What is a Bar Mitzvah?
“Bar Mitzvah” translates to mean “son of the commandment” and is used to describe a Jewish boy that reaches the age of thirteen. In Judaism, the age of thirteen for males is a milestone at which the young person becomes responsible for keeping the commandments of the Torah.
Bar Mitzvah is also used to describe the event that many of these boys will hold to celebrate their “coming of age” even thought strictly speaking it refers to their status. Even if a boy does not have a special ceremony or event to celebrate their coming of age, he will still automatically become Bar Mitzvah.
What is the mystical reasoning behind the Bar Mitzvah status?
According to Kabbalah, just as thirteen is an age at which boys often begin to change physically, their souls are also changing and it is believed that a person’s spiritual being has several levels of soul and at the time of Bar Mitzvah a new level of soul is awakened leading to moral awareness and sensitivity which enables the taking of responsibility for one’s actions.
Furthermore, there is a well-known rule in the Talmud that a commandment performed by one who is commanded to uphold it is considered greater than the commandment performed by one who isn’t obligated to do so. This is because when told to do things people have a natural aversion to do so. To overcome this aversion shows maturity and this is what the Bar Mitzvah celebrates- the stage of obligation.
Calling up to the Torah
On the Sabbath of his thirteenth birthday, the young man celebrating his Bar Mitzvah is called up to the Torah and in most synagogues it is customary to pelt the young man with candies. It is customary for the father of the young man who has reached Bar Mitzvah age to recite a blessing symbolizing the fact that from here on his son takes responsibilities for his own actions.
The Bar Mitzvah will then read a portion from the Biblical prophets and after services a small buffet is often held that begins with a blessing over the wine.
It is popular to hold a reception in celebration of the Bar Mitzvah, ideally on the day the boy turns Bar Mitzvah. Often the Bar Mitzvah boy will give a short speech that is related to Torah thoughts. It is preferable that the celebration not be ostentatious so as not to place the emphasis on the wrong things- the spiritual significance of the day comes first and foremost.
It is the accepted practice to give a gift to the Bar Mitzvah boy. It is always advisable to check what is deemed acceptable in the community of the Bar Mitzvah boy regarding gifts. It is a nice idea to give something meaningful for this important milestone event; a beautiful charity box can be a lovely idea, a Jewish book that the Bar Mitzvah boy can enjoy, Tefillin that the Bar Mitzvah boy begins putting on can be an expensive but truly special gift, a Tallit in the case of Sephardi communities where the boy will also begin wearing one at Bar Mitzvah, etc.