The Bar and Bat Mitzvah: A Family Event
By Rabbi Debra Bennet, Temple Chaverim, Plainview, New York
Our Jewish tradition has always emphasized the importance of education. In fact, in the verse above, the Talmud teaches that a parent was obligated to teach a child the words of Torah to ensure that Judaism would be passed from one generation to another. Clearly, teaching our children about our past, our heritage and our traditions remains a value we share today; a value emphasized as you and your family approach the day of your child’s Bar Bat Mitzvah.
This special day provides an opportunity to look at the teaching of the Talmud in a different way. When our child becomes a Bat Mitzvah, she spends years learning and practicing. We expect this level of dedication in order for our child to lead the community in prayer. However, the ritual of Bar Mitzvah should not serve as a Jewish experience solely for our children. It is an opportunity for us and for our families as well not only to teach our child as our tradition suggests, but to learn from our child and in moving forward, to create new Jewish rituals for our family.
Here are three questions you can use to guide you in this process:
1. What can my child teach me? Your child has spent months and months preparing and has invested a great deal of time and energy in this process of learning. Become a part of this experience by speaking with your child about what she has discovered. Moreover, take this opportunity to ask your child a subject about which you are curious. Your child will understand that you are not only interested in Jewish learning—a key factor in sparking his own interest—but that you acknowledge his hard work and trust in his knowledge.
2. What does this day mean to me? It is important that you know the answer to this question and that you articulate that answer to your child. If you wanted your child to have this experience for the learning, let her know. If you wanted your child to have this experience to pass on his Jewish roots to his children, let him know. If you wanted your child to have this experience to begin to understand what it means to work hard for something and then succeed, let her know. If you wanted your child to have this experience to learn how to stand proudly as Jew, let him know. Whatever your reasons, do not assume your child already knows the answer. Until you articulate the response to this question, the answer(s) may not even be clear to you.
3. How can we, as a family, mark this day as we move forward? The Bar Mitzvah is not an isolated event; it represents the beginning of life as a Jewish adult. Truly understanding what that concept means is difficult not only for our children, but often times for us as well. To assist in making this concept more tangible, discuss with your family ways you plan to make Jewish changes in your life. What you choose to do is up to you, but do something differently after the Bat Mitzvah than you did before. Here are a few examples:
* On Friday afternoon, have each member of the family contribute tzedakah and decide as a family where to donate the money.
* Give your Bar Mitzvah child the opportunity to lead the Shabbat blessings on Friday night.
* On Saturday, create a few hours of family time away from the television or computer and play a board game, read together or go for a family walk.
* Using a plethora of online resources, discuss the weekly Torah portions. A great site to visit is Family Shabbat Table Talk, which has archives for each of the parshiyot and suggestions for conversation starters.
The Bar Mitzvah is not just a day for your child. It is a day for your entire family. Our sages taught the importance of ensuring our children’s learning, but the bat mitzvah provides an opportunity not only for their learning, but for our learning as well. Moreover, it gives parents a chance to take the time for our children to teach us—a special gift for us and for them.
This story is from the 2012 Mitzvah Market magazine. If you would like a complimentary copy of our magazine, click here.