You can’t Bat Mitzvah your daughter.
DJ's and photographers (and many rabbis) are not going to like this, but the truth needs to be said …
In order to be Bat Mitzvahed there is one requirement; on the eve of your 12th birthday, you need to take a breath. That is it.
You don't need to read, memorize, recite, sing, dance or do anything else! Just breathe. If you can pull that off, you are then Bat Mitzvahed.
The months of preparation, the hours of studying, all the invitations and flowers, don't make you a bat mitzvah. Nor does doing a yearlong Mitzvah Project make it happen.
Becoming an adult, assuming responsibilities, being a part of the Jewish community, all these things happen automatically at the age of 12 for a girl and in the same way at the age of 13 for a boy. (As the girls will find out, the boys are slower to mature).
There is nothing we can do to make it happen and there is nothing we can do to stop it. It just happens. A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is not something you do or have. It is something you become. Naturally.
It is a new state of being.
At that young, impressionable age our godly soul becomes fully activated, and at that age a child's relationship with God begins to be a one-on-one, personal and direct one. That is called becoming an adult.
For the first years of a child's life, mom and dad serve as the mentors and communicators of Gods needs and desires to the child. They educate their children with love and compassion, giving them all the tools they will need to be an upstanding member of the community who appreciates the unique connection they can have with an infinite and all-powerful God. Then, on that special day, the parents pass the phone over to their young tween and say, "The call is for you. God wants to talk to you directly. It is no longer necessary for you to come through us for your Godly connection, you have it yourself.”
Of course, parents will always be role models, authorities and the holders of the car keys for a few more years. But the child's godly soul is now at full strength. Whether he or she knows it or not. They now have a unique relationship with God whether or not they choose to be invested in it.
What a powerful message to tell your child: “You, a little kid amongst 7 billion of us, can have a relationship with an Infinite God. This Infinite God took a piece of Himself and put it inside of you. We call this your soul. Now you must cultivate that spark and turn it into a full-fledged flame by giving it the oxygen it needs to develop. We call those the mitzvahs.
“Prepare yourself for the day it is completely activated. Study all about how that first breath will affect you. Learn about the tremendous responsibilities and opportunities that it brings to your life. Learn about your history and the people that brought you to this day. Try to emulate what they did with that breath and how it changed their life.
“And then, once you have learned all about that, use this breath as a catalyst for the future. Use the day to propel you to a committed life of developing this relationship to its highest level. Mark the life changing event by doing something really Jewish. Something that will proclaim to your family and friends that you are a proud Jew and ready to become a full-fledged member of the Jewish people!”
Imagine if you were notified that in twelve months you would receive exclusive access to an account with $20 million in it. It would be yours to do with as you wish. What would you do to prepare yourself for that day? Wouldn't it be best to spend your time learning the value of a dollar? Maybe learning investment strategies? Or how about honing your math skills? The more you learn about living life with almost limitless resources, the more productive that life will be. Learning how to read the words written on the dollar bill is nice but not that helpful in the long run.
When the year passes and you are handed the account number, what a joyous day that will be! Now that you appreciate what has just happened and how it has changed your life tremendously, the celebration will be that much more meaningful.
There is no need to stop imagining. Your daughter or son is about to receive an unlimited reservoir of spiritual richness. It is a life changing event. As a responsible parent, help them be prepared for that special day.
Do you need some ideas on how to help your child get this empowering feeling? Maybe study about the newfound responsibilities. Learn how to light Shabbat candles. Make a commitment to put on Tefillin. Read a portion of the Torah that is meaningful to you. Oh, so many ideas. Close to 613 of them!
When the day arrives, don’t celebrate the last year of hard work but more importantly, the newfound treasures that they have been entrusted with. Tell all the neighbors about it. Tell Bubbe and Zaide how much effort it took. Make as big a deal as possible. Maybe even have some friends over to help make a huge fuss.
God has a new relationship in this world! Lets dance the hora!
Mendel Teldon is the Rabbi at Chabad of Mid-Suffolk in Commack, NY and can be reached at www.Facebook.com/CommackRabbi