In Parshat Lekh Lekha, G-d makes two covenants, britot, with Avraham. The first is Brit Ben Habeterim, and the milah, circumcision, demarcates the second. During that second covenant, brit, two things happen: G-d commands Avram to circumcise himself and his entire household, and G-d changes Avraham's name from Avram to Avraham. These passages have become the basis for the ceremony we are all familiar with today. When we introduce a baby boy into the Jewish faith—into the covenant—we circumcise him and give him a name.
So what is the relationship between covenant, name giving, and circumcision? In Sefer HaMinhagim, R’ Issac of Tyrnau of 15th-century Ashkenaz makes a connection between the naming and the circumcision (ספר המנהגים; מנהג של חנוכה, הגהות- קצת ליקוטי דיני מילה; ע״מ- ל״ב עמ׳ ב׳) "וקורין לנער שם ביום המילה כי אברם לא נקרא אברהם כי אם בשעת מילה." We name the child on the day of circumcision because Avram was only named Avraham at the time of circumcision.
But what is it about the circumcision that warrants the name change?
The Zohar explains that only after circumcision the שכינה, Divine Presence, rested on Avraham, hence the added ה (often used as an abbreviated form of G-d's explicit name) in his name (Zohar, Sefer Bereshit 93: a). The circumcision enabled Avraham to hold G-d within him. It seems that the circumcision is a condition for the name change and the covenant.
But Avram was not the only person given a new name—in contiguity with the commandment for the eighth-day circumcision, Sarah Imenu’s name was also changed from Sarai to Sarah. But without circumcision, why was Sarah given a new name?
Ba’al Ha’akeda, R’ Isaac Arama, explains that Sarah’s name change resulted from the covenant with Avraham. All the goodness bestowed on Avraham was shared with Sarah, and her name change is connected to his.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that Sarah’s name change is not simply an afterthought, but rather, Sarah is an integral part of the covenant. Sarah merits her name change because she enters into the covenant with G-d as well.
Indeed, according to Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim ve’HaDinim, the soul descends into the newborn at the time of the naming. Unlike the Zohar, R’ Sperling (in the name of the Ma’or HaGadol) ties the soul and the Shekhinah, Divine Presence, to the name, not the circumcision. He emphasizes this by stating, “HaBnei Aliyah,” that the highest form of talmidei hakhamim and mystics would celebrate the naming of their children, daughters included.
According to this train of thought, the name change is a result of the covenant, not the circumcision. So why on the eighth day? According to the Maharal, eight is the number that signifies a state above nature in our covenant with G-d. We enter the covenant on the eighth day, receiving our name and neshamah (soul). (In truth, Rav Kapach and others note that many תימני/ Yemenite communities celebrated the birth of their daughters on the eighth day—יום אל-עציד/ Yom El-Atzid).
But was there an act performed by Sarah that mirrored Avraham’s circumcision? In which way did she enter the covenant? The Meiri on Yevamot 46a states that when Avraham was circumcised, Sarah was immersed in water—she did tevilah.
Don’t worry, we will not be baptizing our daughter today. Instead, we would like to carry our daughter into this space, bringing her into the community, and place her under a huppah (canopy) resembling Sarah’s tent, keeping in mind her part in the covenant and role in the creation of the Jewish people.
The canopy will be held up by the happy grandparents (or others), bringing together our traditions and our role models in the life of our daughter.
Ceremony leader helps set up the canopy
Please join us in the song “מה טובו אהלך” as we welcome our daughter into the Jewish community and the covenant.
Newborn daughter is carried in by friends and family (kvateriot) under huppah and held by grandparents (or others).
בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ לַה׳ בִּתִּי; מאֵת ה׳, הָיְתָה זֹּאת; הִיא נִפְלָאת בְּעֵינֵינוּ. יוֹנָתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע, בְּסֵתֶר הַמַּדְרֵגָה, הַרְאִינִי אֶת-מַרְאַיִךְ, הַשְׁמִיעִנִי אֶת-קוֹלֵךְ: כִּי-קוֹלֵךְ עָרֵב, וּמַרְאֵיךְ נָאוֶה; אַחַת הִיא, יוֹנָתִי תַמָּתִי—אַחַת הִיא לְאִמָּהּ, בָּרָה הִיא לְיוֹלַדְתָּהּ; רָאוּהָ בָנוֹת וַיְאַשְּׁרוּהָ, מְלָכוֹת וּפִילַגְשִׁים וַיְהַלְלוּהָ;
Giving of the Name
Daughter is given her Hebrew name (we used the Koren Siddur ceremony here, others may be used)
Mother recites Birkat HaTov Ve Hametiv
Both parents recite Shehekheyanu (שהחינו)
Ceremony leader invites parents to give Birkat HaYeladim, Friday night blessing of the children.
Parents explain the name
Ceremony leader: As we end the ceremony, the parents would like to invite significant members of the family/community to bless the newborn as she goes out into the world, so she is enveloped in warmth and with blessings.
Place the child on a blanket and have each cover her as they give her their blessing
Four possible blessings:
End the ceremony with singing יהי שלום בחילך
Ritualwell content is available for free thanks to the generous support of readers like you! Please help us continue to offer meaningful content with a donation today.