| Parshah |

Begin Again

Rav Hirsch’s insight directs us in celebrating our children’s entry into "ol mitzvos"

“If a man has a wayward and rebellious son, who does not obey his father or mother…”

(Devarim 21:18)


With the proliferation of baalei teshuvah that have blessed our communities, it’s hard to swallow the absolute certainty with which the Torah tells us that the ben sorer
u’moreh, the rebellious son, will grow to become a thief and murderer, and that beis din is therefore commanded to execute him to avoid these heinous crimes. How can we be sure he’ll never repent? Furthermore, if the ben sorer u’moreh never was and never will be, what are we to learn from the Torah’s “pessimism”? (Rav Yaakov Neuberger, The TorahWeb Foundation)

Repetition is boring, no? So I should’ve been bored that evening of my third son’s bar mitzvah. Been there, done that. Bought the hat, hemmed the suit, picked the tie.

Yet despite the similar circumstances and the predictable dress code, it was anything but boredom that sent me dancing to his room to check on him — my new little man.

He straightened his hat and I adjusted his tie. My heart tightened inside my chest as my love for him welled up and threatened to overflow in tears. He was so beautiful. No longer my little boy, he was a man poised on the cusp of a momentous milestone. I reached out and hugged that precious little body tightly; for just a moment longer he was still my baby.

Then, clearing my throat, I checked my watch and began rounding up the troops. “We’re going to be late. Where’s your sister? Let’s go!” Like a sheepdog, I herded everyone out. We’ve done this before — all in a day’s work, right? No.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch sees precisely in this child’s youthfulness an important message regarding chinuch. The bar mitzvah boy, new to his responsibilities, should naturally feel thrill and excitement. The newly arrived yetzer hatov fills him with optimism for his potential. Look at the care with which new bar mitzvah boys don their tefillin, an attitude we hope will last. See how a fresh bar mitzvah will be quick to daven with a minyan, hopefully establishing a lifelong routine. This initial excitement shows a natural affinity for mitzvos, a basis for future spiritual growth.
The laws for a ben sorer u’moreh only apply during the first three months post–bar mitzvah. A teen who can behave in such a manner immediately following his bar mitzvah is showing a total disregard for the nascent yetzer hatov. Hedonistic pleasure has successfully disconnected this young man from any eagerness that he should naturally be feeling. That emotional indifference to spiritual growth at such a time is a tragic predictor of his future.

Disclaimer: I detest studio photos. I detest pictures in general. I refuse to take pictures, be in pictures, even hold someone else’s camera. I’m even willing to forgo photos at a family simchah just to avoid torturing myself. But disclaimer number two: There’s nothing I love more than a great family photo. So I tolerate my photo phobia to enjoy the pleasure of seeing my family smile. (At least for the split-second the shutter’s pressed. Click. Relax. Real life.)

Still, I was tense as the photographer positioned us. “Bar mitzvah boy, look your mother in the eye.” Oh, yeah. That did it. He looked at me with his sweet puppy eyes and I was mush again. Help, there went the mascara. Why wear this stuff when I know I’ll cry? Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small? I definitely feel like I’ve grown older, but when did they?

Rav Hirsch’s insight directs us in celebrating our children’s entry into “ol mitzvos,” as well as any milestone. We must encourage our children to feel excited anticipation about the privilege of performing Hashem’s mitzvos.
This idea applies to Rosh Hashanah as well. We celebrate, even as we’re anxiously pondering the judgment we face. Despite our concern, the anticipation of a fresh start with all its potential gives us reason to celebrate. This optimism is a potent prayer for Hashem’s kindness and compassion as we stand before Him.

Yesterday the photographer sent me the finished photos. I held the packet in my hand, anticipating the pleasure. This wasn’t my first set of bar mitzvah photos, and b’ezras Hashem it won’t be my last. But this particular milestone of this child, that anticipation of joy, will always bring a thrill that can never be boring.

Open photos. Flip through. Wipe tear. Repeat.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 756)

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