Friday, May 13, 2011

To Mitzvah or not to Mitzvah?

So what does it mean to be a bat (bar) mitzvah? Under Jewish law, children are not obligated to observe the commandments, but are encouraged to do so and taught the commandments to prepare them for adulthood. At the age of 13, or 12 for girls, they then become obligated to abide by the Lord's commandments or mitzvot. A public ceremony is called a bar or bat mitzvah. In its earliest form, a mitzvah is the celebrant's first aliyah.
Aliyah (uh-LEE-uh; ah-lee-AH0 Lit. ascension. 1) Reading from the Torah (or reciting a blessing over the reading) during services, which is considered an honor (pronounced uh-LEE-uh). 2) Immigrating to Israel (generally referred to as making aliyah and pronounced ah-lee-AH).
Not having been brought up with Judaism, I missed the opportunity to do a bat mitzvah at age 12. Knowing about my Jewish heritage and learning more about Torah, I became fascinated with the idea of doing this tradition, especially once I was blessed with children. My mom had done her bat mizvah years ago, and I thought it was time for me to do mine. But would it be weird, doing a bat mitzvah at my age, which is considerably past age 12? I could not decide. Then after, mentioning it to our congregational leader, I learned what my portion would be. It was no coincidence. My portion was Emor, meaning "Say" and the readings were Leviticus 21-24 from the Torah, Ezekiel 44:15-24 from the HafTorah, and 1 Peter 2:4-10 from the Brit Chadesha. To me, the portion was about being a parent. And how the Lord is our parent, and only wants the best things for us. We follow his mitzvot, or commandments, to please him. Just the same way we follow our parents rules or respect them, because we love them. Then I learned that my birthday this year was on a Friday, which made it a perfect time to do my bat mizvah, and chant my Torah portion during services. I felt like that wasn't a coincidence and this was the year I could do it!

Linda Medina, Bat Mitzvah, May 6, 2011

Learning to chant the Torah portion was challenging, but very fun. I only chanted the first reading of my Torah portion, which was Leviticus 21:1-15. I learned it the Ashkenazi style, rather than the Sephardic style. After so many years of hearing the Torah blessings and chanting in Ashkenazi, I couldn't wrap my brain around the Sephardic style. I would have had to learn all the blessings all over again. But I do think I will eventually learn the Sepahrdic style, especially since I learned that this is the style that is used in Israel. If doing a bar or bat mitzvah is something you or your children are looking at doing, I would encourage you to study Hebrew first. I already knew Hebrew enough to make out the words, so following along with the recording to learn the chanting was easier for me. It is such a blessing to be able to read God's word in Hebrew. You get a sense of closeness with the Word. And being able to discern the words and their meaning, opens up the scriptures like I never experienced in plain English. Learning my portion was also a blessing because, once I learned it, it would be in my head and I would "sing" it or chant it throughout the day. What a blessing to be able to sing God's word! Even though a bat mitzvah is not commanded in scripture, it certainly doesn't contradict scripture. In fact, it encourages the learning of scripture and committing it to memory. That is actually very scriptural.
"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart." Deuteronomy 6:6
"You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul..." Deuteronomy 11:18
"But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it." Deuteronomy 30:14
"Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You." Psalm 119:11
I cannot think of a better tradition to pass on to my children. To mitzvah, or not to mitzvah? What could be nobler?

Great online tutor to help learn your Torah portion:
Order workbooks and cds to learn Hebrew: