The "Challakeh" ceremony is when a Jewish child receives his first haircut at the age of three.
The age of 3 marks a turning point in a toddler's life. Shedding the long locks of babyhood helps little boys look forward to their new "big boy" responsibilities. Gone are the days of bottle, diaper and nestling in Mommy's arms. A 3-year-old boy is ready to receive "payis", his side curls, a "kipa" (skullcap), and "tztitzis", the ritual fringes that every male Jew is commanded to wear. With his new haircut, kipa, payis, and tzitzis, the little fellow of 3 is ready to move up to the world of friends, school and formal Torah education. He will learn blessings, prayers and the Hebrew alphabet. Yes - we begin teaching our little boys to read at the age of 3.
Cutting his hair makes a strong emotional impression on the child. He knows he is entering a new stage of maturity, a fact that helps him live up to his new role and responsibilities.
Numerous families celebrate the "challakeh" at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, in Miron, Israel, and cut the child's hair near the cave where he lived and later died. Others prefer to take the child to a yeshiva or to their own rabbi - preferably a scholar and a pious man, because the "upsherin", or actual 1st haircut, should be done in a holy place and by a righteous person. Oftentimes, before the child gets his final haircut, first the scissors go from hand to hand while family, friends and rabbis take turns snipping. The first cut is at the spot where tefillin will be placed.
In Israel, this custom is closely associated with Lag B'Omer, which this year is today, May 3. It's an incredibly joyous scene as hundreds of 3-year-old boys receive their first haircut at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai. Because this custom is tied into Kabbalistic thought concerning the spirituality of hair, many put off the ceremony until Lag B'Omer. Following their haircuts, the children each get a plastic Aleph-Bet card, with honey smeared on each letter. Parents then encourage their little ones to lick the honey while saying each letter, so that Torah should be "sweet on their tongues."
Above image: A Brody grandson in Meron on Lag B'Omer a few years ago, moments before his first haircut. A hearty mazal-tov to all of us who will be making "Challakehs" for our 3-year olds today - may we have all the sweetness and joy in the world, and see our children and grandchildren growing in health of body and spirit, amen.