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Opsherin/Chalakah

Rabbi Yoel LiebermanShevat 9, 5770
1257
Question
B"H we were blessed with a son after many years of infertility, cancer etc. We plan to do a "Opsherin/Chalakah" PG when he turns 3. Since my husband and I are both "Chozrei Be’tshuvah" we don’t have any family Minhagim. In addition, most people in our community do not grow their boys hair, so we are not sure what to do at the Opsherin/Chalakah. (don’t even know the difference between those 2 words). My husband’s family are Sephardim, and they all grow their boys hair long, but at age 3 just cut it, without any kind of ceremony. Given our circumstances, we want to have a special and meaningful ceremony, and would appreciate if you could please advise us on what we should do. Thanks
Answer
The word "Opsherin" is a word in Yiddish, which simply means the cutting of the hair. The word Chalakka is the Hebrew version of the same ceremony. Some hold that the word comes from the word Challak" which means smooth. That is how our forefather Ya'acov referred to himself in the Torah (Bereshit 27:11) when he compared himself to the hairy Esau he said "I am a smooth man". Since there are two terms for the same custom, perhaps this indicates that the custom is widely kept in Askenazi and Sefardi circles , even though there is no early source in the Talmud for this custom and therefore it is not compulsory. The idea behind it is that the child is now growing and can slowly begin to fulfill the Torah's commandments. There are different levels in this education process. When he begins to speak his father teaches him "Torah tziva lanu moshe" and Shema Yisrael…. At the age of 4 he's taught the Aleph Bet, at the age of 5 he's taught the Chumash. But also at the age of 3 his hair is cut and the Peyot remain to teach the mitzvah of not shaving the Peyot . Also at this age the child is taught to start wearing Tzizit. Some say the idea of waiting 3 years is comparable to the mitzvah of "orla" in which the fruits of a tree are not eaten the first 3 years. After the third year the fruits of the tree can be benefited from, similarly we now benefit from the elevated holiness of the child who has reached the age of 3. (See Sha'arei Tshuva on the Shulchan Aruch 17:b). Since you are now dedicating your child to a life of mitzvot the custom is to have some form of a meal and to honor the occasion. It is also customary to honor a Rabbi with cutting the first hairs. Mazal Tov
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