I’ve been completely stressed over my daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah. I don’t recall going through this with my oldest, but I’m sure I did. I have a bit of amnesia when it comes to these things. I forget just how much work and anxiety I go through, so when it happens again I jump in so willingly, with no remembrance that I had promised myself I would never, ever, agree to handling so much on my own. So, needless to say, here I am. Again.

It is not so much all the logistics (of which there are many) of pulling off both a lunch in synagogue after services and then her party. It is something more. I have been filled with this guilt that she hasn’t prepared enough. That she hasn’t learned enough. That she hasn’t integrated the meaning of her bat mitzvah enough.

Part of my guilt and fear and stress was from treating this day as if it was a deadlineThen it occurred to me the other day how unhealthy my thinking has been. Of course, my daughter should take this transformative day in her life seriously. Of course, she should prepare. Of course, she should focus and learn and grow. But part of my guilt and fear and stress was from treating this day as if it was a deadline. As if this bat mitzvah day culminated everything, and everything had to be completed and ready for her big day.

For so many, the day of the bat or bar mitzvah is likened to a graduation. There is this sense that you have finished. That you have reached your goal. That everything up until this point, all the classes, tutoring, learning, preparing, has been only for this one day. And once that day is over, it is over. It is done with. Finished.

I want my daughter’s bat mitzvah to be a beautiful event. But more than that, I want and need her to know that this is not the end of anything; it is just the beginning. Her life as a Jewish woman is not the final day, but the first day. Up until now it has been only practice; from bat mitzvah and on, it is the real deal. Even though she is only a 12-year-old girl, Judaism now will consider her as an adult. She will be responsible for her thoughts, her speech and her actions.

And while it is so easy to get caught up with the details of the party (yes, I am talking to myself right now), the party is not the bat mitzvah. The bat mitzvah happens with or without the party. It happens with or without her involvement. The bat mitzvah happens by virtue of her turning 12. Her bat mitzvah marks taking her past, her childhood, and using that to catapult into her present, with a focus for her future. This is a lifelong process. This is not something that happens in one day, or is represented by one day.

The bat mitzvah happens with or without the partyWe put a lot into the big days. And for good reason. They are big days. But we can’t forget that these days are not all-inclusive. They always should represent a start, not an end. Yes, the birth is the culmination of the pregnancy. But the focus is on the new life, the beginning. Which is why I always laugh when someone tells me that they can’t wait for the birth, that then the hardest part will be over. Just wait, I think. The hard part hasn’t even begun.

So, too, with a wedding. Of course, a wedding should be beautiful. Of course, effort should go into ensuring that the day is special and holy. But if more focus is invested in the wedding than the marriage, it is a sad state of affairs. The wedding is the beginning. Only the beginning.

I am trying to make this my new focus. The week has finally come. The bat mitzvah is this Shabbat. And there is much left to do. But isn’t that the point? There should always be more to do. There should always be something unfinished to motivate us to do more. One way or another, the room will come together. I doubt anyone will starve, even if I can’t make the other 10 cakes I was hoping to. But what I can’t forget is the message I want, I need, my daughter to have.

This is her beginning. This is her start. As prepared as she hopefully will be, this is only her first step. Her bat mitzvah is her time to shine. It is her time to be the star. But the next morning is what really counts. When she wakes up as a Jewish woman. When she wakes up as a bat mitzvah. And when she recognizes that all the learning and development will only continue and grow.

Mazel tov, Nessia!