Our son's name is Chanan Azarya Lansey. Below is what I said at the bris this morning about his name:
Chanan Azarya is named for my grandfather, Chaim, Herman “Hy” Lansey. Chanan means “[God has been] gracious.” And we like the name Azarya, which is a Biblical name and means something like “helped by God.”
My grandfather was a dedicated and talented Jewish educator; he was a soft spoken man who seemed to have endless patience. He was the principal of a few Hebrew Schools, who always put students’ needs first, and was a fluent speaker of Hebrew. He taught me and my brothers to lein our Bar Mitzvah portions, and didn’t even loose his cool when Aryeh announced a week or so before his Bar Mitzvah that he wasn’t going to do it. We hope that Chanan will share his love of learning, dedication to others and his tremendous patience. Chanan was born a week late, so clearly he has already been honing this skill.
Although the name “Chanan” is not exactly the same as Chaim, we feel that the name captures a major aspect of my grandfather’s personality, and also reflects our appreciation to God who has been most gracious.
The biblical Azarya -- “He who God helped” -- was forced to walk through a burning furnace when he refused to abandon his beliefs. He did so with ultimate confidence in God’s help and escaped unscathed. Similarly, we hope that whatever difficulties Chanan Azarya will face, he will rely on God for support.
It struck me recently that we don’t say tachanun at a bris. To be more precise, the Shulchan Aruch’s statement about the minhag not to say tachanun at a bris is somewhat vague, but the Rema clarifies that it’s specifically at the shul where a bris will be, only at shacharit, and has nothing to do with where the bris-related people are. This is fairly strange, as it seems that the “happy cancels tachanun” thing generally isn’t so limited. A groom, for example, cancels tachanun at any place he davens for a whole week after the wedding. We go a whole month without tachanun around Pesach, and large stretches of time around other holidays. Yet, the bris’s ability to cancel tachanun is localized in location and time. Even though the MB disagrees, and increases the strength of the tachanun cancelling rays to include a larger set of bris-related people, he still seems to agree that it’s localized to shacharit of the bris.
A few weeks ago we marked a period of 3 weeks of intense mourning for the loss of the Temples. On Tisha Ba’Av, the culmination of that period, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, we also don’t say tachanun. This is also strange, since generally we cancel tachanun for happy things like weddings and holidays. Some people get around this by saying that we’re celebrating the future redemption, but that seems somehow to trivialize the whole notion of “saddest day ever.”
I think these strangenesses can be understood by looking carefully at the content of tachanun. It’s really about looking at our nation’s past -- it being filled with many periods of great struggle and difficulty -- pointing out that in spite of all that we’re still, as a nation, devoted to God, and that in light of that He should continue to save us. On Tisha Ba’Av, in the depths of our despair, we’re unable to see the positive -- that we survived -- and certainly unable to look forward to a more hopeful time. We can only cry out from the depths of despair and ask “Eichah?” -- “Why?” It doesn’t fit with the theme of the day to look to the future when we can barely comprehend the vast troubles of the present. Tisha Ba’Av doesn’t cancel tachanun because of happiness, but because of ultimate despair.
Bris, on the other hand, is the ultimate trump card -- it’s almost tachanun on steroids. The brit milah that we just brought our son into makes tachanun look like wishy-washy nothingness. Here we are, joining our son into the covenent made with Avraham at the start of our nationhood. We, as a people, have persisted in doing this brit throughout all the troubles of history -- all those dark times tachanun recalls.
And yet we don’t despair; we embrace this Brit, literally carving it into our flesh, confident in God’s continued partnership in the covenant in the future. The simple words of tachanun look plain silly compared to this! We don’t say tachanun at a bris because we are doing something which is orders of magnitude more powerful than it! Instead of cancelling tachanun because of happiness, like around the chagim, or despair, around tisha’a ba’av, we cancel it with intense confidence that God will uphold his end of the Brit, now that we’ve upheld ours.
Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer comments that Eliyahu Hanavi -- the prophet Elijah -- who at one point doubted our people’s dedication to Brit Milah, is given a seat of honor at every future milah to witness that we have continued our end of the brit throughout history. He is witness not just to individuals who uphold the brit, but to communities who come together, braving the detritus of hurricanes in this particular case, to celebrate our nation’s continued dedication to God and our Brit with Him.
We recognize God’s graciousness in having a healthy baby and for all the good we have in our lives. We hope that God will help our son throughout his life. And we have ultimate confidence in our Brit with God that it will continue to stand with us personally, our families, and as a nation, for all future generations.