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Entering Adulthood - the Bar and Bat Mitzvah

Entering Adulthood - the Bar and Bat Mitzvah

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The joy of a lifetime

“This won’t be just another party,” we tell ourselves. We spend time and money to make sure the Bar/Bat Mitzvah we are hosting will be an event that stands apart from the other 40 Simchas being celebrated that week.

But perhaps the greatest challenge is to make the day unforgettable not for the guests but for the real center of attention – the Bat Mitzvah girl or Bar Mitzvah boy. For many, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience determines their attitude to Judaism. If the event is shallow and pretentious, they will see Judaism as shallow and pretentious. But if it is meaningful and inspiring, their Jewish identity will be reinforced and they will be proud of their heritage. What can we do to ensure that our children will be positively affected and transformed by the experience?

As for everything else, children look to their parents for guidance on how to view the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. They take their cues from us, and our attitude will define theirs. By the parents taking time to understand what a Bar/Bat Mitzvah really is, they can develop an approach that will highlight the uniqueness and power of their child’s special day.

How can a 12/13 year old be considered an adult?

Some Bar Mitzvah boys expect to wake up feeling different on the morning of their Bar Mitzvah. They run to the mirror to see if any sign of a whisker has appeared on their chin, or start talking to themselves to check if their voice cracks. But the change that happens on the Bar Mitzvah day is much more subtle than that. The maturity reached at age 13 is not one that allows you to buy alcohol or decide your own bedtime – it is a spiritual maturity.

As is well known, girls mature earlier than boys. The same applies spiritually; a girl becomes Bat Mitzvah at age 12. Again, there may be no apparent change in her appearance. The change is internal.

What do you mean by spiritual maturity?

The definition of spiritual maturity is the ability to experience the depth and complexity of life. Let’s explore what that means.

A child can only see the world in one way. If his parent forbids him to eat a chocolate, he says, “I hate you!” with venom. At that moment, he means it. You can’t rationalize with him by pointing out that you always buy him lollies and he will be able to have it after dinner and it is for his own good and you are his parent…These are meaningless words. There is only one reality for him: you didn’t let him have the chocolate so you are BAD. Of course, if you give in and allow him to have the chocolate, you are “the best parent in the world” and all is forgotten. For the child there are only extremes. In his yet under-developed mind, every situation is simple and one-sided, black or white. There are no shades of gray.

This is a reflection of the purity of childhood. Children experience pure and unadulterated happiness, all-consuming sadness, extreme anger and uninhibited excitement. This is a necessary stage for them to develop as wholesome beings. Each of these emotions must find its independent place in the child’s identity before they can start to work together.

With maturity comes the ability to sense subtlety and nuance. Our minds expand to be able to appreciate that even though something seems painful, there is a deeper good. And the things that feel good are not always good for us. An adult can say, “Although I am upset at you, I still love you.” Or, “Although I want it, I know it’s wrong.” We can see beyond the surface. Life is no longer one-dimensional; it has a depth and a complexity of which children are blissfully unaware.

What suddenly happens at age 12/13?

The Kabbalah teaches that until age 13 for boys and 12 for girls, we are primarily conscious of our body and its needs. Our reality begins and ends with what we see in front of us, and we are preoccupied with the demands and appetites of our physical nature. Suddenly at Bar/Bat Mitzvah another voice is heard – the voice of our soul. The needs, yearnings and feelings of our spiritual inner self are allowed to emerge. We begin to seek meaning, fulfilment, connection, inspiration. We meet a side to our personality that we never knew existed – a deeper side.

This is what makes us an adult in spiritual terms. We now have the tools to appreciate a multi-layered world because we ourselves are now multi-layered – we have an active body and an expressive soul. Until now our character was one-sided and shallow; only the body had a say. From now on we can also see things through the eyes of our deeper self - our soul. Then the choice is ours – to continue to live superficially or to develop our spiritual awareness.

So if the child is now spiritually mature, what is the parents’ job?

Once we reach spiritual maturity we begin to make choices as to how we want to live our lives. The factor that most defines the type of life we will lead is our value system. It will influence who we marry, our career choices, and our attitude to every aspect of life. Much of this system is developed in the years following Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The questions that accompany the onset of adolescence demand answers, and if we don’t provide them, popular society will.

