Going to the bar mitzvahs of your friends and preparing for your own, you might start to feel like everyone’s bar mitzvah is the same: the same ceremony, the same kind of speech, the same party…

A mitzvah project is one way to make sure your bar mitzvah is as unique and special as you are yourself. You’ll choose one mitzvah, become an expert in it, and then present it to your friends and family in a way that only you can. It’s one of the most meaningful things you can do in honor of your bar mitzvah.

Here’s how it works:

1. Choose a mitzvah

That’s not as easy as it sounds. After all there are hundreds to choose from! The good news is that, since there are so many, you should be able to find one that’s meaningful and interesting to you. Start by thinking about your strengths and talents. Are you detail oriented? Artistic? Good at math and science? Love cooking? There are mitzvahs that have to do with every area of life.

All mitzvahs fall into two basic categories:

  1. Mitzvahs between you and G‑d. Tefillin, Shabbat and keeping kosher are examples of mitzvahs between man and G‑d. G‑d commands us to do them, and they don’t directly involve those around us.
  2. Mitzvahs between you and others. Charity, loving your fellow as yourself and the prohibitions against murder, stealing etc. are all examples of this kind of mitzvah. G‑d commands us to do them, but they directly involve those around us.

Fun trivia fact: You probably know that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with two tablets. But do you know why? (Hint: it has to do with the difference explained above).

First decide which of these two categories you’d like to focus on, then narrow it down to one particular mitzvah. See our suggestions below or ask your rabbi if you need more help. Even better, you can choose one mitzvah from each category.

2. Do your research

Studying Talmud. (Photo: Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago)
Studying Talmud. (Photo: Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago)

Find out everything you can about this mitzvah. Start by making sure you know exactly how to do the mitzvah correctly. Once you’ve got it down pat, learn about what it means, and why it plays an important part in Judaism. Make a special section in your notebook and take notes about what you’re reading. Not sure where to start? Search for your mitzvah right here on Chabad.org! You should also ask your rabbi to suggest books or other resources you can use.

3. Make it yours

You’ve done your research, now it’s time to make this mitzvah your own. Read over all your notes and highlight things that you found inspirational or meaningful. Think about how you would like to express this meaning and inspiration. It can be a scrapbook, a charity project, a computer program or a song. How you structure your mitzvah project depends on your own interests and talents and is entirely up to you. But the most important part of making this mitzvah your own is that you make a resolution to DIY--do it yourself!--whenever the opportunity arises. Since you’re now an expert in this mitzvah, it shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep.

4. Share it!

Your bar mitzvah celebration is the perfect time to share your mitzvah project with your friends and family. Tell them about it, show it to them (if it’s visual), let them take home part of your project with them. Have them participate in it as much as possible. See below for more specific suggestions.

Mitzvah Project Suggestions:

A teen recites the Shema prayer while wearing tefillin (credit: Cteen)
A teen recites the Shema prayer while wearing tefillin (credit: Cteen)

Tefillin is one of the most powerful mitzvahs in the Torah. It’s also particularly significant for you, because as a bar mitzvah boy, you’re about to start putting on tefillin for the first time. Tefillin is all about connecting your mind, heart and actions to G‑d, so that they work in harmony. Once you’ve learned how to put on tefillin correctly and explored the deeper meaning, here are some suggestions for creating a mitzvah project: Write a story, poem or essay about tefillin and give out copies at your celebration. Like to build stuff? Build your own creation that connects things that seem to be worlds apart and display it at your party. Find a creative way to encourage your friends to do this mitzvah too.

Photo not taken on Shabbat (Credit: Serraf Studio)
Photo not taken on Shabbat (Credit: Serraf Studio)

Prayer: Choose a prayer that resonates with you. Discover the literal meaning, the spiritual implications and the place the prayer holds in the greater context of the services. Translate your research into a book, scrapbook or slideshow which you can share with the guests at your celebration.

Charity: Giving is a huge part of Judaism and there are many directions you can take. First research the mitzvah – there are many references and guidelines in the Torah, and plenty of inspiring stories throughout Jewish literature. For your project, you can collect toys for needy children, prepare meals for the homeless, volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter, hold a bake sale and donate the funds to an important cause, etc. You can have the guests at your celebration participate by bringing things to donate to the organization you choose, or by helping you make items to donate.

Colel Chabad has been chosen by Israel’s Welfare Ministry and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to implement the national Israel Food Security Project. Beneficiaries can get either a food package or a financial subsidy. (Photo: Israel Bardugo)
Colel Chabad has been chosen by Israel’s Welfare Ministry and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to implement the national Israel Food Security Project. Beneficiaries can get either a food package or a financial subsidy. (Photo: Israel Bardugo)

Loving Your Fellow as Yourself (AKA chessed, kindness): This one of the most important mitzvahs in the Torah, in fact, the great sage Hillel once famously said, “This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary.” When it comes to kindness, the possibilities are endless. Here are a few suggestions:Do you have lots of patience? Are you a good listener? Half an hour of your time once or twice a week might make world of difference to someone in a local nursing home or hospital. If you want to make it bigger, engage your friends and classmates. Set up a roster so the residents get several visits a week. You will hear many wonderful stories during your visits –record some of them. Type them up and give them to the residents. Compile some of the moving ones into a booklet to distribute at your celebration.

There are hundreds of organizations dedicated to helping others. Do some research, choose one that you like and look for ways to help them, either by volunteering your time, or by raising money to donate. Do you enjoy corresponding? Ask the organization to set you up with a pen-pal. Get to know the people you’re helping, and it will become so much more meaningful.

You can choose one of these ideas, or use them as a springboard for a project of your own. Let your imagination go – as long as you are determined and realistic you can choose almost anything for your mitzvah project.

Although you’ll become a bar mitzvah with or without a Mitzvah Project, we encourage you to try it – it’s a wonderful way to enter Jewish adulthood. And, chances are, the experience will stick with you long after your bar mitzvah celebration is officially over.