Rav Hayim Leiter
It's On Me
“We want it L’Mitzvah”, the father of the baby said. I’m not sure if it was my translation of Hebrew into in English or his translation of Russian into Hebrew, but I was missing something.
The mother got on the phone and explained that they were doing the Bris in the house in order to keep the costs down, and therefore they wanted it L’Mitzvah. Now I understood -- they wanted me to do the Bris for free. I responded: “This is really not a question for me, it’s a question for you. I can’t demand a wage, so you have to decide how much you are willing -- or not willing -- to pay me.”
But it was still unclear if I was ‘hired’.
When I first spoke to the father, I swore I heard him say that they lived in Kiryat Arba which is about an hour away in the West Bank. Not the safest place, but not the farthest away either. When I finally received his registration form, which is how I knew I was hired, the town listed was Kiryat Ata. I had to look it up. It’s locatednear Haifa. That’s a two hour drive without traffic. And that’s not a Bris any mohel wants to do L’Mitzvah.
The night before the Bris, the grandfather called and explained that the family did not have the money to pay me. He also generously offered to pay for my gas. The conversation then took a interesting turn and he asked me for a reference to check up on my abilities. I agreed -- was happy to oblige -- but took the opportunity to point out that the Brit Milah was tomorrow and if he didn’t like what he found, who did he think he was going to find at this hour? He agreed to let it lie.
Needless to say, I was on edge during my long drive up there. As I walked into the apartment, I noticed the presence of cigarette smoke. Certainly not something I’m accustomed to around babies.
I went to use the bathroom. Along the way I noticed the absence of many items I consider basic necessities. As I made my way back to the living room (which seemed to be doubling as the nursery) I felt a bit overwhelmed. All of these external factors were clouding my focus.
Then I saw the baby and everything came clear. I said to myself, this is a Jewish baby and he needs a Brit Milah. It doesn’t matter what any of the family members say to you or what they will or won’t do for you. The baby is your only focus.
And I did just that -- focus. I blocked everything else out and I did my best for that baby boy. Thankfully, the Bris went off without a hitch. And as I gave this little boy his name I somehow finally felt at ease.
You see, the most amazing thing happens when you perform this type of life cycle event. This group of people, despite our rocky start, became more than just clients -- they became my friends.
This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. I feel like I’ve become close to all the families I’ve worked with, to such a level that if we saw each other on the street, we might even embrace.
Amazingly, this Brit Milah was no different. But it’s the most striking example because of how it all started. Perhaps that’s really what it means to do it L’Mitzvah.
This first appeared in the Times of Israel