This is for anyone who is about to become or who has recently become Bar Mitzvah. Mazal Tov! You are now an adult…well sort of. You see, you may be counted toward a Minyan, you can read from the Torah and you can lead the Tefilot. On the other hand, you can’t yet sell the family farm, or house, or any land for that matter. You are also not yet fully a Bar Onshin. This means that you will not be fully accountable for failures and slip ups, when it comes to Mitzvah observance, until you reach the age of 20. So, you are no longer a child; yet you are not entirely a man.
This man/child split shows up in other ways too. Up until now, your father or perhaps even mother was responsible for your observance; we call this the Mitzvah of Chinuch. So, if you had chosen to sleep in and not Daven Shacharit, it would have been their problem. Now, you are the one who is responsible for your observance. That means that if you snooze, you lose. So, it seems like you are in charge of you.
Yet, if you are a typical Bar Mitzvah, you still live in a world that is filled with guidelines set up by others. Your parents have (I’m assuming) made all sorts of house rules: No spitting in the dining room. No hard alcohol. No skipping school. Throw your laundry down the chute. No disrespecting adults. The middle school you are currently attending and high school you hopefully will attend all have their own sets of rules and regulations: No cell phones in the classroom. No cheating on tests. You must attend Minyanim. No talking back to teachers. So you are on your own, but not fully so.
One thing is clear: Scientists say that you’ve entered a unique period of physical development. The neurons – or nerve cells – in your brain are now making more numerous and more complex connections.
One famous Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, describes the changes in your brain, as a mind shift, from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. This means that you are changing from primarily being able to notice what is, to thinking a lot more about “what if…” An example of “what is” is your taking a walk outside, noticing a stylish sports car and identifying it as a Ferrari convertible. An example of “what if” is your then wondering what it would be like to have the money to buy that kind of car, or wondering whether if you became a teacher or a Rebbi, you would still be able to buy the car. You might further contemplate the deeper question of whether fancy cars would even matter to you, if you were to choose a more spiritual path.
Aside from achieving the “what if” level of thinking, you are learning to evaluate the ideas and also the possibilities that you face. You might hear a concept explained in class. It could be about English, Science or even Torah. You may say to yourself “that explanation doesn’t fully make sense to me; it only rates a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.” You may be invited by your friends to participate in a prank. You will need to decide whether it is wise to do so, or even the right thing to do. (When you were younger, you might simply have joined in on the prank, without giving it a second thought.) So your mind is now working in more sophisticated ways than before.
(In our next post, we’ll talk about ways that your life is moving toward greater freedom and creativity.)
This series of posts is adapted from my contribution to: From Bar Mitzvah and Onward: Thirteen stories and insights for the road ahead, published by the Bitton family of Chicago.