Wach Nacht ceremony-The night before the Bris

4. Wach Nacht-The night before the Bris:[1]

The newborn child needs to be guarded:[2] The term Wach Nacht literally means the night of watching or guarding. The reason it is called by this name is because on the night prior to the circumcision, there are evil forces which persecute against the child and try to injure him in order to prevent the mitzvah from taking place.[3] This concept is hinted to in Scripture[4] which states “Veata Es Brisi Tishmor/and you shall guard my covenant” which hints to the idea that prior to performing the bris a guarding of the child is necessary. [Some write that the main time period in which it is necessary to guard the child from these damaging forces is from the beginning of the night until midnight.[5] Hence one who is unable to stay up the entire night is at the very least stay up until midnight.]

Hosting a gathering:[6] It is customary for the father of the child to host family, friends, and members of the community on the night prior to the Bris Milah.

Learning Torah all night:[7] It is customary for those gathered [and especially the father of the child] to stay awake throughout the night prior[8] to the Bris Mila studying Torah in the house of the newborn.[9] The Torah is to be studied [at least for some of the time] near the newborn child. At the very least, one should study Torah in the home until midnight.[10] It is proper for those present to be Torah scholars and men of stature, who will speak words of Torah and retell stories of Tzadikim throughout the night.[11]

Hosting a meal:[12] It is customary to serve a festive meal to those gathered on the night prior to the circumcision.[13] [The Mohel, Sandek, and friends and relatives are to be invited to this meal.[14] It is disputed amongst the Poskim as to whether this meal has the status of a Seudas Mitzvah.[15] Some are accustomed to sing and dance during this meal.[16] Practically, it is no longer widely customary to serve an actual meal by this gathering[17], although it is customary to serve light refreshments and Lechayim.[18]]

What is one to learn?[19] It is customary to read several sections from the Zohar, verses of Tanach[20], as printed in certain select Siddurim and available in certain Sefarim written on the Mitzvah of circumcision.[21] Each person who is present is to be honored with reading a section of the learning.[22] It is customary for those gathered to also recite verses of the Shema with the newborn child[23], and so was the custom of the elderly Chassidim.[24] Those present are to use the remainder of the time saying over words of Torah and retelling stories of Tzadikim throughout the night.[25]

Singing Zemiros:[26] Some are accustomed to sing Zemiros at the Wach Nacht gathering.

Children reciting verses of Scripture and Shema: On the night prior to the circumcision one is to gather children to recite [preferably near the newborn] the psalm of Shir Lamaalos, the verses of Kerias Shema[27] until the end of the first paragraph, Hamalach Hagoel, the 12 Pesukim and statements of the sages. The children are given refreshments or treats for the occasion.

Friday night-A Shabbos Bris:[28] Some[29] write that there is no need to have a Wacht Nacht gathering ceremony on Friday night for a Shabbos day Bris, being that there are no evil forces around on Shabbos[30] from which one needs to guard the baby from. Others however conclude that one is to perform a slight Wacht Nacht ceremony and guarding of the baby even on Friday night.[31]

Night of Pesach-A Pesach Bris: Some write that it is customary not to hold a Wacht Nacht Torah learning ceremony on the Seder night for a Pesach day Bris, being that there are no evil forces around on the first night of Pesach from which one needs to guard the baby from.[32] Others however conclude that one is to perform a Wacht Nacht ceremony of learning [no food or drink] even on the Seder night after the conclusion of the Seder.[33]

Night of Yom Kippur-A Yom Kippur Bris: Some write that it is customary not to hold a Wacht Nacht Torah learning ceremony on the night of Yom Kippur. Others[34], however, write that one is to perform the Wacht Nacht ceremony of learning even on the night of Yom Kippur.

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[1] See Mateh Moshe Mila; Shevach Habris 12; Chinuch book by Hartman; All

[2] Mateh Moshe Mila; Shevach Habris 12:1

[3] The reason: The reason the child needs to be guarded from damaging forces is because the Satan cannot withstand that the Jewish people fulfill the mitzvah of circumcision which saves them from the judgment of purgatory.

[4] Bereishis 17:9

[5] Zecher Dovid Mamar 1:30 in name of Mavor Yabok; Bris Avos Kuntrus Leil Shimurim 12 in name of Divrei Habris “It is customary to learn in the home of the newborn child up until midnight.”

[6] See Zohar 1:93; Shlah Miseches Chulin; Or Tzadikim Hilchos Mila; Halachos Ketanos 2:169; Siddur Yaavetz; Kuntrus Chanoch Lanar p. 7 that so was done by the Wacht Nacht of the Rebbe Rashab, that his uncles who are the holy sons of the Tzemach Tzedek, and dozens of Chassidim gathered together; Shevach Habris 12:3;

[7] Beis Lechem Yehuda 265:1; Zohar 1:93 that there was an individual who gathered his friends to study Torah together throughout the entire night, on the night prior to the Bris; Shlah Miseches Chulin; Or Tzadikim Hilchos Mila; Halachos Ketanos 2:169 that so is the custom of Jerusalem; Siddur Yaavetz; Kuntrus Chanoch Lanar p. 7 that so was done by the Wacht Nacht of the Rebbe Rashab, that his uncles who are the holy sons of the Tzemach Tzedek, and dozens of Chassidim, stayed awake throughout the night learning Torah and reciting sections of Scripture and the Zohar; Shevach Habris 12:3; Kovetz minhagim

[8] The custom of the world is to do so only on the night prior to the circumcision. However in previous times in Eretz Yisrael it was customary to do so on all nights prior to the circumcision.