Here’s where parents play a vital role. These newly matured souls seek nourishment from their elders. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience must be presented not as an end to a long process of Hebrew lessons, but an initiation into a lifetime of spiritual discovery. Once it is over, start giving your child opportunities to express his or her soul. Suggest ways they can give of their time to help others, to volunteer for worthy causes – to use their fresh young energy positively. Discuss questions of morality with your child; bring up real issues such as G-d and the soul, the challenges of growing up, the pain and beauty of true love. Welcome your child into the world of living thoughtfully.

You don’t need to know all the answers. Share your own experiences. Find a book on Jewish values or Jewish wisdom, and set aside a time every week to read a short section and discuss it together with your child. Ask them how they think the ideals you read about can be applied practically. This can become a family custom and be seen as a post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah privilege. I can think of no more powerful way to guide your child into adulthood.

When planning the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, remember that the really important stuff begins after the fanfare has died down. People will forget who the caterer was a week after the event, and the table decorations will mostly be destroyed by the time the main course is served. But the values you pass down to your children are eternal. That is a gift that they will cherish every day of their lives – the gift of spiritual maturity.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (20)
May 5, 2014
Rabbi Moss
Question:
If the beauty of adulthood comes as a result of the Gdly Soul's arrival and presence, how can it be explained and appreciated for non jews?
Mushka
Brooklyn
November 19, 2013
I get it but I don't. Bar bat mitzvah is when you are supposed to begin being responsible and now have you spiritual maturity. I still don't get what it means that when the girl or boy wake up on their birthday. And suddenly get mature and look in the mirror and feel so different.and do you think it is a rite of passage?
Anonymous
Sacramento CA
September 1, 2013
i like what they've put here its usefull and will help me greatly with my bat mitzvah speech
Anonymous
hendon
June 12, 2013
To Experiential and Emotional Dimension
The experience and emotions of a Bar Mitzvah boy are very unique to their situation. A 13 year old boy who doesn't celebrate his Bar Mitzvah or learn about it will not wake up feeling any different on his 13th birthday, even though something has changed in him spiritually. The experience of Bar/Bat Mitzvah really comes from knowing about the special milestone, having a meaningful and inspiring celebration, reading from the Torah and donning Tefillin (for boys) etc. and acknowledging the new responsibilities that comes with turning 12/13.
Rikkie
Melbourne, Australia
February 10, 2013
Experiential and Emotional DImension
How would a boy in his Bar Mitzvah feel or experience? Can someone explain this a little to me I don't understand
Anonymous
December 13, 2011
I don't get it, what are the new responsibilities a boy has after his Bar Mitzvah?
Anonymous
November 28, 2011
Bat Mitzvah
What are a girl's responsibilities for her Bat Mitzvah? A boy reads from the Torah, but what does a girl do?
Anonymous
New York, NY
October 28, 2011
Re: Jewish
On the home page of chabad.org there is a box where you can search for a Chabad house in your area.

Wishing you lots of success this year, both spiritually and physically!
Anonymous
Crown Heights, NY
October 5, 2011
I have no Jewish Links anymore
Hi, I was born jewish-to a Jewish mother and a jewish father. My mother born in England and my father in Aden then immigrating to Israel when it was formed. They have both now sadly passed and are burried side by side in a jewish Cemetary. This now is the only linkage i have to being jewish. it makes me sad as I have a son who will be turning 13 years old in two years and i wish him to know his heritage and have a bar mitvah. Does anybody know where i can seek help in regaining my Jewish faith? My mother died when i was nearly 16 years of age and my father died in 2007. They both had traditional Jewish send offs but after my mother died my father lost a bit of his will to carry on and left myself my brother and i to do as we will. Myself being the oldest still tried to retain a sense of normality after my mother's passing-but it was not long before my efforts were ignored. We still observed the Rosh hashanah and Yom Kippur every year but it never felt the same. any help would be great.
Angelique Robinson
London, Edmonton
August 16, 2011
Thanks much!
thanks now i have good information for my assignment! :)
Bryan
sydney, Australia
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