1. The First Commandment2. The Most Important Commandment3. Abraham’s Offspring4. Removal of the Foreskin5. On the Eighth Day, Even on Sabbath6. Deciding Upon an Appropriate Hour for the Brit Mila7. The Obligation Rests Upon the Father 8. Choosing A "Mohel"9. Paying the "Mohel" 10. Customs Connected to the Brit and the Accompanying Festive Meal
11. Distribution of Honors The First Commandment
It is no coincidence that the very first commandment that the first Jew in history was commanded to fulfill was the commandment of religious circumcision - "Brit Milah." This fact tells us something about the value of this particular precept. And though the commandment to procreate is mentioned in the Torah before the commandment of circumcision, it is not directed specifically at the People of Israel; rather, the injunction to procreate is includes all of the living creatures in the world - man, land animals, and fish. The commandment of circumcision, though, is the first commandment directed specifically toward the Jewish people. And just as the first commandment which the patriarch Abraham fulfilled was that of circumcision, so the first commandment that each and every Jewish male who reaches the tender age of eight days old fulfills is that of circumcision. Indeed, this obligation symbolizes, more than any other religious duty, the eternal bond between the Jewish people and their God, a bond which is sealed upon a Jew’s very skin.
Via the commandment of circumcision we proclaim that it is not easy to be Jewish. One must pay with his very blood for being Jewish, as the verse which we recite in the course of the circumcision ceremony states: "Through your blood shall you live" (Ezekiel 16:6). The mighty task which Israel took upon itself - to reveal to a world of darkness and heresy that there is a Creator and Overseer; to inform the bloodthirsty and destructive nations that the true purpose of life is to pursue kindness and show benevolence, and to lead a life of purity and morality in a world of lies and hypocrisy. Accomplishing all of this is no easy task. It is a job which will not be finished until the world is finally completely rectified. And the road is full of hardship and sacrifice. The act of removing the foreskin, which symbolizes the moral defect that attached itself to the world, involves blood and pain - but there is no other path. For the only other alternative would be to compromise and to become downtrodden in the impurity of the bloodthirsty and destructive nations, hence losing our value and national identity.
From every page in the history of the Jewish people, from the destruction of the Temple until the Holocaust, we learn that our mission is a difficult one involving genuine self-sacrifice. The is our destiny and responsibility.
Through Brit Mila we declare to the entire world that we, the Jewish people, continue to be firm in our faith and ready to sacrifice ourselves until we have reached the materialization of all of our upright and just aspirations. The Most Important Commandment
The classic code of Jewish Law, the "Shulchan Arukh," dedicates an entire chapter to clarifying and emphasizing the fact that the commandment of "Brit Milah" is the most important of all practical positive commandments. Generally, each chapter of the "Shulchan Arukh" is made up of a number of subdivisions, but chapter 260 of Yoreh Deah contains only one law, which is entirely dedicated to emphasizing the importance of "Brit Milah." And this is what is written there: "It is a positive commandment for the father to circumcise his son, and this commandment is of greater importance than all other positive commandments.
It is no coincidence that this particular commandment is embellished with great adornment by all Jews, regardless of affiliation to movement and organization. Even if the Jew’s natural bond to some of the commandments has been weakened, when it comes to "Milah" there is a general consensus. This agreement is equivalent to the testimony of a hundred witnesses regarding the true feeling of each Jew regarding Jewish faith and the Torah. Incidentally, there are a number of other central commandments regarding which there is wide general acceptance among Jews. For example: love for one’s fellow, honoring parents, honesty, the saving of life, settlement of the land of Israel, In fact, if one takes into consideration the entire Torah and its 613 commandments, one finds that there is no clear line dividing "religious" and "secular" Jews. In practice, there are many non-observant Jews who fulfill abundant Torah commandments with great adoration, while there are those who are termed "religious," yet who, in fact, fail to perform many of the commandments. However, the precept of "Brit Milah" is undoubtedly the most widely embraced of the commandments, for, more so than any other ritual, it gives expression to a sense of belonging to the Jewish people - the nation which has been chosen for the task of revealing Divine ideals in the world.
