Bar Mitsva According to Tradition
According to Jewish tradition, Bar Mitsva is the 13th birthday celebration of a boy; the 12th birthday for a girl is called Bat Mitsva. On that day (13 for a boy and 12 for a girl) is the day of transformation to adulthood. That means that the status of a child turns into a status of an adult. According to the Halakha (Jewish Law), this is the time that by definition, the boy turns from being Katan – small (a child) to being Gadol – big (an adult). Among other things, he can now be counted for a Minyan and also lead the congregation in prayers and ceremonies.
The change of status manifests in few ceremonies on the morning of his 13th birthday, the boy receives a blessing during Shaharit while wearing Tefillin (not on Shabbat and holidays). If the boy’s birthday happens to fall on a day that the Torah is being read (Monday, Thursday, Shabbat, a new moon or a holiday), than he receives a blessing at the Torah. If his birthday falls on any other day, than he goes to read the Torah at the closest time to his birthday.
On the first Shabbat after his thirteenth birthday, it is customary that the Bar Mitsva boy reads the Maftir (the repetition of the last few verses of that Shabbat’s reading) blessing on the Torah and then reads the Haftarah (a reading from the books of the prophets). After this blessing, his father says “Barukh She’Petarani Me’Onsho Shell Ze” which means, from now on, all of the boys Averot (“fouls”) will be part of the boy.
There is no obligation to read the whole Torah portion, only to bless the Torah.
The day in which a girl is obligated to perform the Mitsvot is her twelfth birthday. Since girls have no role in the ceremony of the prayers like the boys do, there is no official ritual symbolizing the transformation to adulthood for them. The big celebrations for Bar and Bat Mitsva are a relatively new custom in the history of Jewish Tradition.
Bar Mitsva According to Kabbalah
According to Kabbalah, a child does not have the power to influence or change his own destiny or the destiny of humanity until he reaches the age of thirteen for a boy and twelve for a girl. The day that a child reaches this age, he (or she) receives an addition to their soul that allows him (or her) to have the ability to control his or her own destiny. This is, according to Jewish beliefs, a supernatural ability to ascend to a higher dimension of awareness which results with the ability to achieve transformation, connection to spiritual higher vision and elevation; this will manifest itself in the psychological level as self control and as moving up the steps of personal development of character.
The word Mitsva, according to Kabbalah, symbolizes one’s ability to connect a physical, mundane act with a spiritual consciousness that is beyond time and space. For example, lighting a candle can be used for lighting or decoration, but when it is lit on Shabbat, for a holiday or for the soul of a deceased person, a consciousness of connecting to the world beyond is present. This action connects the physical world with the spiritual world in order to achieve an elevation, improvement or change in our mundane life. An action that does not contain this consciousness is not a Mitsva according to Kabbalists. Before the age of Bar or Bat Mitsva, the child has the very basic level of essence called the Nefesh (a lower Spirit). The Nefesh manifests our basic desires of existence. This is why before Bar or Bat Mitsva, the boy or girl are defined as Ktanim (“little”). Beeing Katan (“little”) is a state of existence in which a human has no control or connection to his true goal of existence. This goal according to the Zohar is the ability “to turn the bitter into sweet and the darkness into light” (from The Prologue of the Zohar, the Vision of Rabbi Ḥiya). This is how one goes from being Katan (“little”) to Gadol (“big”) in an instant. ‘Katnut’ (Being small) is a state in which we do not have the ability to turn the evil or wrong in our life into good, which is how we ultimately fulfill the image of God within each of us. ‘Gadlut’ (Being big) is a state in which we have control in our life, our destiny and our deepest feelings. ‘Gadlut’ (Being big) is also related to the term “Gedula” which is similar to the ‘Sephira‘ of Ḥesed (Loving-Kindness). This indicates that at the age of Bar/Bat Mitsva, we acquire the ability to bring Ḥesed instead of Judgment. This ability will also be expressed emotionally, which is the most important foundation of spirituality symbolizing a true maturity within us. The day a boy or girl have their Bar/Bat Mitsva, they acquire another level of their spiritual evolution called – Ruaḥ. This level allows them a consciousness of spiritual and emotional control and also the ability to connect between the spiritual and physical world in their daily life. Our sages teach us that by doing one Mitsva, we can tip the scale of the whole world favorably and therefore, we can understand how responsible the Bar/Bat Mitsva boys and girls are to their actions, thoughts and mainly to their spiritual consciousness. This ability is not given automatically and requires special preparations such as exercising meditation and learning particular principles of Kabbalah. To that end, there is great meaning for boys to read the Torah. The girls, however, have a much easier process that does not demand special ceremonies, only learning and exercising techniques of meditation and self-control. Why is it important to read in the Torah? In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the deep meaning of reading the Torah. According to the Zohar, reading a Kosher Torah on a Shabbat or a holiday connects us to Mt. Sinai and to the power of eternal life, which was given to us before we lost it with the sin of the Golden Calf. By reading the Torah on every Shabbat, we bring a little back from this lost gift. The power of the reading of the Torah stems from connecting the entire community along with the environment of the Synagogue to the power of life. This explains the importance of granting this role to the young boy at his thirteenth birthday, giving him the responsibility of sharing the power of life.