Brit Mila of Lavi Yehuda

Primarily we named Lavi Yehuda after Lena's Grandfather Lev which is Yiddish and Russian for Lion.

But we found the inspiration for this name in particular from the Torah. The first occurrence of the word lavi in the Torah is in Parshat Vayechi in the blessing Yaakov gives to Yehudah (49:9)

  גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה, מִטֶּרֶף בְּנִי עָלִיתָ; כָּרַע רָבַץ כְּאַרְיֵה וּכְלָבִיא, מִי יְקִימֶנּוּ.

Yehudah is a Lion cub. From the torn thing you rise up. He bends and crouches like a Lion. Who can raise him up?

Here specifically the tribe of Yehudah is compared to the Lion. Like the Lion is the most powerful among the beasts, Yehudah is the natural leader of Israel. But the metaphor in the verse is confused.Our verse's starting point is after a fight is over. The Lion has already eaten and he rises up, but in the next breathe he is bending down again. Why has he gotten up if he is about to sit again? As a simple description of a Lion it could mean that when he gets up from eating and walks away to lie down, no one can get him up again. But what is the meaning of this as a blessing for Yehudah? Because of this problem, the verse has been explained in a number of ways. Rashi understands the metaphor to refer to Yehudah's not participating in the enslavement of Yosef, He got up and stayed away from the "torn thing", the enslavement of Yosef.

But perhaps the verse can best be understood as a conflation of two other verses. We must look to the next place where the word lavi occurs in the Torah and that is in this week's parsha.

 

In the second Blessing of Bilaam, the last verse (23:24) contains the word lavi. It reads:

הֶן-עָם כְּלָבִיא יָקוּם, וְכַאֲרִי יִתְנַשָּׂא; לֹא יִשְׁכַּב עַד-יֹאכַל טֶרֶף, וְדַם-חֲלָלִים יִשְׁתֶּה

They are a nation that like the Lion rises, and like the Lion lifts up.He will not lie down until he has eaten his prey. His victim's blood he drinks.

The Lion gets up to hunt.And once he gets up, he won't get back down without making a kill. What aspect of the Lion is being applied to Benei Yisrael? His power. Bilaam's verse is a threat to Balak. Israel is on the prowl and won't stop until he has devoured Balak's nation. Like the Lion , Israel cannot be stopped.

 

In the third Blessing of Bilaam, also in its last verse (24:9) the word Lavi again appears:

כָּרַע שָׁכַב כַּאֲרִי וּכְלָבִיא, מִי יְקִימֶנּוּ; מְבָרְכֶיךָ בָרוּךְ, וְאֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר

Like a Lion he bends and lies down. Who can raise him up? Those who bless you are blessed. Those who curse you are cursed.

[From the first Blessing of Bilaam we have a similar language (verse 9) הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן, וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב This verse then is taken to mean that Israel sits alone and no one interferes with him or tries to remove him from his land.]

In this blessing of Bilaam there is also a depiction of the Lion's strength, but in another way. After the kill, once the Lion is settled down, who can raise him up again? Once Israel has settled in the land, no nation can remove them.This of course also serves as a warning to Balak.

Benei Israel are compared to the Lion in the Lion's capacity to beat all foes and to take the land he desires, never to be displaced.

The blessing Yaakov gives to Yehudah also contains these two aspects of the two blessings of Bilaam: of going up and fighting, and of settling down with no chance to be moved. Only the order is a bit different, but the meaning is the same. Yaakov is blessing Yehudah, that his descendents, whether it be all of Israel, David, or Mashiach, will, in the future conquer and keep the Land of Israel. Yaakov's blessing to Yehudah is a precursor to the eventual clear blessing of Bilaam to Benei Yisrael. Perhaps Yaakov intentionally altered the blessing so as to hide the meaning of the prophecy until the time of Bilaam.

We also learn from the equivalency of the two blessings that a verse which ostensibly refers to Yehudah, can also be understood as applying to all of Israel. This makes sense since we know that Yehudah is destined to be the name given to all of Benei Israel as we see with Mordechai who although being from the tribe of Benjamin was called: איש יהודי A man of Yehudah.

The Lion and Judah are connected in another unexpected way. Yehuda ben Teima is quoted at the very end of Pirke Avot in the Mishna as telling his students to be as the Lion in serving G-d. [ Interestingly, Yehuda Ben Taima in this same place also provides the only example of a prayer given in the Mishna.]

יהודה בן תימא אומר, הוי עז כנמר, וקל כנשר, ורץ כצבי, וגיבור כארי--לעשות רצון אביך שבשמיים.  הוא היה אומר, עז פנים לגיהינם, ובוש פנים לגן עדן.  כן יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלוהינו שתיבנה עירך בימינו, ותיתן חלקנו בתורתך, ועם עושי רצונך.

Yehuda ben Teima says: be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fast as a deer and powerful as a lion to do the will of your Father in heaven.

Yehuda Ben Teima transforms the comparison of Israel to a Lion from the militaristic sphere to the personal, internal sphere. Like a Lion overpowers his prey, we must overpower our own reluctances to do G-d's will. This redefinition of what we can learn from the Lion has particular meaning when we realize Yehuda Ben Teima is living in a time when Israel has been removed from their land after hundreds of years by the Roman Empire. So he reinterprets the prophetic meaning of Bilaam's Blessing into a sphere where every person can still be mighty, in his battles with his own character flaws.

 

The Shulchan Aruch adopts and modifies Yehuda Ben Teima's teaching and uses it as the introduction to his work.

יתגבר כארי לעמוד בבוקר לעבודת בוראו, שיהא הוא מעורר השחר

Be empowered like a lion to rise in the morning for the service of one's Creator, that he should wake up [before] the dawn.

[Interestingly,here the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is longer than the original Shulchan Aruch. The Kitzur restates the full teaching of Yehudah ben Teima and elaborates on it. ]

The Shulchan Aruch takes this teaching in a Halachic direction: How must one conquer himself? By getting up early in the morning to pray, and not being lazy. Being זריז [ prompt ] in serving G-d is thus the lesson the lion teaches us, whether or not the lion as we see him in the Zoo is exactly the epitome of זריז.

Our Little Lavi Yehudah is certainly זריז. Not only was he born slightly before schedule, but he was also זריז in the actual labor. The Doctor at our first hospital was worried that he would take too long and wanted to give Lena a זירוז [ inducement ] but after leaving that hospital and finally arriving at Bikur Holim, it seemed we did not need a זירוז , little Lavi Yehuda was זריז all on his own. And since he was born he has taken on another aspect of the lion, he slumbers very well.

 

May it be the will of our Father in Heaven that Lavi Yehudah, like the lion and like the forefathers for whom he was named, should be strong and courageous in all his battles.