Myth: You go through a specific ceremony and “become Bar/Bat Mitzvah’ed”.
Fact: Becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah marks that you have reached a certain emotional maturity. It develops at age of 12 for a girl and at 13 for a boy. It happens with or without a party, a rabbi or a ceremony. (An adult may celebrate his/her commitment to Torah at any age in life, and that has become loosely termed as an “adult Bar Mitzvah”.)
Myth: Bar/Bat Mitzvah training consists of at least one year studying to read Hebrew.
Fact: While many focus on Hebrew Reading skill, Bar/Bat Mitzvah is about taking the “training” – the education – that we got during our childhood, and growing forward for the rest of life.
Myth: The idea that a child becomes an adult at 12/13 is outdated, based on the needs of an agricultural society.
Fact: Establishing early teens as the onset of adulthood, with new vistas of responsibilities opening, is used even by modern society. Judaism is not suggesting that a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a full adult in every sense of the word; rather it is the time that maturity begins to set in and the child is ready to step beyond childhood.
Childhood is a time to learn from others - watching, imitating, seeing what others are doing and copying it for themselves - under the guidance of parents and teachers.
A child thinks more in the short term, very conscious of immediate needs and wants. Thus, they aren’t yet expected to rise above their instinctive desires, unless there’s some immediate gratification or punishment attached. A child is focused on playfulness and less on serious and weighty concepts. That’s adult work!
Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the entree into adulthood.
At Bar/Bat Mitzvah, with an increased maturity, and a personality that is developing and crystallizing, we become better equipped to choose correct responses to life’s dilemmas, and we slowly begin to seek meaning, fulfillment, connection and inspiration.
Life is no longer one-dimensional; it has a depth and a complexity of which children are blissfully unaware. A Bar/Bat Mitzvah can say, "Although I really want it, I know it's wrong. So I'll rise above my temptations." Or, "Although I am upset at you, I still love you." Or, "Although I am not in the mood, I will do it because it's the right ring to do."
This a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, though still short of adulthood, has entered a 'post-childhood' phase, ready to accept responsibility for his/her actions, and ready to 'step-up to the plate' as a reliable functionary in family and society.
A Bar/Bat Mitzvah says, "I have grown out of childhood. I am now ready to fulfill the covenant with G‑d by being responsible for performing Mitzvot, the obligations of Jewish life.
So, what are we celebrating with this ‘coming of age’?
Myth: A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is celebrating a newly-minted adult.
Fact: A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is celebrating this new status of someone who can now be “officially” counted in the Jewish Community, ready to take a place of real responsibility!