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What is a Shalom Zachar?

What is a Shalom Zachar?

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Question:

What is a "Shalom Zachar"? I understand that the first Friday night after the birth of a boy, people gather in the newborn's home after Friday night dinner. But all they do is eat. What is the meaning behind this?

Answer:

Perhaps the oddest of all Jewish lifecycle events is the Shalom Zachar. Unlike other lifecycle celebration, there are no speeches, there is no ceremony, no special prayers or songs. It is just a bunch of people getting together, saying Lechaim and Mazel Tov. Yet this is the best way to welcome a new soul to the world.

As joyous as a birth is for the family, think about what it means for the child's soul. The soul is a fragment of the divine, a piece of G-d Himself. Before birth, it dwells in the higher realms, close to G-d, in a state of peace and comfort. All this changes when at conception, the soul reluctantly descends earthward. It spends the next nine months hovering around the body as it develops in the womb of its mother. During this time an angel is sent down as a personal tutor to teach the soul Torah. The womb is not quite heaven, but an idyllic existence nevertheless.

Your soul came a long way to get here. Make sure it's worth the trip... Then suddenly a child is born, the soul enters the body and is thrust into the world. We can only imagine how traumatic it is for a celestial soul to become enmeshed with a terrestrial body, and be transferred from a pristine world of absolute purity into a harsh world where good and evil are mixed together. No wonder we cry when we are born.

What consolation can we offer this poor soul? How can such a steep descent be justified? What can we answer to the soul's cry: Why did I have to come down here?

We can't console the newly arrived soul with words of wisdom, for it received much higher wisdom from the angel in the womb. We can't impress it with our prayers, because our prayers cannot compete with the union the soul had with G-d before coming down. But we can show the soul the one thing that this world has that no other world can match: the opportunity to do good.

No matter how lofty the soul may have been before birth, it never had the opportunity to share its goodness with someone else. Only down here in this physical world can we perform kindness, and bring joy to another being. In the higher realms all is in order, everything's perfect. There's nothing that can be improved. Not so down here. In this world, people are needy, and we can provide their needs. People need each other when they are weak and need each other's support. And people need each other to share their joyous times as well. Visiting a friend to say Mazel Tov, and receiving a bite to eat in return, is a display of the simple kindness that cannot be found in any world other than this one.

So Lechaim! -- to life on this earth, our only chance to do good and impact others. Your soul came a long way to get here. Make sure it's worth the trip.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (38)
January 15, 2014
Cool and great article!
I didn't even know this existed! And it's so cool :) Thank you so much for posting this!
Anonymous
December 31, 2011
Everything
I'm not Jewish but reading all of this has been very interesting. What I get from all of it is what everyone already knows men (boy souls) are babies and need extra care while girl souls and women can handle things better. Which they seem to handle the fall as to the boy souls can not without help.. Makes sense, I live in a house with 3 males 2 sons and a husband and I take care of myself when I'm sick but when they are sick I'm taking care of them they (men/boys) are the biggest babies.
Rere2710
Cape Coral, FL
July 14, 2011
Shalom Nakayva
There is no such thing as a Shalom Nekayva.

One can make a Shalom Bat.

Italian Sephardim in the 17th century and earlier Sephardim and Ashkenazim celebrated a ritual called a zeved habat. The name of the ceremony is derived from Bereishit 30:20. Following the birth of Zevulun, and preceding the birth of Dinah, Leah states, “Zevadani Elokim oti Zeved Tov,” “God has granted me a gift.” Thus the term zeved habat should be translated as “gift of the daughter.” Special melodies were sung at the ceremony, and verses from the Song of Songs were recited.

