Bar Mitzvah Poetry


In honor of your Bar Mitzvah

Baby boy birthed into the world
First-born son of mother and father
Destined to become
A full-standing member of the Jewish people
Inheritor of the ancient religion of Judaism
Creator of the community of twenty-first century Jews

Slowly, day-by-day
Baby boy grows up
Learns to walk
Learns to talk
Meandering the halls of Germantown Jewish Centre
Discovering the rhythms of Jewish life
Holy days, Shabbat
Celebrations of the sacred seasons of Jewish time

Slowly, week-by-week
Boy child grows up
Learns to read, to write
To sing and pray
In the language of the ancestors
Hebrew, holy hebrew
Lashon Ha-Kodesh.

Yigdal – he shall grow mighty
Once a four pound, four ounce preemie
Yigdal, grows mighty
A good student
Yigdal, grows mighty
And approaches the vestibule of puberty
Preparing to pass through the mysterious portal
Into the sacred realms of Jewish life
Slowly, methodically
But very definitely
Boy morphing into man
Embarks upon the mythical trek
To become
A Bar Mitzvah!
A – what?
A Bar Mitzvah?
What exactly is that?
Son of the Commandments
A man of Mitzvoth
A mensch among Jewish men
Like his father, grandfathers
Great-grandfathers before him
Thirteen years old
Able to be counted in a minyan

But what is a Bar Mitzvah?
What is this holy event?
This sacred tribal gathering
We are here to celebrate?
Is this only the final culmination of
A dizzying carousel of
Logistics beyond logical expectations
Parties and planning
Invitations and menus
Guest lists and to do lists?
Is Bar Mitzvah any more than the
Serendipitous or perhaps fortunate result of
Parents planning into the wee small hours of the night
As the young man sharpens his voice
Agonizes over music and melodies
Speeches and the far reaches of understanding
Torah and tradition in our time?

Then….. finally…..
The day has arrived!
Its Bar Mitzvah time here in Mount Airy!
Let the show begin!
Aardvarks disembark
Get on the bus
Leave the driving to us
Here comes the shul
Here comes the Bar Mitzvah boy
Today I am a party favor
Today I am a monogrammed blue kippah!
Today I am a man!
Is that all there is to a Bar Mitzvah?

What does it mean to become a man?
A woman can change an embryo to a boy
But what changes a boy to a man?
Answer: walking the sacred pilgrimage
Towards becoming a Bar Mitzvah!
Bar Mitzvah – a time to read Torah
To study, to learn, to give a speech
To daven, to serve as a leader of prayer
To participate in the community of Jewish men
To participate in the community of Jewish men and women
Bar Mitzvah – a time of deepening
A time of learning and growing
And knowing and showing
Of praying and staying the course
Of course.
Bar Mitzvah is not only the end of boyhood
Talking to girls, not only boys
Giving away your old toys
Bequeathing outgrown beanie babies to your sister
Growing to an extra large size
Or maybe a man’s small?
Is he really that tall?
Clearly, right before our eyes
The boychild is dying off
The little boy is no longer
A young man is being resurrected
A second birth, he grows mighty minute by minute
Watch out, here comes another growth spurt!

As a Bar Mitzvah, you have begun
The journey of a lifetime
To become who you truly are
A rite of passage to a fuller you
An adventure in search of full self.
A voyage to strange new worlds
To discover who exactly is Yigdal
Who is your God?
Who are your people?

But wait!
None of the great Jews of antiquity had Bar Mitzvahs
Not Abraham or Moses
Not Solomon, David or Jonathan
Not Rabbi Akiva
So what is this journey?
How can this rite of passage
Birth the soul of a Jewish boy?
Abraham journeyed through the desert
Called to be father of a nation
Moses journeyed in the wilderness
Called to be a leader
The Israelite tribes
Journeyed from slavery to freedom
Called to become a holy nation
And a kingdom of priests.

And you, Yigdal
Bar Mitzvah boy
You now begin your journey
To grow into the mighty person
You are called to be.

At thirteen, the Rabbis taught
The yetzer ha-tov enters a person
The desire to act from beneficence is born
And you are now given the opportunity
To nourish and grow your yetzer ha-tov
Your sense of what is right for the world in which we live today

At thirteen, Bezalel, the sacred architect
Designed the Holy Mishkan
And you, Bar Mitzvah boy, are called to journey
Towards the fullness of your creativity.

At thirteen, Avraham smashed
The idols of his father Terah
And you, Bar Mitzvah boy, are called to find
What is your own truth
Your own God.

At thirteen, Esav and Yaakov
Each went their ways
One into idolatry
One into service of God.
And you, ben Simcha v’Geela Rayzel
Are now called into your tribal community
To live a life of Torah, Avodah and Gemillut Hasadim
However you understand that to be
To learn and study the ancient

Wisdom lineage of the past
And to make it your own
To find your own ways of wrestling with God.
However you understand God to be
To find your ways of serving this world
A world at war
A world in which there is richness and poverty
A world where there are haves and have-nots
And you – Bar Mitzvah boy
Have begun the journey of self-discovery
To find your own voice
your own song
your own spirit
To take your place
In the community of Jews
In this wonder-filled community of Mount Airy
In this nation, at this time in history
And in the world community which desperately cries out for healing
And today, on this sacred day in your life
Your parents
Your grandparents – in this world and the world beyond
Your aunts and uncles
Your cousins and friends welcome you
Into our sacred tribal gathering
Blessing you with our love
Proud of how you have grown
These past thirteen years
And knowing
Wherever you go
Whatever you do
Wherever you travel
Whomever you love
We will love you
We will always welcome you
As a member of this ever-changing
Family of tribes
Gathered around the holy of holies
Gathered together in God’s Name.

Happy Bar Mitzvah!
The journey awaits my son
Travel wisely, gently
Courageously, faithfully
Thanks for giving all of us the opportunity
To stand together with you
And welcome you into our family of tribes united as one.
Baruch Atta Adonai Eloheinu RuakhHa-Olam
Shecheyanu v’kiyemanu, v’higiyanu la’zman ha’zeh.
Blessed be the Holy One who has brought us all
To this most auspicious and sacred moment.

Simcha Raphael, Ph.D.
May 11, 2003