In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Newborn
Yasef Nisan Abramovitch was the happiest man in Vaysechvoos. And why shouldn’t he be? His young bride, Shifra, was about to give birth to their first child.
Yasef was an “old” man of 24 when he married the sweet, red-haired Shifra. Her parents were a little concerned, for while Shifra was the proper age for marriage—fourteen—she was like a frightened rabbit, wide-eyed and scurrying to and fro. “How will she meet the responsibilities of marriage?” they fretted.
Shifra, however, adjusted to married life quite well. She kept their modest home neat and clean. She prepared a more than adequate Shabbos meal and mended Yasef’s shirts almost as well as Yossel the Tailor.
Everything was going as well as life in Vaysechvoos could go for Shifra, until she found herself with child.
“Woe is me,” she cried out to Yasef. “I’m terribly frightened of all that will befall me now that I’m to become a mother.” You see, Shifra believed the legends of Lilith, also known as the “mother of demons.”
The story goes that before Eve was created, Lilith was Adam’s wife. She was said to have demanded full equality with her mate, and when Adam wouldn’t agree to her demands, Lilith uttered the Divine Name and escaped to the Red Sea. The legend goes on to say that she then gave birth to many demon children after seducing many men in their sleep.
“What other men were around?” you might ask. Who knows? It’s only a legend. In any case, after a while, God sent three angels to bring her back to Adam. Lilith refused to go and for her action she is said to endure daily the death of one hundred demon children. Her revenge is to injure or destroy infant boys up to the time of their circumcision and girls up to the age of twenty.
Shifra took this legend very seriously, and inasmuch as she could be the object of Lilith’s revenge on two separate counts, she sought ways to protect herself and her unborn son.
You might ask how it is that she knew she was carrying a boy? A mother knows such things.
Shifra’s “protection” knew no limits. All around their little home, she placed mezuzot. Over her bed and the doorposts of their two rooms she hung amulets and charms with the names of the angels who had come to bring Lilith back to Adam. She also had an ample supply of garlic, onions and leeks, as well as spices and herbs, for such strong odors were said to keep demons away.
Yasef, not the superstitious type, nonetheless went along with his wife’s devices for warding off the “demon.”
“She’s young and frightened,” he reasoned. “The least I can do is help ease her fear by allowing her to do this nonsense.”
But as the months progressed, so did Shifra’s frantic behavior. She would only wear clothing that was blue, said to be an unpleasant color to demons. Noise was also a good safeguard. So bells and clappers sounded incessantly in the home. Shifra would only allow her husband to call her Chaya so as to confuse the demon.
Finally, the day of the child’s birth arrived. But Shifra’s delivery was not speedy; she was having quite a difficult time of it.
Yasef did not look to magical incantations to help Shifra along. Instead, he recited from the Scriptures the traditional selections for a woman in labor. He uttered King David’s prayer from the twentieth Psalm for victory over one’s enemies. He read Hannah’s supplication to the Almighty for a son. Yes, Yasef took his strength from the promises of the Holy Writings.
And as God would have it, a son was born in Vaysechvoos that day. Oh, and did the people rejoice!
“But,” thought Shifra, “my son needs to be watched over even more diligently now! Until his circumcision, he is in great danger.”
And so for the seven days following his birth, the child was subjected to more incantations, and other “nonsense,” as Yasef would call it. With the help of the townspeople, mother and child managed to “avoid” the demons, and the day of the baby’s circumcision arrived.
All present held their breath as the delicate operation was performed. It was done and all rejoiced. The baby was handed to Yasef as Shifra looked on. The mohel (circumciser) recited an invocation for the safety and well-being of the child, but he stopped the prayer in mid-sentence. There was silence in the room, that was at first awkward and then embarrassing. Yasef turned red. Shifra lowered her head. And the mohel finally spoke:
“So nu, I must have the child’s name to insert in the prayer. Doesn’t anyone here know it??”
And truthfully, no one did. For you see, due to Shifra’s concern to keep the child’s identity confused for the demons who might do the baby harm, they’d never decided on a name.