[9] The reason: The learning of Torah at this time has ability a draw down a great holiness onto the child and to all those who are present studying. [Siddur Yavetz ibid]

[10] Zecher Dovid Mamar 1:30 in name of Mavor Yabok; Bris Avos Kuntrus Leil Shimurim 12 in name of Divrei Habris “It is customary to learn in the home of the newborn child up until midnight.”

[11] Zochar Habris 3:18; Otzer Habris 3:7-11

[12] Admur 640:14 “The meal that is eaten by the Yoledes (as was the custom in previous times)”; M”A 640:13; Shach Y.D. 178; Degula Merivava on Shach ibid that this meal is the intended Seduas Yeshua Haben brought in Tosafus Bava Kama 80a; Machzor Vitri; Orchos Chaim Hilchos Mila; Klalei Hamila based on Midrash Tanchuma Tazria; Toras Shalom of Rebbe Rashab p. 78 that so was done by his Wacht Nacht that all the guests who came to Lubavitch to participate in the Bris were served a meal on the night prior to circumcision; Bris Avos Kuntrus Leil Shimurim 1 in name of Zecher David 2; Shevach Habris 12:4 footnote 9 in length

[13] The reason: As the holiness of the Mitzvah begins to shine already on the night before the Bris, and hence this is commemorated with a festive meal. [Bris Avos ibid in name of Zecher David; See Admur 493:4; Chok Yaakov 493:8]

[14] M”A ibid in name of Nachals Shiva

[15] See Admur ibid from whom it is unclear as to whether this meal is also considered a Seudas Mitzvah; M”A ibid records a dispute in this matter [Nachalas Shiva holds it is a Seudas Mitzvah while others hold its not, and hence concludes to be stringent regarding a Neder]; P”M O.C. 444 M”Z 9 concludes that it is not considered a Seudas Mitzvah

[16] Beis Lechem Yehuda 265:1 “and on the night of the circumcision it is customary to dance and rejoice”

[17] See Admur ibid in parentheses “so was customary in previous generations”; Aruch Hashulchan 640:15 “we are not aware of this meal at all”; See Os Shalom 265:30

[18] Bris Avos ibid in name of Zecher Dovid ibid; Shevach Habris ibid

[19] Shevach Habris 12:3

[20] Chabad custom: It is unclear as to what is the Chabad custom regarding reading verses of Scripture [i.e. Tehillim] during the Wacht Nacht ceremony. In Kuntrus Chanoch Lanar p. 7 it states that so was done by the Wacht Nacht of the Rebbe Rashab, that his uncles who are the holy sons of the Tzemach Tzedek, and dozens of Chassidim, stayed awake throughout the night learning Torah and reciting sections of Scripture and the Zohar; Following this approach, the author of the Shevach Habris records a list of verses that is to be recited as part of the ceremony. However, according to Rav Yochanon Gurary, author of Bris Nasan, as per his inquiry by a number of elderly members of Anash, it is not our custom to say these verses with the exception to the verses brought in the Zohar. This is due to the general restriction against reciting Tehillim, and Torah Shebichsav at night. Rav Eli Landa Shlita responded to our inquiry [as to what we should practically do], that one should read all the verses, as writes Shevach Habris.

[21] See Sefer Birs Yitzchak; Siddur Yaavetz; Otzer Habris

[22] Mishmeres Shalom 18:1

[23] Minhagim Wormz 139; Makor Chaim Bachrach 239; Likkutei Maharich Seder Mila

The reason: The saying of the Shema has the power to banish evil forces, and is hence recited at night as part of the bedtime Shema, and so should be done prior to the circumcision. [Likkutei Maharich ibid; Shevach Habris ibid footnote 4]

[24] Shevach Habris ibid in name of Rav Groner

[25] Zochar Habris 3:18; Otzer Habris 3:7-11

[26] Zecher Dovid Mamar 1:30 in name of Mavor Yabok; See Beis Lechem Yehuda 265:1 “and on the night of the circumcision it is customary to dance and rejoice”

[27] Shevach Habris 12:5

[28] Shevach Habris 12:5

[29] Zocher Habris 3:4; Shevach Habris ibid footnote 12 in name of Rav Eliyahu Shein and Rav Z.S. Dworkin that on Shabbos there is no need to guard the child although we do recite the sections Zohar.

[30] See regarding that on Shabbos we do not conclude with the blessing of Shomer Amo Yisrael in Maariv has done during the week, being that the Shabbos itself guards the Jewish people. Admur 267; Michaber 267; Tur 267

[31] Zecher Dovid 1:30

The reason: As Shabbos only protects the Jewish people as a community and does not give protection to the individual. [See Admur ibid; M”A ibid]

[32] See Zocher Habris 3:20; Shevach Habris ibid

[33] Zecher Dovid 1:30

The reason: As the child is still uncircumcised and therefore doesn’t merit protection. [See]

[34] Zecher Dovid 3:71

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