I recently asked my newly married nephew, Moshe Raskin, about what his Bar Mitzvah meant to him.
Moshe said, “The Bar Mitzvah is the first step of independence in being an adult. You are viewed as a kid before that time. You reach a certain level of independence and responsibility as a representative of the congregation.
“Once I became a Bar Mitzvah, I could lead a benching service, be part of a minyan, lead services, read from the Torah, and receive an aliyah.”
At aish.com, in the article “The Jewish coming-of-age ceremony,” Rabbi Dov Lev writes, “Few things are associated with Judaism as much as Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The significance is that on this day the young person becomes fully responsible for keeping the commandments of the Torah.”
Rabbi Lev continued, “In Judaism, a mitzvah performed because one is commanded, is considered greater than a mitzvah performed voluntarily. This is because a person has a natural aversion to fulfilling an obligation. Yet overcoming this aversion is a sign of maturity, and this is what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrates – reaching the stage of obligation.”
Moshe added to this by saying, “It is tradition to learn from the Torah. One of the first challenges of [having a Bar Mitzvah] is to overcome the fear of getting up in front of people. You have to read in a foreign language, and you do it.
“This is the first lesson in total responsibility, and gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
I asked Moshe if the boy really does become a man, or the girl a woman, on the day of his Bar Mitzvah or her Bat Mitzvah.
He said, “We are all kids at heart. Throughout life, we are given increasing responsibility and opportunities. The Bar Mitzvah is the beginning, a first step of that adult responsibility, even though you are still a child. This makes a clearer demarcation. You are not a real man yet, but you are on the path of being weaned off of being a child and learning what it means to be an adult.”
Rabbi Lev made the same point in his article.
“The Bar Mitzvah celebration … serves another purpose: to remind the young man that he is an adult and responsible for his actions. Of course, he should seek counsel with his parents and other older people, but ultimate responsibility for his actions is his own,” he wrote.
PATRICIA RASKIN, president of Raskin Resources Productions Inc., is an award-winning radio producer and Rhode Island business owner. She is the host of “The Patricia Raskin” show, a radio and podcast coach, and a board member of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence.