By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
This article is dedicated in honor of the forthcoming Bar Mitzvah of the author’s son, Pinchas Hoffman. Mazel Tov!
Often Bar Mitzvah Pshetls revolve around various aspects of the Bar Mitzvah coming of age. They deal with questions such as, “What happens if a child ate to satisfaction while yet a child and then became Bar Mitzvahed at the point of bentching? Is he biblically required to Bentch? (Rabbi Akiva Eiger poses this question in his comments to OC 186:2)” Or, “Why is a child exempt from Mitzvos? Is it because only adults were commanded in Mitzvos? Or is it because a child does not have the mental maturity to perform Mitzvos?”
Sometimes, the Pshetl will utilize one such question to answer the other. For example, they will answer that if the exemption is based upon exemption from Mitzvos then he is not required to bentch. If, however, it is based upon mental maturity — then now that he has that maturity — he would be required to Bentsch.
In this article, however, other issues of the Bar Mitzvah will be explored.
How important is the Bar Mitzvah Seudah? The Mogain Avrohom writes (OC 225:4) that the father has a Mitzvah to make a meal on the day his son is being bar Mitzvahed just as if his son was getting married. Indeed, the Yam Shel Shlomo writes (Bava Kamma 7:37) that it is the most important celebratory meal in the life cycle, as it extends praise and thanks to Hashem that the son is obligated in Mitzvos. Parenthetically, the Aruch haShulchan (199:4) writes that the Bar Mitzvah boy himself should be the one who leads the bentching. On Shabbos evening, the Mishna Brurah rules that the Bar Mitzvah boy should not be the one who recites the Kiddush, but he may do so for the Shabbos day Kiddush. Although the main Mitzvah is to make the emal on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, if it is held on another day it is still considered a Seudas Mitzvah (See Divrei Malkiel Vol. I #3), with the caveat that the topic of Bar Mitzvah be discussed at the meal. Shockingly enough, the Maharam Brisk (Vol. II #68) writes that if the Bar Mitzvah bachur did not get the chance to adequately study his Bar Mitzvah pshetl — the meal should be delayed until he learns it!
Does Chinuch actually end at age thirteen? If not — at what age does it end? The Rav Shulchan Aruch (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:10) writes that a father should continue instructing his son on the path of Mussar and fear of Heaven until the age of 24 — based on the Gemorah in Kiddushin 30a.
The Turei Even on the Rambam writes that the main Mitzvah of Talmud Torah that lies upon the father actually on begins at the Bar Mitzvah! Others, however, write that the main Mitzvah begins earlier and extends, of course, to past Bar Mitzvah (See Rav Shulchan Aruch).
What about other types of education? The Mogain Avrohom (OC 156) writes that a father who does not prepare his son for a career — it is as if he has taught him Robbery 101. The Meforshim write that teaching one’s son business skills, however, qualifies as a career.
What about damages that the child had done before his Bar Mitzvah? The Shulchan Aruch (CM 424:8) rules that he does not have to pay for physical damage, and the Acharonim write that he does not have to pay for monetary damage either. Nonetheless, it is good and proper to take upon himself some sort of penance (See Ramah OC 343:1) even though he may be technically exempt.
May the child be called up to the Torah on the Shabbos before his Bar Mitzvah for Maftir, and may he read the Haftorah? The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Brurah rule that it is entirely permissible (282:12). This is the only Aliyah that he may be called for, however. Nonetheless, when this is done, the Bar Mitzvah boy must still receive his Aliyah on the Shabbos after his Bar Mitzvah. There is no full halachic obligation for the father to receive an Aliyah on the day of his son’s Bar Mitzvah (see Shaarei Efraim), but people do so anyway.
The halacha states that the father must recite the blessing Boruch Sheptarani. The bracha should be recited in front of ten men and two of those present should be learned Rabbis (See Tzitz Eliezer Vol. VII #23 based upon Orech Chaim 219:3). There is a view found in the Levush that the actual intent of the Patrani meOnsho shel zeh is the opposite understanding of the one that we have. In other words, Blessed be Hashem, who has exempted me from having my punishment meted out upon my children .
One final thought. The power and capability of even a young Bar Mitzvah bochur is enormous. The Torah (Vayikra 19:18) tells us, “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge.. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 11) explains, in regard to this Mitzvah, that the Torah demands that Reuvain remove from his heart every single trace of resentment and hatred toward Shimon. He is to do so as if nothing had ever happened.
This is not a Chumrah or a higher degree of fulfilling the Mitzvah. It is, as the Mesials Yesharim explains, the basic requirements of the Mitzvah. The ability to do this clearly requires remarkable self-control. Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, my Rosh Yeshiva, however, pointed out that this verse is the obligation of every single Bar Mitzvah bochur. If the Torah requires such awesome demands from such a young man, then it must be that he is capable of it.
This can and should be a very inspiring message not only to the Bar Mitzvah bochur, but to all of us.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman