As a mother of a growing family, baruch Hashem, I feel the need to unburden some of my frustration of the last few months — that preceded our firstborn’s Bar Mitzvah.
Please don’t misread me; this was a milestone we excitedly looked forward to for the past thirteen years and consider our role as parents to be a precious gift from Hashem that we try not to take for granted. And what a zechus to see our children blossoming into b’nei mitzvah, Chasdei Hashem!
Since boys outnumber the girls in our household, we considered this occasion to be our practice run. Now it’s one thing for parents to be aware that bar mitzvah marks a Jewish boy’s entry into manhood and maturity as he undertakes the yoke of Torah via obligatory mitzvos, and quite another to act on that awareness — by instilling the seriousness of the occasion in their children and to inspire them to strive to be true B’nei Torah.
As one of the younger boys in his class, our son had attended many bar mitzvah ‘parties’ before he turned thirteen. I cannot begin to tell you how unsettling it’s been to have our son come home from these events with the following party favors: T-shirts emblazoned with the message ‘I had a blast at so-and-so’s bar mitzvah’; glitter hats and ties (reminiscent of l’havdil secular New Year parties); items such as Chinese hats, Japanese umbrellas, sombreros, etc. (corresponding to the ‘international’ theme of the party); the BM boy’s favorite sports theme items; personalized socks and pillows, etc. And I am speaking of a yeshivish community.
I’m sure some readers are wondering where I’m headed with this and will argue that there is nothing wrong with boys having a good time and enjoying themselves. But I ask you, Rachel, isn’t the real meaning behind the occasion being drowned out when so much time, emphasis and money are placed on worthless frivolities?
Since when has a bar mitzvah become a time for ‘fun and games’? I was always under the impression that bar mitzvah for boys (bat mitzvah for girls) is when our young adults begin to differentiate in earnest between a meaningless empty existence (as is the concentration on material acquisitions) and the significance of being a yirei shamayim.
Thank G-d our son saw things our way and was not influenced by his peers. He took great pride in attaining the privilege of putting on tefillin and appreciated the small but meaningful affair we were zoche to celebrate with close family and friends — where the party favor guests went home with consisted of a personalized bencher and long-lasting memories.
Proud of our Son
It’s the world we live in and the influence around us. One family begins the trend and others blindly follow, in large part due to peer pressure. And sadly, as you so effectively convey, the essence of the occasion threatens to be lost on the bar mitzvah boy who is being feted in lavish, and often garish, style.
Ironically, boys at 13 (girls at 12) first acquire their yetzer tov. Bearing in mind that the battle between their yetzer tov and yetzer hora is now on for good (no pun intended) and our boys and girls become responsible for their actions, it would hardly seem like the appropriate time to focus attention on ‘fun and games.’
The Talmud teaches us that the entire Torah is compared to the mitzvah of tefillin. In fact, a fascinating story is brought down (in Masechta Shabbos). Rabi Yannai says that tefillin must have a pure and holy guf (body), like Elisha Bal Kenafayim (host of Wings). Now, how would Elisha have come by such an intriguing name?
At a time when Jews were forbidden by an evil regime to don tefillin (with a warning that a Jew caught in the act would have a hole bored into the top of his forehead), Elisha wore them in defiance of the decree and wandered outdoors — where an officer spotted him. As Elisha began to run in the opposite direction, he removed his teffilin.
His pursuer apprehended him and asked Elisha what he held in his hand, to which Elisha replied, “The wings of a dove.” The officer pried open Elisha’s hand and discovered him to be holding… the wings of a dove! Thus he earned the name Elisha Bal Kenafayim.
The Jewish people are likened to the wings of a dove… for just as a dove protects her wings from harm as she relies on them to navigate her, protect her from the elements and shield her from birds of prey, so do the Jews rely on mitzvos to shield them from all harm.
Thank you for sharing your experience and insightfulness with our readers. Hopefully, you’ve motivated others to follow your example and resist the temptation to turn a momentous occasion into a ritzy affair. Wishing you loads of nachas and joy from your fortunate clan.