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Ask Mordechai

February 14, 2019 | by Mordechai Schmutter

I’m making a bris for my son who has no name yet. Do I have to give a speech?

Today I would like to deal with questions from people who, one way or another, are on their own. And as usual, I won’t really help them.

Dear Mordechai,

I’m making a bris for my son, who has no name yet. Do I have to give a speech or anything?

Aral Sifasayim

Dear Aral,

Probably. In general, people expect you to speak at a bris, although they’d prefer it was after they left. You can actually get away with not speaking at all if you postpone it long enough, unless it’s a weekend bris. Then people will just hang around.

And in fact, you allow for people to leave early. Brissim are the only parties where you actually leave a box of pre-cut silver foil near the food so people can wrap things up as they run. “I don’t care if you eat at my thing,” is your basic message. “I just don’t want leftovers.” Though this is a relatively new thing. For years, people were sneaking out of brissim with a bagel wrapped in a blue napkin.

There’s no other party where this is a normal thing to do. Even at weddings, where people have to get home to their kids, they never have the option of wrapping up their main dish before the bride and groom come out. If you want your chicken cutlet, you have to dance for it.

But what are you going to do? People need to leave. They only put in a quick appearance at the bris so that in twenty years from now, at this kid’s engagement party, they can come over to him, in front of his fiancée, and say, “I was at your bris.” That’s not awkward. There’s no good response to that. The conversation just ends, with the three of you standing there.

But the people who are sticking around expect you to speak. Although that’s kind of unfair, considering you had 8 days to prepare for this thing on no sleep with a brand new baby in the house, and most of that time was spent either having humorous kitchen incidents while your wife was in the hospital, or trying to hammer out a name. So most speeches are about the politics of why you picked that particular name. Though you don’t really go into the politics. You go into the positive qualities of the person you named after, in other words, a eulogy.

Like if you gave your child two names – that of your grandfather and your wife’s grandfather – you’re going to say that the reason you did this was that each of them had great qualities, rather than that you spent an entire week arguing about which one to name it after, each of you expressing real concern over what your respective mothers would say if you used the other name, and you had a deadline, so you decided to go with both, and hoped you wouldn’t run out of names before your last kid.

But you might as well speak about the name, because it’s all you’ve been thinking about for eight days, and everyone wants to know, “Why that name, of all the names out there?” Unless you have a lot of boys.

Of course, aside from your relatives, who already know why you picked the name, everyone else is just trying to make conversation. Do you know why everyone you know has the name they have? Nobody’s actually cares anymore once they leave the bris. I’ve met thousands of people in my life, and I’ve never said to myself, “Where does this guy’s name come from? His grandfather, or his great grandfather?” Unless he has a highly-uncommon name, like Yisro. Then I want to know.

The real reason people give speeches about names is that:

A. There aren’t really a lot of weekly Torah portions that talk about brissim, and

B. They want to hammer the name into people’s minds so they remember when they come home and their spouse asks, “So what’s the name?” People always ask you when you come home: “What’s the baby’s name?” “Do you know their other kids’ names? Are you making a list?” They just want to make sure you were really at the bris. It’s like when you’re a kid and you’re late to school, and you say you had a bris, but the rebbi doesn’t believe you, so he goes, “Oh, yeah? What’s the name?”

“I don’t remember. Bagel?”

Dear Mordechai,

My medical insurance just changed, for reasons I don’t care to discuss. Do you have any good recommendations for doctors?

Shut Down

Dear Shut,

Not really. I just found out this week that my doctor died.

I’m not kidding. It’s a very awkward thing to find out. I don’t know what to do now. I’m like, “So should I keep doing what he told me to do, or is everything I know a lie?” I’m going to be the guy at the shiva going, “Yeah, but did he say anything about what I should do? Any dying words? ‘Tell Mordechai he should…’ dead.”

You always assume your doctor’s going to outlive you. Who am I going to go to for my annual checkup every 3-4 years?

It’s really not funny. He was a nice guy. Every time he saw me, he asked how I was feeling, how I was doing, and if I could turn my head and cough. (I always could.) But I never once asked him any of these things. And if I did, out of habit, it was just to make conversation. I definitely didn’t take notes.

But my point was that he knew all the tricks to stay healthy, and he still died.

Of course, just because he died doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good doctor. Everyone goes eventually.

A lot of doctors treat themselves. It’s easier than being someone else’s physician, because the hardest part of being a physician, I’d think, is the part where you ask people to describe their pain, using words, and then you have to translate those words into real physical pictures in your medical textbooks while they wait in the little room. Whereas the hardest part of being your own physician is the part where you put freezing cold stethoscope in the middle of your back. While coughing. That’s pretty awkward. Especially if your next patient comes in.

But you can’t really worry about things like death, or you’ll never settle on a doctor. People are very picky when it comes to doctors. You don’t want a doctor who’s older than you, because he might die before you. You don’t want a doctor who’s younger than you, because you’re sure that he has no idea what he’s doing. You were at his bris. You want a doctor who is actually secretly younger than you, but looks older than you. Stress will do that to a person.


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