I get on well with the guy across the street. He’s a typically gregarious Australian who enjoys a quiet beer and football and is devoted to his kids. We’ve had some interesting discussions over the years. He’s curious about my job and the odd hours I keep, while I, in turn, am fascinated by his descriptions of the years he spent crocodile farming up in Broome, Western Australia.

But although we obviously have different lifestyles, it was only last week that I realized how totally different our worldviews are. I was bringing in my garbage bins, when he wandered outside to do the same. I congratulated him on his son recently receiving his driver’s licence, and he commented that my oldest son would be getting his own license soon enough. “Though,” he added, “I notice he’s been going out with his mates a fair bit already.”

I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, until he started describing the beat-up car with a few young guys that pulls up outside my house late every Friday afternoon. Amused, I realized that what he assumes to be a few young blokes preparing for a big weekend is really yeshivah students coming back from visiting businesses in the area, sharing Judaism with the workers and owners.

It was difficult to explain to my neighbor the concept of Friday afternoon mivtzoim, a project initiated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, where yeshivah students volunteer to visit local shops and businesses to talk to people about Judaism, distribute Shabbat candles to women, and offer men the opportunity to put on tefillin.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have shared words of Torah with their “Chabad boys,” millions of mitzvahs have been performed, and untold numbers of Jews have been positively affected by their interactions with these fresh-faced and enthusiastic young students.

The boys benefit, too. I remember from my own youth how daunting it was to walk into a new business for the first time and start a conversation with a stranger. However, the confidence you gain from going on mivtzoim and the ability to interact with people of all types and stripes prove incredibly useful in whichever career you eventually choose to enter, while the friendships formed often last a lifetime.

It was while I was telling my neighbor how proud we are that our son chooses to give up his own time every Friday to reach out to others that I realized for the first time that my little boy is growing up. At an equivalent age, many boys are indeed running off with their friends to parties and wasting time on mindless entertainment. However, debauchery is not a sign of maturity.

How does the Torah define maturity?

We are introduced in this week’s Torah reading to our teacher and leader, Moses. Though we first meet him as a baby being pulled from the river Nile by an Egyptian princess, the narrative only really picks up when “Moses grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens.”1

The Midrash explains:

Moses saw great burdens being put upon small people and light burdens upon big people, and a man's burden upon a woman and a woman's burden upon a man, and the burden which an old man should carry on a youth, and that of a youth on an old man. So he left his palace and helped them rearrange their burdens, pretending all the time to be helping Pharaoh. G‑d then said to him: "You have put aside your affairs and have gone to share the sorrow of Israel, behaving to them like a brother; I too, will speak only with you."

The verse that describes Moses’ selfless actions on behalf of his people begins “And Moses grew up.” As the Rebbe points out, these words denote that Moses had reached a stage, not a specific age. The fact that he was willing to sacrifice his own time to help others and had the maturity to empathize with the suffering of his brothers was a sign that Moses had grown up.

The definition of an adult is one who is willing to give of himself to those in need. It might be more appealing to live life on your own terms, to pursue your own needs and desires. Yet the lesson we learn from Moses, the greatest leader in history, is that you’re only really grown up when you’re ready to leave the comfort of your own palace to reach out and share whatever you have with others.