Yet, despite the great importance of this commandment, one must be aware of the fact that a Jew is one whose mother is Jewish; and even if he is not circumcised and he does not appear to be Jewish, if his mother is Jewish, he too is Jewish. It is important for us to remember this fact, for, lately, many uncircumcised Jews have been immigrating to Israel, and there are some who mistakenly claim that any Jew who has not been circumcised is like a non-Jew, and must convert in order to join the Jewish people. The fact of the matter is that whoever was born to a Jewish mother, or converted to Judaism according to Jewish law, is Jewish. Judaism begins from the soul, from the fact that the Almighty chose us from among all the nations and infused within us a soul capable of giving expression to the Divine values of the Torah in the world. The commandments are the instruments and the means through which Judaism appears in the world, and the first of these commandments is that of "Brit Milah." One who does not fulfill Torah commandments fails to uncover and give expression to the hallowed Jewish soul within.
All of this is true regarding one who was born to a Jewish mother. A non-Jew, though, who desires to join the Jewish people through conversion, hence establishing a new Halakhic fact - i.e., that from this time onward his offspring will be members of the Jewish people - must accept upon himself the responsibility of fulfilling all of the commandments. The sages teach that the ultimate source of the soul a non-Jew who takes upon himself to convert to Judaism is in fact Jewish; yet, in order to get to this source, the convert must accept upon himself to fulfill all of the commandments. In other words, one who was born Jewish possesses a Jewish soul, and even if he does not observe the commandments, his spiritual nature does not change; but, regarding a convert, only the foundation of his soul is Jewish, and, therefore, only by formally accepting upon himself the commandments can a Jewish soul reside within him. True, these matters cannot be proven scientifically, but I believe that a broad and all-encompassing examination of the history of the Jewish people and of those converts who did not earnestly accept upon themselves the Torah commandments can help to understand these profound ideas. Abraham’s Offspring
Regarding the question of the circumcision of Abraham’s other children besides Isaac, we find an interesting discrepancy among the early authorities of Jewish law. When it comes to the rest of the nations of the world there is agreement among rabbinic decisors that they should not be circumcised, for circumcision a commandment incumbent upon the children of Abraham alone. The source of this obligation lies in the verse, "And you must keep my covenant ("Brit"); you and your seed after you for all generations" (Genesis 17:9). And the sages of the Talmud explain that the intention here is to Abraham’s seed alone - "you and your seed" but not other people. Ishmael is not considered the seed of Abraham, for it is written elsewhere (Genesis 21:12): "It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity." Esau, the son of Isaac, is also not considered the seed of Abraham, for it is written, "It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity" - of Isaac, but not all of Isaac’s seed. In other words, only a portion of Isaac’s seed is called the "seed of Abraham," and that is the portion which was born of the offspring of Jacob, and they are the one’s commanded to fulfill the commandment of "Brit Milah."
Yet, because Abraham had other children besides Isaac and Ishmael - as it is written, after the death of the Matriarch Sarah (Genesis 25:1): "And Abraham married another woman whose name was Keturah," and she bore him six children - it is necessary to clarify the law regarding them. According to Rashi (Sanhedrin 59b), even though all of Abraham’s sons were commanded to perform circumcision, their sons - that is, the offspring of Abraham’s additional children - are not bound by this commandment, and it belongs solely to the Jews.
According to the Rambam, though, Ishmael’s offspring was freed from this commandment because the verse "It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity" removes the seed of Ishmael from the category of Abraham’s seed. The offspring of Keturah, though, had not yet been born at the time when that verse was stated to Abraham. Concerning them, then, there is no indication in the scriptures that they are to be separated from the Abraham’s seed. Therefore, even though they are not Jews - for they are not progeny of the Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob - they are none the less obligated to perform circumcision as the seed of Abraham. Rambam also rules that, because the offspring of Keturah have in the meantime become intermixed with the offspring of Ishmael, and Keturah constitutes the majority, all of them are bound by this commandment (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:8).
