Daniel V. Klein © 1990, 2004
Hannah sat in the chair, clutching her mother's hand, trying to be brave. Clenched, unclenched, and clenched again, she had crushed the handkerchief in her left hand into a barely recognizable wad. Her mother looked down, and not seeing her tears said, "I'll move out of your way."
"No!" said Hannah, "don't get out of my way!" Her voice was strained, struggling to hide the tension, the agony she felt. She didn't want to watch, and she didn't want to be there.
All around her, the relatives had gathered. They murmured warm things, soothing things, happy things. They had driven many hours, and many miles to bear witness to what was soon to pass. There were children too, the sons and daughters of her relatives and in-laws, but none were as young as her son, who lay on a new white coverlet on the lap of his grandfather. The mood all around was festive, yet Hannah felt anything but happy. The first rite of passage – the covenant of Abraham and of the people of Israel – would soon be performed on her infant son. Her firstborn would soon be circumcised, but instead of sharing her family's joy, all Hannah could think of was the unthinkable.
What she desperately wished for most was that in spite of all the teachings, in spite of the thousands of years of tradition, in spite of the family, yes, even in spite of God himself, that her child might be spared this pain. The mohel was a kindly old man, and in his many years of practice he had performed hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of these ceremonies. The covenant of Abraham existed so that a Jew would be bound to his people. It was a visible sign of belonging, and whatever the real origins of the practice, it was accepted that when a male child was eight days old, he should be joined with the people of Israel. The mohel had examined this child and deemed him fit and well. And it was with cool, yet sure efficiency that he directed the baby's grandfather to hold him – just so. And for the boy's father to recite the prayer – just so. While he wielded his glittering sterile steel instruments – just so.
Hannah shrank inside of herself, willing herself to stay seated, forcing herself to not leap out of the chair and tear her son from his torturers, to run from the house, tradition be damned. Pain etched her face, as if by telepathy she could feel all thar her son was feeling. The tug at her heart was almost unbearable. In another moment she would leap up, snatch him to her breast, and flee the assembled relatives. In another moment she would break away, break from the shackles of tradition, break from the pain. In another moment...
And it was over in that moment – just so. The child began to cry. It was cold, the light was too bright, the pain... The guests, most of whom had secretly averted their eyes, a few of whom had watched with avid interest, all of whom had collectively held their breaths, began to chatter amongst themselves again. The father looked pale, but his color gradually returned. And the mohel smiled. Another job well done, another child joined to the covenant. Another generation, another man.
"Mazel tov," said Hannah's mother, and patted her hand. "Let me get you something to eat."