May 12, 2005
First Haircut Brings Shear Delight
"Come to New Jersey," my grandaughter said, "we're having a simcha!"
A wedding? A lottery win? She doesn't explain. Then I think, airfare $240, motel $220 and then there's expenses for my lovely wife -- hair, nails, Louie XVth gown. This will run me $962!
I ask a dozen probing questions about the nature of this simcha. Did she have another kid? Is the Mosiach coming for dinner? Is she getting a new husband? Has the bank decided to forgo her mortgage?
"No," she said.
So, why must I pawn my future to United Airlines, the Hilton Hotel Corporation and Macy's?
"What's going on that's worth deducting four digits from my three-digit bank balance?" I asked.
Well, this paragon of a granddaughter, who is as observant as the Gaon of Vilna before his arguments with the Baal Shem Tov, explained that her 3-year-old son is having his hair cut for the first time in his brief life. (So why can he miss three years and I'm in trouble with the wife after three weeks?)
"Big deal," I said, "I'm gonna shave tomorrow morning, but I don't expect you to disrupt your life so you can watch me lather up."
"No, no! It's his upfsherin," she said, "his first haircut."
It is an important event, my granddaughter said. "We don't cut his curly locks, just as we don't harvest the fruit trees until they are 3 years old."
An upfsherin, she said, is all about the unity of nature -- the kinship of man and the other creatures that thrive in God's world. Humanity and the sycamore tree both have their feet in the earth and their head in the sky. The tree produces fruit or seed while man produces deeds.
Even at the age of 3, the toddler begins his path to responsibility that culminates at bar mitzvah. This rosy, dimpled child, with curls that would revive Michelangelo to paint just one more cherub, is due for an upfsherin.
Next thing you know I'm sitting with a living room full of relatives in Passaic, N.J. In the middle of the room on a stool sits the honoree, Shimon Leib. (He'd look just like me if he was wrinkled around the eyes and mouth and the skin around his little neck was droopy and his hair was gray and absent on top and back of his head.) With the spotlight focused on his gilded face, this Jewish Tom Cruise of the 2020s behaves angelically.
Each relative steps up and cuts a lock. He chirps as I clip. It's not long before I realize not one of us is a professional barber. He was prettier before. But as my granddaughter would say, only on the outside; inside he's a 10.
As the dozen or so amateur barbers hack at his hair, my granddaughter -- proud but nervous -- watches from the corner. Those scissors are sharp, she thinks, and if he's going to enjoy a fruitful life, he'll need both ears to hear his teachers.
The floor is carpeted with blond ringlets and Shimon soon has a trendy, spiky look.
He's on his way, Sh'or Yoshuv Institute's Rabbi Aron Rothman told me. You might think of it as a pre-bar mitzvah warm-up. He's not exactly responsible for his ethical behavior, but you can no longer hope he'll turn off the bedroom light switch that someone left on Friday night.
Then the rabbi, who wisely only observed phase one, swung into action. He and the ex-cherub sat at the dining room table like Rabbi Akiva and one of his prize scholars. A large sheet of Hebrew letters sat before them. The rabbi coated the letter gimmel with honey and pointed.
"Say gimmel," he said.
"Gimmel," said Shimon as he touched the letter.
"Now lick your finger, Shimon," the rabbi said.
Shimon, who never needs a second invitation for a snack, obeyed and smiled. Many letters were learned, and much honey was smeared on his little face. May all his learning and his life be as sweet.
Ted Roberts is a humorist based in Huntsville, Ala.