It is worth mentioning here that there is a unique bond between the statute of "Brit Milah" and the Land of Israel, to the extent that it is an historical fact that nations which are not circumcised are not capable of settling the Land of Israel. The Sages even teach (Zohar vol. 2, 23:1) that whoever is circumcised can inherit the land. Indeed, in the days of Joshua, before the Children of Israel began their conquest of Israel, all of the men who had not yet performed "Brit Milah" were called upon to do so. Only after this step had been taken were the Israelites able to conquer the land. In addition, the Sages forecast long ago that the Ishmaelites would gain control of the Holy Land for an extended period of time, while the land was barren and desolate. The reason for this is that the Ishmaelites practice circumcision, and, say the Sages, they will therefore succeed in delaying the return of Israel to its land. But, because their "Milah" is itself "desolate," i.e., worthless, and defective (they do not circumcise on the eighth day, and they also do not remove the thin layer of skin, and whoever circumcises without removing the membrane of the corona is as he did not circumcise at all. Therefore the Land of Israel will remain barren and desolate while in their possession and in the end the Land of Israel will become the possession of the People of Israel. Removal of the Foreskin
When it comes to the commandment of "Brit Milah" there arises a justified question: Who are we to make adjustments which run counter to nature? If man is born naturally with foreskin, is it not best to simply leave things as they are? And if the foreskin is so abhorrent that God himself desires that we remove it, why did He create it to begin with?
The truth of the matter is that this question was already asked ages ago by the Rabbis of the Midrash (see Midrash Tanchuma, Tazriah 5): Turnus Rufus, the wicked Roman general once challenged Rabbi Akiva, asking him: "If the Almighty God so desires circumcision, why does the newborn not enter the world already circumcised?" The Talmud also tells us that on another occasion Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva a similar question (Bava Batra 10a): "If the Almighty loves the poor - for we see that he has commanded to give them charity - why does He not provide for them Himself?" To this Rabbi Akiva responded that the Almighty does not provide for them, in order that we ourselves be allowed to merit fulfilling the commandment. In other words, certainly God can provide for the poor, but He created the world with deficiency so that man be granted the privilege of taking part in the perfection of creation. The same is true regarding the foreskin. Certainly God could have created man circumcised, without foreskin and without any evil inclinations, but this was not God’s desire in creating man in His image. The desire was for man to be God’s partner in the creation of the world.
This is why the Creator left part of the creation incomplete - in order that we finish the work. And in order to complete, one must also perform kind deeds like giving charity, and pulling away the negative tendencies in man’s nature.
The foreskin represents the undesirable aspects of man’s nature. The foreskin, which is skin that the body has no need for, represents indulgence rather than necessity, the fleeting appetite which leaves only a bad taste in its wake. It is the opposite of true love, which constitutes the foundation of life. Removing the foreskin initiates a process of individual refinement, and with the beginning of this process a covenant is forged between the newborn child and the eternal nation. The nation is forever being refined and made pure, and together with it the entire universe is being purified. On the Eighth Day, Even on Sabbath
It is written in the Torah (Leviticus 12:3): "On the eighth day, the child’s foreskin shall be circumcised." The Torah says that the commandment to circumcise the child must be carried out on the eighth day, no sooner and no later. And it is so important that the Brit take place on the eighth day that even if the eighth day falls on the Sabbath, the Brit supersedes the day of rest, and the circumcision is carried out. This is how it is done: Whatever is needed for the Brit Milah must be prepared before the Sabbath, while the Milah itself is carried out on the Sabbath, for the Torah commands us to circumcise on the eighth day even if it falls on the Sabbath. And clearly the Brit should not be delayed for other reasons, for example, in order to allow relatives to arrive. Indeed, even if the father himself is abroad, the Brit must go ahead without him.
Regarding the eighth day, Rabbi Yehudah Liva, the Maharal of Prague, explains that the nature of the physical world is such that it lacks perfection. It is limited and deficient. In order to attain the spiritual level which suits the nature of our soul, we must perfect it. This is the role of the Brit Mila. And it must necessarily be performed on the eighth day, for, because the world was created in seven days, the natural world is characterized by the number seven. After this, on the eighth day, we ascend to a level beyond nature.
There is one reason alone for which we postpone the Brit: illness of the baby. In this regard we are very cautious. And if there is even the slightest suspicion of endangerment to the baby’s life, the Brit must be put off until the complete recovery of the baby. Under no circumstances is it permitted to attempt to be stringent in this matter. According to the Shulchan Arukh, one must be very cautious in these matters, for it is forbidden to circumcise a baby who is suspected of being ill, because protecting life takes precedent over all. It is possible to circumcise the baby at some later date, but it is impossible to ever replace even a single Jewish soul (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 263:1).
