Tonight’s installment of Full of Grace is longer than usual, due to some of the details on the rite of circumcision. It seemed the more I looked up, the more I found. And the more I found, the more I wrote. Such is usually the case. Anyway, if you’re new to the story, you can click here to read it from the beginning; and if you’re enjoying the tale, please share it with a friend.
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“Praised are you, Adonai our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us in the ritual of circumcision.”
With Zechariah by her side and the family behind her, Elizabeth watches as the priest blesses her son, sleeping quietly in her brother-in-law, Shmuel’s, arms. The emotions in her heart overwhelm her and a tear escapes: G-d had been good to them.
The priest moves to the table beside them and picks up a glass of kiddush, wine. He blesses it then places several drops into the baby’s mouth to help him with the coming pain. He drinks from the cup and passes it to Shmuel, who also partakes of the kiddush, as a symbol of their willingness to share in the baby’s pain. The priest then begins the procedure, waking the boy and causing him to cry. Every whimper breaks Elizabeth’s heart, she hated to hear him cry. But Zechariah comforts her, taking her hand in his and squeezes it tightly. She reminds herself that this was necessary and the pain was temporary. He would be back in her arms shortly and she could help soothe his pain away.
The priest completes the circumcision. Shmuel comforts the boy; and because Zechariah still cannot speak, he pronounces the blessing that is usually reserved for the father over him.
“Blessed are you, Adonai our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to make him enter into the covenant of Abraham our father.”
Together, all the others reply: “As he has entered into the covenant, so may he be introduced to the study of Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to good deeds.”
The priest continues his blessing:
“Creator of the universe, may it be your will to regard and accept this performance of circumcision, as if I had brought this baby before your glorious throne. And in your abundant mercy, through your holy angels, give a pure and holy heart to…” He pauses for a moment, his gaze moving between Zechariah and Shmuel. “What is the child’s name?” he asks.
Before Elizabeth can answer for her husband, Shmuel, speaks up.
“Zechariah,” he states
“No! His name is John.” Though she received the malakh’s words from Zechariah’s penned description, their potency was still the same and now having received the fruit of it, she was not going to disobey. John was the name G-d had given him before he was conceived and it would continue to be his name now that he had entered the earth.
“There is no one by that name in the family, achot, sister. His name should be Zechariah, after his father,” Shmuel insists, shaking his head.
“No,” Elizabeth says firmly, shaking her head. “His name shall be John.”
The mood quickly in the room shifts as murmuring begins. The same family members who were celebrating with them were now criticizing her lack of respect for Shmuel. The priest calls for everyone’s attention.
“What is the child’s name?” he repeats.
Again, before Elizabeth can reply, Shmuel takes charge. He waves his hand at Zechariah and points to the child. “Name. What would you name the boy?”
Zechariah looks at him blankly and for a moment Elizabeth fears he does not understand. Then he brings his hand up and makes a swirling motion in the air, once, twice, three times before the others understand what he is trying to say.
“Get a tablet and a pen,” someone instructs.
The talking increases, exasperating Elizabeth. This was not what she imagined for her son’s circumcision. Mary turns to her, her expression sympathetic. She knew the truth, the prophecy and Elizabeth was grateful for her support, but it was the family, the friends, the neighbors who needed to know G-d had orchestrated these events – the conception, the birth and now the naming of the child. John, which meant G-d has been gracious. This was the purpose to which he was born – to show G-d’s grace to his people. Yes, G-d had been silent for many generations now, leaving them to the whims of their Roman masters, but he was still there. He was still concerned for them. He had promises that had yet to be fulfilled, but would be – through her son, and Mary’s son, the promised Machiac.
A young child pushes through the crowd, carrying in his hand a tablet and a piece of coal for writing. Zechariah receives the items and concentrates on his response. Around him, the talking ceases as they wait what he will write. Though Elizabeth knows he will back her up, a thought crawls into her mind, making her faith waver. What if he doesn’t back me up? The malakh had said, “You will become dumb and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” The events had been fulfilled, yet he was still dumb and unable to speak. In the days following the birth, he had shown more affection and love for her and child since their courtship. It seemed he had accepted his sin of doubt and offered penitence for it. Why then was Zechariah still mute? Why wasn’t he healed of his affliction? Surely the birth signified the fulfillment of the malakh’s words. Would G-d orchestrate all else, but not return her husband’s voice, especially now that it was needed?
Zechariah stops writing. Without any change of expression, he turns the tablet to the family and reveals his response:
HIS NAME IS JOHN.