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Why do we celebrate the Bar Mitsvah at age 13? - Vayishlach

Thursday, 12 December, 2019 - 9:28 am

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Kyle Taylor from London, 84 Countries [Creative Commons BY 2.0]  

A few years ago, there was a lot of debate in Israel about lowering the legal age for a driving license (from 18 to 16 and 9 months). Some thought that it is something positive, others said that 16-years old kids are still young.

What do you think? From which age can one be considered mature? From what age can we consider a child as someone responsible and trust his/her judgement?

In Judaism, the coming of age of boys happens at age 13 – the Bar Mitzvah. (Girls typically mature earlier, this is why the Bat Mitzvah happens at age 12). Why specifically at this age? There are 2 opinions:

For the first opinion, it has its origin in the story of Shimon and Levi (second and third sons of Jacob), in this week’s Parasha Vayishlach. Shchem, the son of a local ruler, fell in love with their sister Dina and took her against her will. When her brothers Shimon and Levi heard about it, they took their weapons and went to save her. The Torah, when recounting this story, calls them “men”, even though Levi was only 13 years old at the time. From this, we conclude that according to nature, kids at this age are mature enough to understand a situation and act accordingly.

According to the second opinion, there is no logical explanation to why age 13 was chosen. It is one of the laws that G-d taught to Moses without telling him the why.

The Bar Mitzvah is the day where the Jew becomes obligated to keep G-d’s commandments (until then, it was the parents’ responsibility). The question is not only why age 13 was set but what is the right way for someone to start fulfilling the Torah and the Mitzvot.

According to the first opinion, we start with commandments that we can comprehend with our human mind. Once we get used to it, we can go on to fulfill also the commandments that we cannot understand.

The second opinion tells us the exact opposite: keeping the Mitzvot is based on obedience, which is higher than human logic. We can (and must) study in order to understand the Mitzvot, but the basis of our keeping them is not our understanding.

Yet, even the first opinion agrees that keeping the Mitzvot requires obedience, which is higher than our logic and our understanding. Shimon and Levi put themselves in great danger, something that was not logical…

Only when we have the obedience, this dedication to G-d which is higher that our finite mind, coupled with understanding can we serve G-d properly.

Let’s think about a Mitzvah which is difficult for us to comprehend and try to keep it, at least once during this week. For instance, avoid mixing meat with dairy products may be a good idea. In this way, we will bring Mashiach now!

Shabbat Shalom,


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