What is a Sholom Zochor? I understand that the first Friday night after the birth of a boy, people gather in the newborn's home after Friday night dinner. But all they do is eat. What is the meaning behind this?
The oddest of all Jewish lifecycle events is the Sholom Zochor. Unlike any other celebration, there are no speeches, there is no ceremony, no special prayers or songs. It is just a bunch of people getting together, saying Lechaim and Mazel Tov. Yet this is the best way to welcome a new soul to the world.
As joyous as a birth is for the family, think about what it means for the child's soul. The soul is a fragment of the divine, a piece of G-d Himself. Before birth, it dwells in the higher realms, close to G-d, in a state of peace and comfort. All this changes when at conception, the soul reluctantly descends earthward. It spends the next nine months hovering around the body as it develops in the womb of its mother. During this time an angel is sent down as a personal tutor to teach the soul Torah. The womb is not quite heaven, but an idyllic existence nevertheless.
Then suddenly a child is born, the soul enters the body and is thrust into the world. We can only imagine how traumatic it is for a celestial soul to become enmeshed with a terrestrial body, and be transferred from a pristine world of absolute purity into a harsh world where good and evil are mixed together. No wonder we cry when we are born.
What consolation can we offer this poor soul? How can such a steep descent be justified? What can we answer to the soul's cry: Why did I have to come down here?
We can't console the newly arrived soul with words of wisdom, for it received much higher wisdom from the angel in the womb. We can't impress it with our prayers, because our prayers cannot compete with the union the soul had with G-d before coming down. But we can show the soul the one thing that this world has that no other world can match: the opportunity to do good.
No matter how lofty the soul may have been before birth, it never had the opportunity to share its goodness with someone else. Only down here in this physical world can we perform kindness, and bring joy to another being. In the higher realms all is in order, everything's perfect. There's nothing that can be improved. Not so down here. In this world, people are needy, and we can provide their needs. People need each other when they are weak and need our support. And people need each other to share their joyous times as well. Visiting a friend to say Mazel Tov, and receiving a bite to eat in return is a display of the simple kindness that cannot be found in any world other than this one.
So Lechaim! - to life on this earth, our only chance to do good and impact others. Your soul came a long way to get here. Make sure it's worth the trip.