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, like I am doing today with my three-year old grandson Shimon was was born three years ago on Lag B'Omer, 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 18. 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 of last year, 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.
Maybe the reason kids nowadays don't respect their parents is because they learn in school that their great grandparents were orangutans.
Tonight (Monday night) is Passover Seder night. Seder night is a family affair when children, parents, grandparents and great grandparents get together to refresh our awareness that we are descended from holy ancestors whom Hashem delivered from bondage in Egypt. The more we go back in time, the closer we get to our monumentally holy great grandparents. That's why we have so much regard for previous generations. A joyous and kosher Pesach! Have a look:
The Gemara (tractate Sanhedrin 97b) says that the Nation of Israel (aka the Jewish People) will be redeemed as soon as they make teshuva, in other words, return to Hashem and the ways of His Torah. The Gemara then asks, what happens if the Nation of Israel doesn't make teshuva? Rebbe Yehoshua answers that if Israel doesn't make teshuva, then Hashem places them under the influence of a wicked king whose evil decrees are as severe as Haman's, and then they make teshuva.
We cannot fathom The Almighty's love for us and His infinite mercy. Despite the fact that we haven't made Teshuva from Love, which is what we need to do in order to be redeemed, and despite the fact that our own misdeeds put us under the boot of each generation's wicked kings, Hashem has made an eternal promise to deliver us from their hands. That's the V'hi She'amda prayer that we recite each year in the Haggada.
Let me share with you something additional about Hashem's love for His people: The Heavenly Altar and Throne is known as Upper Jerusalem; it is situated directly above Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is known in the Zohar, Midrash, and Gemara as Lower Jerusalem. Hashem refuses to dwell in Upper Jerusalem until His permanent dwelling on earth - the Holy Temple - will be rebuilt in Lower Jerusalem (see Gemara tractate Taanit 5a, Midrash Tehillim 122, Vilna Gaon's elaboration of Zohar, Safra DeTzniuta, ist Chapter). Many evil world leaders are denying our right to the area of our own Holy Temple. Once again, we have no cause to be angry at them, for as soon as we make real teshuva, they will crumble. But, until we make teshuva, those evil leaders should be forewarned that by disenfranchising Israel from what they call East Jerusalem, they are in effect trying to disenfranchise The Almighty. Cherished brothers and sisters, that won't happen, period.
Hashem has no gratification by forcing us to make teshuva. When we strengthen our emuna and seek Hashem on our own accord, we sanctify His Holy Name. Let's wake up, beloved brothers and sisters. It's either nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles or emuna books and CDs; the choice is ours. Now you can understand why Emuna Outreach is working so hard to spread emuna around the globe - Rav Shalom Arush says that every emuna book or CD neutralizes one ballistic missile. When Moshiach comes, he'll show us all how emuna saved lives; the Gemara says that anyone who saves one life is considered as if he or she saved an entire world.
V'hi She'amda is a Passover song whose words come from the Haggada. It conveys a very timely message for the Jewish people: He who stood by our forefathers stands by us to deliver us from the hands of our enemies in every generation.
One of Jewish music's favorite sons, Yonatan Razael, wrote a beautiful melody for this song, which he sings here with the king of Jewish singers, my very special friend Yaacov Shwekey. You'll get shivers up your spine and tears in your eyes listening to them. We're sure you'll enjoy this musical treat as much as we do. G-d willing, we'll be singing this same melody on the Brody seder table this coming Monday night. Meanwhile, have a wonderful Shabbat HaGadol and Pesach!
Important Pre-Pesach notice: Sadness and depression are the two worst forms of spiritual chometz. They have no place in our house or in our hearts! If all the pre-Pesach work is getting you down, G-d forbid, go have a look at Matzo Man - this is one of our perennial favorites:
Yanush doesn't talk much. No one knows much about him. He's a Holocaust survivor and he speaks Yiddish with a Polish accent, and he's one of the needy people who hangs around the back alleys of downtown Jerusalem living off of scraps that he gleans from the back doors of restaurants. Nobody knows where Yanush lives or if he has a place to live at all. People look at him with condescending tolerance, for after all, Yanush is a part of the local scenery. But people forget - Yanush is human, and a Jewish soul. Sure, he hasn't bathed in a while and he's not the type of guest that a family would relish having at their Passover Seder. So what is he supposed to do? Have Seder in the gutter? Or in the foyer of some dilapidated building slated for demolition?
You'd be surprised that are a lot of "Yanushes" in Jerusalem. They live in places where you wouldn't allow your poodle to sleep in. They barely have bread and water, and they can't afford heat in the winter. Seder Pesach? To them, it's a dream. Matzot and wine? Are you kidding?
At the beginning of our Seder, we say kol dichfin - "Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need of a Passover Seder, let him come and celebrate with us." Do you really mean that? It's no joke. Who has the gall to lie to Hashem on Passover Night at the Seder Table?
Is your home open to the Yanushes of the world? I know - there are no Yanushes in Silver Spring, Golders Green, Southfield or Bal Harbor. But there are plenty of them in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Shalom Arush, his dedicated wife Rebbetzen Miriam Arush and the Chut Shel Chesed Yeshiva and Institutions feed poor people all year long. But especially on Passover, they make sure that they'll have everything they need for not only for Seder Night but for all of Passover. Rav Shalom cares so much about the dignity of every Jew that he even buys shoes for the destitute. And, he does all this without a cent of government support. You can't imagine how much this costs.
Rabbi Shalom invites you to be his partner in the Kimcha D'Piskha, or "Flour for Pesach" fund. By your sponsoring at least one needy person, you'll be able to say kol dichfin with truth and dignity, for your sponsorship is just like having a "Yanush" at your Seder table, or better yet, as your guest for all of Passover.
Hashem has compassion on those who have compassion for others. You can't imagine the importance and magnitude of feeding the poor on Passover. Don't miss this opportunity - please make your generous donation online here, or call 972-2-532-3339.