It wasn’t what I always thought of when I heard the term bar mitzvah. Without much fanfare, our son’s 13th Hebrew birthday marked his official transition into this new world.

He attendedWe hadn’t fully grasped the true meaning of this milestone back-to-back evening prayers at Chabad of Northeast Florida with one of his friends from school. As the sun slowly set, he was a boy. But as evening turned to night, he was counted as part of their minyan. He came home to tell us, his face beaming with pride.

With all the preparations for his upcoming “bar mitzvah” on Shabbat—the planning, the shopping, the stress—we hadn’t fully grasped the true meaning of this milestone and how it comes upon all Jewish boys simply by turning 13 (no fancy party required).

Alex went with my husband, Danny, who taught him to put on his new tefillin. They were prepared in Israel, arriving after several months just in time. I was there, sitting peacefully in the women’s section with our younger children. It was a meditative and moving experience for me, praying at dawn during this special time. And I watched in awe as these men—doctors, physical therapists, lawyers, rabbis, teachers—all gather to pray every morning at 6:30 a.m. before heading to work and facing the chaos of the day.

Alex was called up to the Torah for the first time. He didn’t chant the parsha he has carefully studied the past year—that will come later in the week in front of the greater community, family and friends. But there he was, being called up to the Torah and getting his first aliyah. The emotion I felt surprised me; there in this small room so full of holiness was my little boy, not so little anymore.

At age 13, he is now officially part of the privilege and responsibility that comes with living a Torah life—a life of goodness and service, a life where each action counts as he fills his cup with good deeds.

According to some, the first documented bar mitzvah celebration is referred to in the Torah: “And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned” (Genesis 21:8). According to an opinion expressed in the Midrash, this was the day that Isaac turned 13; the day when he was “weaned” from his childish nature and assumed the responsibilities of a Jewish adult. In Jewish literature, this verse is often used as a source for the celebration made in honor of a boy’s acceptance of the mitzvot at age 13.

As for the cause of the celebration, this is the day when a Jewish person is given the obligation and resulting privilege of observing G‑d’s commandments.

The past 13 years, since Alex was a baby, Danny and I have worked to be part of religious Jewish life—the culture, the traditions, the community and the commandments. We made the commitment, already married with children, to build a family based on Torah values: keeping Shabbat, eating kosher food, and observing many other small and large aspects of Torah-based life. It has been a process of growth and education.

One thing I haveKids should marinate in love learned is that shalom bayit, “peace in the home,” should come first. Kids should marinate in love, and living a Jewish life is meant to be an expression of that. It’s a lesson that I continue to learn, forget and learn again.

So now, as we prepare for our son to go before the community, and then celebrate with food and drinks, I am trying to remind myself to be with simcha, with happiness, to focus on the beauty and meaning of the milestone.

He’s not just having a bar mitzvah, but becoming a bar mitzvah. He’s no longer just our son, but a son of the mitzvahs that (please G‑d) he will continue to perform with joy and kindness throughout his life. And that’s a reason to celebrate.