In the event of a delayed Brit Mila due to danger, one waits until the baby has healed completely. If the illness has taken hold of the baby’s entire body, one must wait seven days after recovery before performing the circumcision and then go ahead with the Brit immediately (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 262:2). In the case of a postponed Brit which falls on the Sabbath, it is delayed until Sunday, for only a Brit which is performed in its proper time - i.e., on the eighth day - takes precedence over the Sabbath. A Brit which has at any rate been postponed does not override the Sabbath (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 266:2). Deciding Upon an Appropriate Hour for the Brit
One of the central decisions connected to the Brit Milah ceremony is that of choosing an appropriate hour. Is it best to act quickly to fulfill the commandment, performing the Brit immediately on the morning of the eighth day; or is it better to hold the Brit in the afternoon, at an hour when, generally, more guests will be able to attend so that the occasion be more joyful?
In other words, what we have here is a fundamental question which carries implications for many commandments: What is preferable: Which is preferable: to be zealous in the fulfillment of commandments, or to adorn and enhance the commandments? Obviously, ideally, one should strive to accomplish both zeal and adornment, but what about when zeal comes at the expense of adornment, or adornment at the expense of zeal? Which of the two, in such a situation, takes precedence? Is it preferable to act quickly and perform the Brit in the morning, despite the fact that at such an hour most of the potential guests are working, and therefore some of them will not be able to attend, making the occasion less joyous? Or, should the importance of joy be emphasized and the Brit be held in the afternoon when more people can arrive?
The prevailing rabbinic position is that zeal for commandment performance takes preference over adornment. Therefore, the Brit ceremony should take place as soon as possible in the morning, and an issue should not be made of the fact that fewer guests will arrive, even if they are important guests like grandparents and aunts and uncles. Yet, though this is indeed the Halakhic consensus, not all decisors share this position, and one of the leading Rabbis in recent times, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l held that if one prefers having the Brit in the afternoon in order that the occasion be celebrated with more joy, he should be permitted to do so. This is because it is important that, of all commandments, the fulfillment of the of Brit Milah be fulfilled with joy (see also Responsa She’elat Yeshurun, Yoreh Deah 26). The Obligation Rests Upon the Father
The commandment to circumcise the son is directed toward the father, and, hence, it would be preferable for the father himself to circumcise his child. In fact, according to Rambam, even the wording of the blessing pronounced over the Brit changes when the father is the one performing the circumcision. Instead of blessing "...Who has sanctified us with His precepts and commanded us regarding the Milah," as we generally do, when the father himself performs the circumcision, he blesses "...Who has sanctified us with His precepts, and commanded us to circumcise the son," because the commandment is directed specifically toward him. Only in a case where the father cannot himself perform the circumcision must he appoint an agent to circumcise in his stead, pronouncing the more general blessing, "Who has commanded us regarding the Milah" instead of " Who has commanded us to circumcise the son."
Indeed, it is preferable that the father be the ritual circumciser, yet, on the other hand, it is important that the circumciser be professional and experienced, for circumcision is an operation which must be performed with great responsibility, and most fathers are not thoroughly acquainted and skilled in it. For this reason, the accepted practice is that fathers do not invest energies in an attempt to learn how to circumcise in order to perform the operation themselves; rather, they appoint a professional circumciser as an agent to circumcise the baby boy, for, there is a well known rule in Jewish law that "the agent of a person is like the person himself." And even though there is another rule which states that "the [merit of the] fulfillment of the commandment belongs to the him (the agent), more so than to the one who appointed him," at any rate, here, because the baby’s health is an issue, it is better to appoint a professional circumciser. I even heard about one father who wanted to be stringent and to perform the circumcision himself, but he ended up seriously injuring his son, and the doctors barely managed to save him. Therefore, it is best that the father appoint a professional ritual circumciser, and not attempt to be overly stringent in the performance of this commandment at the expense of his newborn child. Choosing A "Mohel"
In order to aid parents who are preparing to "bring their child into the covenant of the Patriarch Abraham," yet are uncertain about how to choose a "Mohel" (professional ritual circumciser), let us bring here a number principles which should be taken into consideration when deciding upon a Mohel.
