"And G‑d spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy..." (Leviticus 12:2).

Several verses earlier, at the close of the previous Torah reading (Shemini) the Torah exhorts, "And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (ibid. 11:44). One of the Torah commentators explains that the juxtaposition of these two verses suggests that a husband and wife must sanctify themselves prior to conception, for their preparation may have a lasting effect upon the nature of the child to be born.1 This effect continues throughout the child's life. The parents' conduct is a major factor in molding the character of the child for the good—or for the bad.

And so, from birth to Bar Mitzvah. There are those parents who leave no doubt in the child's mind that his Bar Mitzvah will be a graduation of sorts, when he will "graduate from Judaism." He is urged—indeed lavishly bribed—to study his Haftora, possibly by transliteration (it's so hard to learn to read Hebrew, you know). After all, everyone has to have a Bar-Mitzvah.

The boy is not stupid, nor are his feelings dull. He can understand and he can feel what the purpose of it all really is. Father is completely occupied with his business. His worries about the forthcoming Bar Mitzvah center around the size and prestige of the hall. Mother is taken up with the serious consideration of the right kind of flowers for the ceremony. The only thing junior has to do is to sing-song his Hebrew words and "we'll be proud of you." The whole ceremony is empty. It means little to the parents, even less to the youngster. Is it any wonder that such an upbringing creates a rift between parents and children? Years later, when the parents plead tearfully with their son, "Why have you humiliated us?" he will retort bitterly, "Did you ever give me something more meaningful to stand on? You taught me to imitate others, to seek their approval. That's all I ever learned from you."

From conception and throughout the youngster's life, parents must be aware that they are responsible for molding the child's character and Jewishness. They must put into effect the command, "And you shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy." To be holy is to be different, distinct. That distinction must be given to every boy and girl of our people, otherwise they see through the empty shell of the Bar Mitzva ceremony and have only contempt for it.