Ḥalakeh (Yidish: Opshern) Meaning and the performance of the ceremony according to Kabbalah
The custom of Ḥalakeh is old, it is not known when and where did it begin. The Ḥalakeh is a custom and not Halakha (Jewish Law). Therefore, different Jewish communities and even different families have different customs of performing the ceremony and the celebrations.
The Meaning of the ceremony
Until the age of three, a child receives the basic spiritual forces and soul forces that will shape his character for life. These forces prepare him to deal with his Tikun. According to The Ari “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt …” (Exodus 1:1) – These are the forces of the soul that enter the body (of the narrowness and limited body – Mitsrayim = Egypt), along with the growth process (The Writings of The Ari, Sefer Halikutim, Parashat Shemot). That is, parallel to the body’s physical growth, the forces of the soul are growing as well.
Till the age of three the child is busy, naturally, only with himself (Selfishness, The Desire to Receive for the Self alone). This is when he develops his initial desires as the process dictates it to him from birth (and from his own past lives). The desires and characteristics that are being developed during these 3 years are the basis for the character and personality that will manifest throughout his lifetime. During that period we should be careful not to put the child under too coercive and binding education, so as not to interfere with the process mentioned above.
Our hair is one of the gates to attract spiritual forces (see: The Story of Samson), and this is the reason behind the custom of not having haircut until the age of three. This, in order not to limit the process of child development (haircut as a symbol for interfering with the child development by limiting his communication with the upper worlds).
The idea of not having a haircut till the age of three is also compared by some sages to the Mitsva of “Orla” – not reaping the fruits of the tree during the first three years of its life, according to the text:
“When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden (Orla). For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten.” (Leviticus 19: 23-24)
At the age of three, the opening between the bones of the skull of the child is closed, till this age this opening allows the child to receive from above (the upper worlds) and go through his initial development, at this age his spiritual training and education begins. Now it is the time to start the most important process of gradually preparing the child for the path of spiritual discipline, consideration for other people, for society, and for values that are beyond the immediate desires. This preparation culminates exactly ten years later, at Bar Mitsvah.
Some believe that clipping the hair of the child and turning him from “a hairy man” (Esau, according to The Zohar symbolizes the forces of the evil inclination in all of us) to a smooth man (Jacob, according to The Zohar symbolizes the forces of the good inclination), “Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin”. (Genesis 27:11). Therefore, this first haircut can symbolize the child’s entry into the world of Torah, The World of Perfection, the world of Jacob that is called by the Torah “a complete man”. Accordingly, the word Ḥalakeh, can relate to the Hebrew word Ḥalak – smooth of the Bible.
Celebrating Ḥalakeh on Lag BaOmer
Lag BaOmer (33rd day of The Omer, 18th of Iyar) is the day celebrating the completion of the writing of The Zohar by Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. The bliss that is revealed on this day is believed to be an important help for the child at his initiation on the spiritual path in order to become a person of spiritual greatness.
Therefore, it is very common in many families to wait after the child has reached his third birthday and celebrate the Ḥalakeh on Lag BaOmer afterwards in Meiron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon. If the third birthday falls few months before Lag BaOmer, the Ḥalakeh ceremony will take place on the birthday. Many families celebrate with a band of Klezmers. Some families have the custom of having the ceremony at the tomb of Samuel the Prophet (north of Jerusalem) or Shimon HaTsadik (in Jerusalem).
The ceremony of the haircut begins when an important spiritual person that is accepted by the family, a rabbi or teacher, grandfather, etc. cuts the first curl. After him, the other relatives and friends are honored to cut each curl in turn while the singing and celebrating is going on.
The Ḥalakeh practice according to the custom of Bet-El Yeshiva of Kabbalists:
- The first person who cuts the child’s curls does it in the following locations:
- Above the forehead in the place of the head Tefillin
- The side of the head near the temples
- Back of the head
- Give a candy before and after the cut in order not to scare the child
- Take a chart of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, spread honey on the letters Aleph, to Tav and teach the child to recognize them and lick the honey so he will learn that the Torah is true and sweet.
The intention – Kavanah is that here it’s the time to shape the character of the child by way of the Torah, mitsvot, self-discipline and consideration for others, the haircut is a symbol of the end of the period in which it grows wild, and the beginning of a period that will shape his life as a whole person of spiritual and moral attributes.
It is a custom of some Ashkenazim to say Psalm 150.
There are many additional customs and prayers among Sepharadim.
In some communities it is believed that on this day it is good to give charity to the poor or to Torah scholars, then celebrate with a feast – Se’udat Mitsvah, with bread, fish and other foods.
Another common practice is to weigh the hair collected from the child in gold or in silver and give that value in coins to charity. It is believed that this will bring the merit that the boy will grow to be a wise Torah scholar and live for long days of faithfulness according to The Munkatch Hasidim of Hungary.