According to Jewish law, there are two major factors to be considered when choosing a Mohel. The first is that the Mohel be professional and should know how to perform the circumcision in a responsible manner, such that there be no danger to the baby. The second is that he be a good and righteous individual, for, after all, Brit Mila is the first Torah commandment which the child fulfills, and it is only fitting that this important precept be performed by a good and righteous, for "everything proceeds according to the nature of its inception" (Rema, Yoreh Deah 264:1).
Thank God that there are a great many ritual circumcisers who fill these requirements, yet it is important to understand that if one is unable to find a Mohel who is both recognized as a good and upright individual and known to be professional in his vocation, it is preferable to choose a professional Mohel even though he is not considered righteous. The reason for this is that our primary concern is there be no danger to the life of the baby. Only after this matter has been taken care of is one permitted to consider "mitzvah enhancement" such as the spiritual level of the Mohel. Paying the "Mohel"
It is also important to address one of the more delicate questions connected with the Brit Mila, and that is, how much should one pay the Mohel for his services?
Essentially, the Mohel should not ask for payment for performing the Milah. The reason for this is that Milah is a Torah obligation, and one should not request payment for performing Divine precepts. In addition, Rema writes in Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh Deah, 261) that if the Mohel asks for money for performing the circumcision, the religious courts should reprimand him, for it is not in keeping with the nature of Abraham’s seed to request payment for upholding such an important commandment. To the contrary, it is the professional circumcisers who are interested in meriting the fulfillment of this commandment. Yet if, despite this fact, the Mohel is adamant and demands payment, the religious court can force him to circumcise for free.
The author of Arukh HaShulchan, though, writes that he heard of one city, which, though boasting a large Jewish population, possessed only a handful of circumcisers. The "Mohalim" refused to circumcise because they were unable to perform a number of "Britot" everyday and still have time to hold down a regular job in order to support their families. Therefore, it was established that if one wished to have his son circumcised, he must pay a Mohel some amount of money so that the Mohel be able to continue circumcising Jewish children and also support his family.
Today, while there is no fixed regulation regarding exactly how much one must pay a Mohel, it is obvious that without being paid for his work a Mohel will not be able to continue to circumcise and will be forced to find some alternate source of income. This situation often leads to serious difficulties, especially for Jews who are not familiar with this matter and cannot understand why the Mohel does not ask a fixed sum for his work. Such people often receive the mistaken impression that the Mohel simply wishes to extort them. When they ask the Mohel if a particular sum is sufficient, the Mohel gives an indefinite nod. This, as we have noted, is due to the fact that, in principle, the Mohel is supposed to work for free. This response, though, causes the father to believe that the Mohel is not satisfied with the proposed sum. Not wanting to give the impression of being stingy or of lacking respect for the commandment of Brit Milah or the work of the Mohel, the father sometimes pays an exorbitant amount, later complaining to have been extorted by the Mohel. On the other hand there are others who, upon hearing that there is no fixed price for circumcision, pay a ridiculously low sum.
My advice is that, because there is at present no set fee, the best thing to do is to agree on a price with the Mohel before the Brit. If the Mohel requests a sum which seems too high to the parents, they can always look for another, less expensive Mohel. If they are unable to find one, the original sum quoted was probably not high.
If the parents find it difficult to talk with the Mohel about prices, they should consider his work equivalent to that of a professional doctor and pay him accordingly, and for every additional visit paid by the Mohel, an additional payment should be made. Customs Connected to the Brit and the Accompanying Festive Meal
An effort should be made to have at least ten adult Jewish males present at the Brit Mila ceremony in order that there be significant testimony that the father in fact brought his son into the covenant of Abraham our Forefather, and to express thanks to God before ten people for the birth of the boy (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, 265:6).
It is customary to stand during the Brit Mila ceremony, in order to honor the baby’s entrance into the covenant of Abraham our Forefather.
It is a good custom for the participants to wear dress clothes for the Brit Mila ceremony. It goes without saying that the parents themselves must wear dress clothes in honor of the commandment. And even during the first nine days of the month of Av, which are days of national mourning wherein we reduce our joy, the Mohel, Sandak, and the father of the child must all wear Sabbath clothes (Rema, Orach Chaim 551:1). If the Brit should happen to fall on the Ninth of Av, these people should wear celebrative clothes, but not the kind of white clothing worn on the Sabbath (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 559:8).
