Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with the speech that I made at my very own bar-mitzvah (as the title may indicate). I don't even remember it. Rather, I'll tell you (or bore you with) something else.
It is now the day after my son's (Moshe Naftali) Bar-mitzvah. I, Boruch Hashem, had a beautiful kiddush on Shabbos at Neveh. I said a few words, which, I think will give us a better understanding in general of what a bar-mitzvah is all about. It's also good to have in your files a nice vort to say if you are asked to speak at a bar-mitzvah. Consequently, I decided to write a few thoughts about "Bar-Mitzvahs."
Many years ago, when I was asked to speak at my nephew's bar mitzvah in the U.S.A., I decided to look up the basis for making a big party on the day of the bar mitzvah. In the Mogen Avraham (Orach Chayim 225:4) and the Machatzis Hashekel (ibid) I discovered that the basis is a famous gemoro.
The gemoro (Bava Kamma 87a) relates that according to Rabbi Yehuda, a blind person is exempt from observing mitzvos, while chachomim disagree. At first, Rav Yosef who was blind, felt that he would receive greater reward if Rabbi Yehuda’s view was accepted. This is because Rav Yosef observed the mitzvos despite the fact that he wasn’t obligated to do so. When Rav Yosef heard the statement that "Greater is the one who is commanded to do mitzvos and does them, than one who does what he's not obligated”, he made the following declaration. "Whoever shows me that blind people are obligated to do mitzvos I will make a celebration for the Rabbanan."
The Mahrshal in his sefer, "Yam Shel Shlomo" points out that if Rav Yosef was ready to make a party just for finding out that he was obligated in mitzvos, even though he actually entered this obligation much before, when he was bar mitzvah. Certainly then a bar mitzvah boy who actually is entering this obligation should make a party to celebrate this great privilege and milestone.
This teaches us that unlike what some people think, entering the obligation of mitzvos is not a burden rather a privilege. Imagine a fellow who trains and works hard to make the grade of joining an elite group in the army or navy such as the "Green Berets" or the "SEALS". He's beaten thousands of his peers who were rejected. Now he has to get up 4 A. M. and go on fifty mile hikes wearing hundreds of pounds on his back, or other such arduous tasks. If you would ask him, "Isn't this a big burden to do this routine? He will look at you as if you are crazy and respond with a resounding, "What?! Don't you realize that I fought to be in this situation? It is a great privilege to be part of this army, not a burden." We too have to realize our privilege of being in this elite group of the army of Hashem's people.
In light of this we realize how contradictory it is when some people make the kind of bar mitzvah that Rav Avigdor Miller describes as, "90% BAR and 10% mitzvah (Or 100% Bar . . . ). Imagine celebrating your entering the obligation of Mitzvos by doing aveiros. It's like celebrating your weight loss by eating and gaining it all back.
There is a beautiful book, "Jews for Nothing" by Dov Aharoni Fisch. He discusses the cults that unfortunately ensnare a lot of our Jewish brethren. (I remember that many years ago when the book first came out, Rabbi Friedlander, our Posek, recommended that we should read it). The main problem, he stresses, is the fact that many Jews lack a basic yeshivah education and don't really know what real authentic Judaism is. As he says (unfortunately) so well in the chapter about the "Moonies"- p. 94,
"If Sun Myung Moon has taken young Jews away from their homes and away from their families, he has not taken them away from their faith. For that infamous excision of a four- thousand- year heritage had been successfully performed long before Sun Myung Moon ever came on the scene.He also has a chapter 6 on Bar-Mitzvahs in which he illustrates some of these so-called "Bar Mitzvahs". On p. 224-25 he says:
". . . There was the infamous Harvey Cohen bar mitzvah, held at Miami's Orange Bowl, an open-air football stadium. The parents shamelessly invited 200 guests to the spectacle, featuring a 64 piece band, bartenders dressed as referees, . . . the Rabbi was presumably in the broadcasters' booth dressed as Howard Cosell. . . After being whisked on the field by golfcarts, they packed away a six-course dinner, and the electric scoreboard lit up with the words: "Happy Birthday Harvey. "If that isn't bad enough he brings:
. . . "One Jewish couple won nomination as top contenders for "Bad Taste in the Jewish Community Award" after spending $2,000 for a "Car Mitzvah," commemorating the thirteenth year of their Rolls Royce."On p. 231 note 11 he quotes the Iggros Moshe, by Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l (Orach Chaim Section I, chapter 104):
"If I had the power, I would annul the bar-mitzvah ceremony as it is observed in our country because it is known that this ceremony has not brought anyone closer to the Torah and mitzvot- not even the boy himself, not even for one hour. On the contrary, in many places it brings [participants] to desecrate the Shabbos and other transgressions. . . "I'll end off this point with a true story that happened to me a few years ago.
I was in the U. S. A. and I got a cab from Brooklyn to J. F. K. on my way to Eretz Yisroel. The cabbie was an irreligious Russian Jew. He was complaining to me about his ultra-orthodox father who was so strict that he wouldn't come to his own granddaughter's birthday party. He didn't trust his son's (the cabbie's) kashrus.
