We’ve reached an important milestone in my house: the traditional choice of a Bar Mitzvah date. I awaited this event with a great deal of excitement. It was a sign that my son was getting older and it was the first step in the Bar Mitzvah itself. And it brought back memories of the excitement (and anxiety) I felt as I faced my own Bat Mitzvah many years ago.
I know that my son’s Bar Mitzvah will be like mine in many ways. There will be the studying with the rabbi and the cantor. Then he will need to write a d’var torah, or speech, based on his Torah portion. And finally, there will be the big day itself, when my son leads the congregation in worship and reads from the Torah. There is comfort for me in knowing what to expect as my husband and I go on this journey with my son. The similarities will also allow me to assure my son along the way. And these rituals which are new to my son but familiar to me, also help reinforce the value of l’dor v’dor—from generation to generation.
Life cycle events, like Bar Mitzvah, mark certain transitions in our life from birth through death. They also connect each of us to previous generations and to our Jewish values. But where did these events come from? Why is a Bar Mitzvah held at the age of 13? Why is the Bar or Bat Mitzvah the age at which Jewish parents are no longer responsible for their child’s Jewish education? Bar Mitzvah is not prescribed in the Torah. In the Talmud, it says that a girl becomes an adult at age 12 and a boy at age 13, but the ceremony that we associate with Bar Mitzvah came hundreds of years after this was written. And the history of our other life cycle events is similar.
While it may not be necessary to know the history of brit milah, b’nai mitzvah, or the wedding ceremony to participate in these events, it can add more meaning to the events themselves when you know how they’ve evolved over the centuries. This summer Melton Orlando will be offering Soul’s Cycles, a six-week course beginning June 1, that explores the origins of Jewish life cycle events and the rituals and values associated with them.
To learn more about this in-person class- REGISTER HERE