Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Shimon & Levi's Bar Mitzvah Bash in Shechem

I have always wondered whether American Jews understood the origin and true meaning of the Bar Mitzvah. I sure didn't when I was 13.

If you look in the Torah, you don't see any mention of a Bar Mitzvah. You never read about Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, or even Moshe Rabbeinu having a Bar Mitzvah. Where does it come from?

The age that one has his Bar Mitzvah, 13, is derived from this week's parsha, Parshas Vayishlach. Yaakov Avinu's sons Shimon and Levi were 13 years-old when they killed all the male inhabitants of Shechem (today called "Nablus") to avenge the abduction and rape of their sister Dina. This is the origin of Bar Mitzvah!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once commented, "The fact that a source for Bar Mitzvah is derived from Shimon and Levi imparts another very important lesson: As soon as one becomes thirteen years of age, one is expected to have mesiras nefesh to defend and protect the integrity and sanctity of Klal Yisrael as well as each and every Jew."

Do you think most Bar Mitzvah boys think about this at their party?

Have we gotten away from the true essence of what a Bar Mitzvah is all about?


At November 24, 2004 at 8:49:00 AM EST, Blogger Tamara said...

SJ, I'm afraid that for many the bar mitzvah has become simply an excuse to throw the most lavish party one can in order to impress family and friends. The spiritual aspect is all but lost.

As for the kids themselves, I don't blame them if they don't look upon it as a meaningful rite of passage, because their lives don't change following it. Getting a driver's license is more important. They're told on that day that now they are a man, blah blah blah, but they know that nothing has really changed. The following day they're back to their same old routine. In biblical times, when people hit adolescence, they really did assume adult responsibilities -- that's just not the case in today's society where adolescence is for many (at least here in the US) still an extension of childhood, albeit a childhood with a few more privileges.

Now, maybe in frum communities it's a little different, but this has been my experience in the rest of the Jewish world.

At November 24, 2004 at 11:31:00 AM EST, Blogger Rachel said...


From where do you derive the teaching that Shimon and Levi were thirteen when they slaughtered the Hivites? I have not encountered this before, and I will mention it in my Torah discussion this Shabbat if you can tell me where it comes from.

Though I respect the Rebbe's point about the importance of defending the integrity of Klal Yisrael, I'm not sure I want to take Shimon and Levi as role models, and I certainly wouldn't encourage my nieces and nephews (or, if I someday have children, my children) to follow in their footsteps. Even Jacob is angry with his sons for killing innocents, and later in parashat Vayehi on his deathbed he curses his sons for their actions here. Shechem's rape of Dinah was a terrible act, but slaughtering the men of an entire neighboring tribe seems an unconscionable form of revenge to me.

At November 24, 2004 at 12:43:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

More information can be found here:

At November 24, 2004 at 9:50:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that Bedouins are circumcised when they're 13, just like Yishmael was? Traditionally they have the skin of their organ and part of the skin of their lower abdomen peeled off. Extreme circumcision. Maybe this makes Tziporah's comment to Moshe "You are a bridegroom of blood" start to make sense...maybe she circumcised her son just like the Bedouins of her land of origin did.


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