As to Shalom "Nekayva" the term was considered offensive (and there is a very funny ashkenazic joke about it. (you figure it out)

A Jewish daughter is considered a gift to be protected and therefore the term "nakayva" wasn’t utilized.
Marian
ny, usa
chabadic.com
December 26, 2010
why we cry when we're born
I like R' Moss' spiritual explanation. But there is also a physiology to it. That 1st breath, plus/minus the cry, is an important event in the chest of a baby: the fetal heart's foramen ovale & ductus arteriosus close under the changing pressures inside the chest and allow the blood to flow as for an adult heart--R atrium--> R ventricle -->pulmonary artery-->lungs--> L atrium--> L ventricle.
What about just quiet calm breathing at birth? All this stuff would happen without the crying. But whenever vocal cords come together it decreases venous return to the heart, and that may be of some physiological benefit as well (I forget--it's been awhile since nursing school) . Of course if there's going to be vocalization, for a baby that can only mean crying. This is not to remove any spiritual meaning out of R' Moss' essay, but only to say that there is a physiology to it and, looked at closely, it's a truly miraculous, G-d-made design.
Dave RN
NDM
October 11, 2010
Why "we cry when we are born"
I think why we cry when we are born has more to do with the physical pain of being squeezed through such a tiny opening.
Anonymous
Camarillo, CA
chabadcamarillo.com
February 11, 2010
Baroch
Birchas Hanefesh is really creative.

Name it this or name it that, as long as there was/is a Feast of Thanksgiving, a joyous celebration, (and there is no celebration without food and drink, by us Jews) where you thank G-d publicly for the great blessing of your beautiful, courteous and bright daughters. May G-d continue to bless you and your wonderful family with all that is good.
Rabbi Chaim Bryski
Thousand Oaks, CA
jewishto.org
February 10, 2010
Bracha HaNefesh
Thanks for your comment R. Bryski, I did bless my daughters with a ceremony at our home together with my rabbi, family and friends long before I know that there was a formal ritual. I don't necessarily need one to understand the miracle of seeing a child enter this world. However this discussion have made think that what I am suggesting is more a recognition the miracle of receiving a Nefesh (soul). G-d is providing us parents with a Nefesh that has entered the new born child. This in itself an "absolute" and unrelated to gender. I like it because it would be a gender "neutral" way of recognizing the miracle of life. Maybe we could call it Bracha Hanefesh......
Baroch
Thousand Oaks, CA
jewishto.org
February 10, 2010
Why we need Sholom for the male child in particular?
Heard from my dear MIL, Mrs. Rishe Deitsch: In general, man's nature is symbolized by "blood," woman's by "milk". Men are the warriors, conquerors, slaughterers, providers and protectors. Women give life, nurture life, and create a home. That's why for example, men tend to get jobs in slaughterhouses and women tend to get jobs feeding and washing newborns in hospital nurseries. This violent nature must be channeled in the Torah way to keep law and order and maintain peace and civility, since the mans nature ("blood") can, G-d forbid, also be channeled incorrectly - towards gratuitous violence. We have a newborn innocent baby a boy who has a male nature - "blood, and on top of that he is about to undergo an act of blood, of violence, a Bris. To combat that, to help him hold on to the reason G-d gave him that nature which is to channel it toward preserving peace in the world we have a Sholom Zochar - to bring peace to the male nature.
Rabbi Chaim Bryski
Thousand Oaks, CA
jewishto.org
February 10, 2010
Shalom for a Female Child
Baruch,
There is an age old custom of throwing a large Kiddush on Shabbat in Shul to celebrate the birth of a girl.
There was once a girl that was having problems finding a Shidduch (mate in marriage) and asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing for her search to go easier. The Rebbe's response was for her to verify if indeed there was a Kiddush ever given in honor of her birth. She verified that indeed there wasn't. The Rebbe instructed her to have a Kiddush done in her honor and she found her Bashert shortly after. So Baroch - If you never made the party you got to do one now...We can work out a good twofer deal for the grand parties. As you can see from this story this Kiddush is a real serious obligation with far reaching blessing for the child's life. For another take on Shalom Zachor in particular, read the next comment.
Rabbi Chaim Bryski
Thousand Oaks, CA
jewishto.org
February 5, 2010
Shalom Zachor
I was thrilled to celebrate the birth of my new grandson, Yonaton, with a Shalom Zachor, but was disappointed that at the birth of my new granddaughter there was no corresponding celebration for her soul. IIs there nothing besides a baby naming that the Jewish faith offers?
Anonymous
middletown, new york
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