A grandfather gets a lesson on circumcision and names

Since I attended my grandson's brit last month, let's talk about britot. I'm stuffed with material like a kishke.

Obviously, this is an easier topic for a Jewish writer with a flat imagination to tackle than delivering 800 words on Hezekiah's inauguration — which I did not attend.

In order to behave correctly at the brit of my first grandson, I went back to the chumash to study the origins of this venerable ceremony.

It's all in chapter 17 of Genesis. The Almighty appears to 99-year-old Abram and delivers several major news bulletins: Abram's name shall now be Abraham because he shall be a "father of nations;" a covenant shall exist between the newly designated Abraham and the owner of the universe; and the signature of the covenant shall be the rite of circumcision.

Abraham, you can well understand, is having a better-than-usual day. Normally, his morning starts with a jug of goat's milk, a piece of bread and a light round of morning talk with Hagar, Sarah and his shepherd employees.

But on this particular day, the Lord of Hosts appears before his eyes and offers him a majestic destiny.

Abraham's head is reeling as he rises from the dust to consider his new grandeur. But wait, that's not all, says his heavenly visitor.

Sarai becomes "Sarah" (the princess) — and, Abraham is told, it wouldn't be inappropriate to pick up some blue accessories for the tent, because "Sarah shall bear you a son."

What a day he's having — this newly crowned Abraham. And there's more.

He must yet do the ritual surgery on Ishmael, who is 13 at this time. From this passage in Our Book comes the Muslim tradition of circumcision on the 13th year — obeyed by Ishmael's heirs to this very day. Soon after, Isaac is born. And true to the instructions from above, Abraham circumcises him on his eighth day of life.

The Book gives us no explanation of the timing, but I'm told by my doctor friends that the blood clotting capability of an infant is not active until the eighth day.

Hospital circumcisions that take place the first or second day of life usually require a shot of Vitamin K to assist clotting and healing of the wound. Remarkable, is it not, that somehow this wisdom found its way into a 3,000-plus-year-old text.

So, the morning of the brit, all this was whirling through my overcrowded brain as I slipped into my dull blue suit that would have looked great with my green fluorescent tie — if my wife had allowed it.

Another disquieting thought was the name of my grandson. Orthodox tradition says it may not be revealed until the day of the brit. I had begun questioning the parents eight months ago.

Lightly, nonchalantly, so as not to threaten, "So, well, hmmm — what'll you call him?" (No doubt the baby would be a boy to diversify my bevy of four golden, giggling granddaughters.) My son gave me a look like Isaac gave Abraham on the way to Mount Moriah when Pop told him there was no sheep for the sacrifice — the kind of look Joseph's brothers threw at him when they spied his new, neon coat.

My kid knew I was picky about names. He knew I suffered nightmares about Yathulem, Zerubbubel, Balshazzor and Grossenhazor. He knew that with blandishment or wiles, I would try to influence the naming process.

Didn't a plain, simple "David" beat "Arpachshad?" Couldn't you see this child 40 years from now — standing in front of the Chief Justice of the United States — his hand on the Chumash: "And do you Zerubbubel Malacathlion Roberts promise to uphold the Constitution…"

He'd never get the job — any job. Uh, thank you for your time, Mr. Roberts, but your name simply won't fit on any of our standard employment contracts and our customers will never remember it anyhow. Wish the name was David — Bye."

So you can imagine the strain I was under the morning of the brit. I had eaten three slices of corned beef off the Saran-wrapped tray and I was still nervous. Then as I was desserting on a couple of strudel chunks they'd never miss — here comes my son.

"Dad," he whispers in my ear, "relax, your grandson's name is Ezra. Fasten the Saran wrap over that tray of corned beef and come into the sanctuary."

Ezra — my first grandson. With that name and my heredity, no telling how far he'll go.