It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that the essential meaning of any given Hebrew word lies in the word’s first appearance in the Torah.
A traditional hope declared by those gathered for a bris milah after the circumcision is performed is “Zeh hakatan gadol yih’yeh!” – May this small one become a great [literally, “large”] one!
The words for small and large, katan and gadol respectively, first appear in parshas Beraishis, in the context of the creation of the sun and moon, the most prominent luminaries in our sky.
The midrash, quoted by Rashi (Beraishis 1:16), notes how both luminaries are at first called “large,” but then the sun alone retains that adjective, and the moon is called “small.” Both, the narrative goes, were originally equally powerful, but the moon complained, “Is it possible for two kings to use one crown?” To which Hashem replied, “Go, then, and make yourself small.”
The sun did not enter the conversation, allowing the moon its day in heavenly court. And it ended up retaining its “large” status while the moon was diminished.
A baby is entirely self-centered, demanding its food and comfort and oblivious to the needs of others (as many an exhausted parent can confirm). Perhaps our blessing that the newly circumcised boy will go from “smallness” to “largeness” is a hope that he will progress from being a demanding creature, like the example of the moon in the midrash, to a serene one, like that of the sun.
The Talmud (Shabbos 88b) describes such people as “those who are insulted and do not insult, who hear their shame and do not respond, who act out of love and are joyful in suffering.”
And, interestingly, it applies to them the pasuk “And they that love Him are as the sun going forth in its might” (Shoftim, 5:31).
© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran