On Bar Mitzvah Preparation
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
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Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
Our child is in the process of preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. We are noticing that preparing the laining, Haftorah, Mussaf, and his Pshetel (Bar Mitzvah speech) all take a tremendous amount of time. Although we know that he will be very gratified if he performs well at his Bar Mitzvah, it is distracting him from his schoolwork and his learning at school is suffering. This is causing us to re-think the wisdom of having him spend so many hours preparing for his Bar Mitzvah performance(s).
We also wonder whether making a siyum on a seder of Mishanayos might be more beneficial than preparing to read the parsha.
How do you feel about these issues?
Yosef and Aviva
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
My initial response is that you are correct on both counts. A child's success in school - especially if he is preparing for his High School entrance exams - is far more important than his performance at his Bar Mitzvah, and completing a seder of mishnayos is probably more valuable than reading one's Bar Mitzvah parsha.
Having said that, most boys perform well at their Bar Mitzvos. In the process, they acquire enhanced kriah and dikduk skills, and boost their self-confidence as they become aware of their innate abilities. So I would most certainly not recommend eliminating all public performances for Bar Mitzvah boys.
Not knowing your son, and not having any information from his principal/rebbi/teacher, it would normally be difficult for me to give you definitive advice. However, in this case, where the Bar Mitzvah preparation is clearly affecting his schoolwork, you would be well served to seriously consider modifying your Bar Mitzvah plans. You need not cancel all his 'activities,' nor should you. but removing some of the workload would probably be a good idea. I would suggest that of the four 'activities' that you noted (Laining, Haftorah, Mussaf, and Pshetel), I would eliminate Mussaf first, followed by having him read only part of the parsha instead of the entire reading.
I would also recommend that you review an excellent article on the subject of Bar Mitzvah performances written by my dear chaver Yossi Prager. You can review it online at www.ou.org/pdf/ja/5766/winter66/ModestProposal.pdf.
An Informal Assessment Tool
To try and help you (and my readers) get a better handle on evaluating how to plan your son's Bar Mitzvah, I prepared the evaluation form below. Getting an honest read on your child can be a very helpful tool in evaluating his readiness to spend many months preparing for his Bar Mitzvah celebration. (It may also be a good idea for your child to complete this form independently as a form of reflection and self-evaluation.)
Please note that I purposely did not assign acceptable final scores or values for this sheet. I leave that for parents to do. But be aware that for each of these questions, a higher score means that your son may find the Bar Mitzvah preparation and performance stressful. It also may be an indicator that the weeks and months leading up to the Bar Mitzvah may significantly strain your relationship with your son as he enters his vulnerable teenage years. A lower score on this evaluation sheet means that your child will, in all likelihood, enjoy the experience and gain important skills along the way.
I hope that you find this helpful. Best wishes for an enjoyable simcha!!
Assessing Your Son for Bar Mitzvah 'Performances'
1. does very well in school.
2. does well in school.
3. is an average student.
4. is a poor student, whose grades are dropping.
5. failed many subjects throughout school.
1) is eager to prepare for his bar mitzvah.
2) will do what we ask him to do, but is not self-motivated.
3) will reluctantly do what needs to be done - most of the time.
4) is uninterested in preparing for his Bar Mitzvah
5) strongly resents the preparation for his Bar Mitzvah - and says that we are pushing him to do this so we can "show off to the neighbors."
Our son can best be described as:
1. loves to learn - spends lots of after-school-hours learning
2. studious and conscientious.
3. having average studying habits.
4. being uninterested in school.
5. having significant learning disabilities.
Comfort Level in Public
1. loves the limelight.
2. is OK in the limelight, but does not enjoy it.
3. is quite shy
4. is painfully shy
My child is:
1. mature beyond his years.
2. average in maturity.
3. a bit irresponsible.
4. very irresponsible.
© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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