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First Haircut

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 25/4/2020

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Fascinating Insights—The Sefer (in English)

First Haircut

The custom among many is to give a child his first haircut at the age of three. Many go to Meiron to the grave of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai to do this. In fact, the Arizal[1] took his young son with his family to the grave of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and gave him a haircut (Upsherin[2]) there on Lag Baomer, followed by a celebration. This is called a חאלאקע (Chalaka), from the term איש חלק,[3] smooth-skinned man, since when one has an Upsherin, he now has a smooth head. 


We have a principle known as a [4]ערלה, the first three years of a newly planted tree or its grafted shoots is forbidden for use. Since man is compared to the tree of the field—כי האדם עץ השדה[5]—we therefore don’t touch his hair for the first three years. In the fourth year all its fruit is קדש הלולים לה', sanctified to laud Hashem. So too, at the beginning of the fourth year of a child, he is dedicated to Hashem as we introduce him to the Torah.[6] Indeed, this is why we have a celebration by an Upsherin.


We find an allusion to this custom in the word והתגלח, which is written with a peculiarly large ג.[7] This alludes to that at age three (as ג has a Gematria of 3), we do והתגלח, give a haircut.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Shaar Hakavonos, Inyan Sefira.

[2] Referring to the first haircut of a child.

[3] Breishis 27:11. Taamai Haminhagim, p. 269. Parenthetically, this is one difference between a Jew and a non-Jew as the core of a Jew is חלק in contrast to a non-Jew who is an איש שער.

[4] Vayikra 19:23-5.

[5] Devarim 20:19.

[6] See Rema in Yoreh Deah 245:8 that we teach him the letters of the Torah so he can be accustomed to read in Torah (See Midrash Tanchuma in Kedoshim 14). This is also when we train him in Mitzvos such as Payos, Tzitzis and so on. The שו"ת דברי יציב (Yoreh Deah 133:3, s.v. והמנהג. יציב is an acronym for his name יקותיאל יהודה בן צבי) writes that he remembers when he turned three his father covered him in a Tallis and carried him to Cheder to learn. His father put honey on the letters his son would lick. Also, he was prevented from seeing a non-Jew or anything טמא the entire day.

[7] Vayikra 13:33. 

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