Contact Us

What is a Shalom Zachar?

What is a Shalom Zachar?

 Email

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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
40 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Naomi Levin brooklyn February 12, 2016

Why not for girls? This is a beautiful explanation and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I'm curious, though, why baby girls do not receive the same type of celebration. Surely the same reasons apply. Reply

Solomon Azoulay via harfordchabad.org June 24, 2015

congratulations. after two girls first boy that's great. Reply

Anonymous 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! Reply

Rere2710 Cape Coral, FL 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. Reply

Marian ny, usa via chabadic.com 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. Reply

Dave RN NDM 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. Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA via chabadcamarillo.com 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. Reply

Rabbi Chaim Bryski Thousand Oaks, CA via jewishto.org 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. Reply

Baroch Thousand Oaks, CA via 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...... Reply

Rabbi Chaim Bryski Thousand Oaks, CA via 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. Reply

Rabbi Chaim Bryski Thousand Oaks, CA via 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. Reply

Anonymous middletown, new york 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? Reply

Baroch Thousand Oaks, CA via jewishto.org February 5, 2010

Shalom Nekeva I am a father of two daughters and I welcome all respondents that are asking for a welcoming ritual for the female soul. It cannot be named the same since "Zachar" is the word for masculine and should be left for the boys. I think it is about time to recognize girls soul are as welcomed into this world as boys. Where would we be without women? The differences in gender and level of "soul elevation" should not be a reason for exclusivity. G-d has given all humans a soul and that in itself is a miracle and a reason for celebration as well as giving thanks.
To R.Bryski and his family who just were blessed with a newborn son; a Hearty Mazal Tov!! Reply

Anonymous Middletown, NY July 6, 2009

shalom zachor My observant son and his wife are expecting a son and are planning on celebrating the first Friday with a shalom zachor.
As a woman raised in a reform/conservative home, I had never heard of this and wondered what it was all about.
After reading this article I am filled with joy at the opportunity to welcome this new soul into the world. Thank you for teaching me, and making me understand. Reply

Editor June 16, 2009

Girl Please see the author's response to your question in an earlier comment. Reply

A.S. June 15, 2009

What is a Shalom Zachar? What about a girl's soul? Reply

Daniel Kew Gardens, NY May 20, 2009

Traumatic Birth Rather like when Kenau Reeves awakes for literally the first time , in a pool of slime and tubing, in "The Matrix"! That is an awful shock. Good explanation, though. I'm sold. Reply

Anonymous melbourne, australia June 12, 2008

what is ashalom zachor what's all the fuss about. we make a kiddush in shul to welcome a girl! Reply

Avigayil Newton, MA April 2, 2008

Re: Re: Inhibition vs. essence Wow, Rabbi Freeman wrote in! I should have quoted Moshiach -- maybe he would have written !!

My guess is that Rabbi Moss did not expect this to morph into a discussion on gender, lol. Reply

Tzvi Freeman Thornhill, Ontario March 31, 2008

Re: inhibition vs. essence It seems there are two kinds of explanations to Jewish customs. One is causal kind: "This was the issue, so we instituted this." That not may be the whole story--there is usually more than one factor--but it's an explanation.

The other kind is ipso facto: This is what we are collectively doing. The collective consciousness of the Jewish People is the Shechina. So if the Jewish People are doing something, that's an expression of Torah. That's general principle in halacha: A Jewish custom is Torah. So, let's try to figure out why on earth we are doing this and then we'll know some more Torah.

Rabbi Moss has made a gallant attempt to provide an explanation of the second sort. Avigayil is attempting to provide one of the first sort. There's no real conflict. But neither much evidence. Reply

Related Topics