The cabbie exclaimed, "What's the matter, I'm not Jewish enough for him? In Russia I would fight with anyone who made fun of Jews. I'm also Jewish!"
I told the cabbie that I hear the problem, but I wanted to ask him a question.
"What would you say if there was a fellow who studied hard to be a doctor. He spent many hours and much money, and finally that great day arrives and he becomes an M.D. He makes a big lavish celebration upon reaching this great milestone. Then, however, he takes his degree and hangs it on his wall and goes to sleep. Instead of using his knowledge to help people or to make money, he just wastes it. Years pass and he never took a position, or reviewed his medical knowledge. In fact, when someone asked him for medical advice he gave him the wrong advice. Yet this man, when he'll be rebuked for his conduct, will proudly say, "What's the matter, am I'm not a good enough doctor for you? Look at my degree, I'm also a doctor!" Now we understand here that the prestige of having the title "Doctor" is not for the name itself. Rather it hinges on putting into action what a doctor stands for-treating and helping people. What good is being called a doctor if you don't do what a doctor is supposed to do?!
This is also true with being Jewish. The prestige of having the title "Jew" is not for the name itself. Rather it hinges on putting into action what a "Jew" stands for - doing Torah and Mitzvos. What good is being called a Jew if you don't do what a Jew is supposed to do?"
Interestingly enough, the cabbie was an honest fellow and he said that he heard what I was saying.
I'll say over one more thing that I said on Parshas Yisro when we celebrated the bar mitzvah.
In the beginning of the Parsha it mentions the names of Moshe Rabbeinu's sons. (Shmos 18 verses 3-4)
". . . . and the name of one, Gershom because he (Moshe) said, Ger Hoyisi... (I was a stranger) in a strange land (Midyan). "Rav Felman shlit"a pointed out to me that by the second son it doesn't say "And the name of the second. . . " but rather, "And the name of one. . . " just as it says by the first son. This is to teach us (parents and rebbes), a fundamental principle in education. To succeed in chinuch (education), each child should be viewed as your only one and not as a second or third.
"And the name of one, Eliezer Ébecause Elokei ovi b’ezri (the G-d of my father helped me) and he saved me from the sword of Paroh.
I heard from my Rebbi in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt'l (and later I saw it in his sefer, "Derash Moshe") that he asks two questions on this posuk.
First of all, the events represented by the names are not in chronological order. Being a stranger in Midyan took place only after he was saved from the sword of Paroh. In fact it was the sword of Paroh which caused him to run to Midyan. Consequently, he should have named the first one Eliezer and the second one Gershom.
Secondly, what kind of praise is it, to say that he was a stranger in a strange land? Is Moshe chas v'sholom complaining about his plight?
Rav Moshe answers that Moshe was praising Hashem for giving him the power and wisdom to understand that he should only be a "stranger" in Midyan and not assimilate and become a "citizen". Midyan would have welcomed Moshe and would have given him a high office owing to his vast knowledge. But Moshe chose not to assimilate but rather to remain a stranger. This would enable him to serve Hashem as he is supposed to. He and his children would not have the trials and desires of becoming like the Midyanim. (My Rebbi would give an example of a tourist who went to visit Scotland where the men wear kilts [a kind of skirt]. Now, if he decides to be a citizen there then he would follow their custom and eventually wear a kilt. But if he's just a tourist who is passing through he would not feel obligated to follow their customs. So too Moshe understood that he's just "passing through" and keeps his own customs.)
Since this was what transpired after he was saved from the sword of Paroh, he was praising Hashem in retrospect. Only after he was able to declare by the first son that "he was just a stranger. . . " could he praise Hashem by the second one for saving his life from Paroh.
However, if chas v'shalom he would have been a "citizen" and assimilated with Midyan then the fact that he was saved from Paroh would not have been praiseworthy.
There is a similar thought that I saw in the Lev Eliyahu by Rav Eliyahu Lopian about Bentching (Grace After Meals).
In the second brocho, "Nodeh Lecho. . . ", we praise Hashem for the various gifts that He has given us. We mention Eretz Yisroel, taking us out of Egypt, Bris Milah, Torah and Mitzvos, Life, and finally "Food". Rav Lopian asks that since the brocho was instituted specifically for food then why is it last? It should have been first?
He answers this question with a similar idea. The purpose of eating the food is to enable us to stay healthy and serve Hashem. When we thank Hashem for the food we must justify it first by showing what spiritual good comes out of giving us food. If chas v'shalom we couldn't praise Hashem for living a spiritual life but only for living a completely secular life, then there is no room to praise Him for what we eat.
In conclusion we hope and pray that the celebration that we are experiencing today, should be justified in the future by the actions of the Bar-Mitzvah boy himself. His following the path of Torah and Mitzvos will be the actions that will make everything worthwhile.
Hashem should help us all to only participate in true Jewish simchas.
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