediately before the circumcision, the mohel recites “Al Mitzvas Milah – On the Commandant of Milah” and right after the father recites “LiHachniso B’Bris – To Enter Him Into a Bris.”
The Levush explains that these are two very different berachos. The mohel, representing the father in performing, makes the standard blessing on the mitzvah of milah. After the boy has been entered into the bris of Avraham, the father begins his role of training him to do mitzvos. As such, the father makes a blessing of thanksgiving, praising Hashem for this great opportunity to guide his son.
This explanation, though, is difficult to understand since 13 years later the father is obligated to make a blessing that conveys the very opposite message: “Boruch Shepatrini – Blessed be you, Hashem, who has freed me from this burden.” Until that point, the father was halachically obligated to train his son to do mitzvos. If the son failed, it was the father’s responsibility. Now that the young man has reached maturity, it is now his responsibility, not the father’s. This removal of responsibility is such a relief that the father is required to make a blessing – again a blessing of thanksgiving, but seemingly of an opposite sentiment. So is the father’s role a privilege to be celebrated or a heavy burden to be relieved of?
The answer to this question can be understood with a parable. Imagine you hear about a man who showed up to work drunk. Initially you’re quite critical of him, but then you hear the rest of the story and your opinion softens. As it turns out, one of his children is quite ill. For years, he’s been taking off from work to take his son for treatments. As a result, the family finances have been suffering, and because of all the stress, his marriage is on the rocks. In short, he’s going through a rough time, he’s been drinking more than he should be, and he showed up to work high.
“Okay, listen,” you say to yourself, “not the most noble of things to do – but in context, it’s understandable.”
Until you find out that he’s a pilot, and because he showed up to work drunk, he crashed a fully-loaded 747 into the ocean, killing 400 passengers. Now there is no tolerance, because for certain jobs there is no room to “have a bad day.”
This is a parable of life. Hashem took us from under His throne of glory and put us into a body to give us a chance to grow, to accomplish and to change our essence. But, it wasn’t just us we were charged with perfecting. Chazal tell us that each person is obligated to say, “The entire world was created for me” – because Hashem would have created an entire world just for him.
The sun the moon, the planets, the entire cosmos were brought into being to serve man. If man uses the world properly, he accomplishes his goal, and the world itself is elevated having served the purpose for which it was created. If man squanders his time, the world itself is diminished. As such, the world itself is dependent upon man.
We have each been gifted with being the center and reason for all of creation. And while it is an astounding opportunity, it also a grave responsibility: I am the pilot of my life. Whether I steer this plane straight up to the sky, or crash it into the ground, is based on my choices and my decisions. If I reach my potential, I will be greater than the angels; if I fail, I will be lower than the animals created to serve me.
Now let’s return to the seemingly contradictory berachos a father says. One of the greatest joys in life is having children, and part of that joy comes from the responsibility of caring for this little person. It is, however, a formidable charge – to be responsible for the physical, psychological, educational, moral, and religious needs of a child and to guide him to become the great human being he was destined to be. It is nothing short of daunting.
When a father enters his son into the covenant of Avraham, he should feel both emotions: great joy at the opportunity ahead and recognition of the gravity of his mission. Both feelings are correct, and both need to be there. Without the joy, a person would never be able to shoulder the responsibility, and without the recognition of the gravity of the charge, a person could never experience the joy of being given that opportunity. Then 13 years later, at the bar mitzvah the father again gives a blessing of thanksgiving, this time thanking Hashem for removing the grave obligation – hopefully having discharged his responsibility as best he could.
While having a child is instinctively a joyous occasion, the more people understand the role of parents and their responsibilities, the better equipped they are to look at their child with the one guiding focus of proper parenting: What is the best I can do for this child?