Immediately after the Brit a meal is to be eaten. The difference between this meal an any other meal is that this is a "Seudat Mitzvah," which means an "Obligatory Festive Meal," and one who participates in such a meal has merited fulfilling a Torah commandment. Rema writes (Shulchan Arukh Yoreh Deah 265:12) that whoever does not participate in the festive meal that accompanies a Brit Mila is viewed as if "excommunicated from Heaven." But if offensive people are participating in such a meal, one is not obligated to join them. Therefore, the practice is not to invite people to the Brit in a straightforward manner, like: "You are invited to the Brit." Rather, if one wishes to invite a friend or relative to a Brit, one simply informs them that the Brit will take place on such-and-such a day, at such-and-such an hour and he is supposed to understand on his own that he is invited. This is done so that if the guest is unable to participate in the ceremony, his declining the invitation will not be interpreted as a refusal to take part in a Seudat Mitzvah, sparing him "excommunication from Heaven" (Pitchei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 265:18). But, if the guest must pass up the meal for some important objective, like congregational prayer, or to earn his livelihood, he is not looked upon as one who refuses to take part in the commandment. There are also opinions that if there is already a quorum of ten adult Jewish males at the meal, the guest is not obligated to take part, for the commandment will at any rate be fulfilled without him (see Otzar HaBrit, pg. 163). If, though, a guest is liable to misinterpret the lack of a formal straightforward invitation, it is better to invite him in a clear and unmistakable manner than to make him feel unwanted.
It is worth adding here that an ordinary meal is what is know as a "Seudat Reshut" (Optional Meal), i.e., there is no commandment to eat. Even though the food helps a person by giving him the strength to do good deeds and is therefore quite beneficial, all the same, one is not obligated to derive pleasure from the food as one is at a Seudat Mitzvah. Indeed, it may even be detrimental. This is not the case though with a Seudat Mitzvah. The pleasure derived from food at such a meal is also part of the commandment itself. This is especially true of a Seudat Brit Mila. After the removal of the foreskin, a part of the body which represents excessive physical appetite, the body remains clean and pure, a divine creation with which one is permitted, and even commanded to derive pleasure. The factor which causes us to be concerned about being carried away by our physical desires is the foreskin, and the spiritual contamination which is bound up in these desires. Regarding the Seudat Brit Mila, though, because it represents more than all else the purification of the physical, one is obligated to take part, to be happy, and to savor the taste of the food.
Distribution of Honors
In order to aid parents in preparing for a Brit Mila, I will list here the various honors which are presented at a Brit Mila ceremony in order that the parents be able to decide who to honor with which task. This is important so as to avoid embarrassment and unpleasant situations, for it sometimes happens that the parents do not decide who will be honored as the Sandak, with the "Chair of Elijah," or the blessings, etc. until the final moment. As a result the nervous father ends up unthinkingly choosing the one who stands closest to him, forgetting to honor those who truly deserve it, hence disappointing friends or relatives. For this reason it is important to be familiar with the honors that are involved in a Brit and their order of importance in order.
Let us begin with the most honorable role: the "Sandak." It is the Sandak who holds the child on his legs while the circumcision is being performed, and part of his job is actually to aid the Mohel. This honor is generally given to a grandfather or a Torah scholar. And many follow the custom of not honoring the same person twice as the Sandak (Rema, Yoreh Deah 265:11) The reason for this is that it is believed that he who is honored with being Sandak is blessed with wealth or other good fortune, and it is not fair or fitting that the father present this merit twice to the same person.
Next in importance after the Sandak are three equally important honors, and I list them here according to their order in the Brit ceremony. First is the honor of Elijah’s Chair, i.e., the one who places the baby on Elijah’s Chair before the Brit. After the circumcision two people receive honors. The first is given the task of pronouncing the blessings over the Brit Mila and the wine, announcing the name of the child, and blessing him. The second is honored with "Amidah Livrachot," i.e., he holds the baby while the blessings are being recited. As noted, there is no significant difference between these three honors as far as importance goes. Each of them is focal to the ceremony, and each possesses its own unique importance.