THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On the Blessed Event
I was on my way to the Lower East Side last Sunday when I decided to take respite from my journey and stopped to engage a roadside Kedaishah. Under other circumstances, my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, would have responded by carving her initials on my Bris Milah with a Challah knife. However, given that following my brief encounter (at which, I should note, I left behind neither my staff nor my signet ring, only my Gold Card) I successfully completed my errand, and all was forgiven. And what, you may ask, was my task? Well, I went to the Lower East Side to pick up the gold-lame-and-sequin-covered Bentchers for the Bar Mitzvah of my Einikel, little Feivel.
What is the source of the Mitzvah of the Bar Mitzvah, and what is the Ikkar Mitzvah upon which we are Metzuveh? I bet you have wondered this your whole life, you ignorant Shaygitz, but never made an effort to ask because it would have required you to get up from the television for five minutes.
Well, the source of the Bar Mitzvah is discussed explicitly in a Gemarrah in Kesuvois. According to Rav Ashi, the Bar Mitzvah is conducted to commemorate the bond between the Reboinoisheloilum and Klal Yisroel. And the reason why it requires a boy to celebrate at the age of thirteen is Zecher L’Yishmael, to commemorate the age at which Yishmael, that other son of Avraham Avinu, had his Bris Milah. And we emulate the removal of Yishmael’s foreskin by emasculating our sons in front of an audience of 400 Shul-goers.
But Rabbi Chiya holds Farkhert: Making a thirteen year old Leyn in front of family, friends, and strangers is not at all like a Bris Milah, since the scars of Bris Milah heal within a week. Rather, Rabbi Chiya argues, a Bar Mitzvah is more like Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac. The fear and loathing of reading the Parsha in Shul and being corrected by a handful of self-righteous perfectionist misanthropes can only be compared to sending your own son to slaughter, only this time with a sushi bar and a Viennese table. And the resulting emotional scars indeed echo the deep psychological trauma that undoubtedly plagued Yitzchak Avinu throughout his entire life.
How is one required to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah? A different Gemarrah in Eiruvin notes that Rish Lakish, when not learning for twenty six hours a day in the Bais Medrish, supported himself by working as a photographer at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, divorces, and the occasional Baptism. The Gemarrah quotes Rish Lakish as saying, “Three is better than one, but six is better than three.” According to Reb Saadya Goyn, Rish Lakish was referring to Ma’aisei Biyuh on the weekend. But according to Reb Hai Goyn, Rish Lakish was referring to members of a band playing at a Bar Mitzvah, noting that “a one man band at a Bar Mitzvah is like a flat-chested woman. The equipment may work, but it’s never your preference.”
There is a Machloikess Reshoinim that emanates from this Gemarrah between RASHI, Toisfois, and the ROISH regarding how a thirteen year old boy should commemorate his Bar Mitzvah. Koolay Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that a Bar Mitzvah boy should mark his becoming a man by reading from the Toirah. So where do they argue? They debate regarding what should follow Kriyas HaToirah. According to RASHI, after successfully reading his Parsha, a Bar Mitzvah Bochur should go into the Bais Medrish to recite Hallel. According to Toisfois, a thirteen year old boy should follow up his reading of the Toirah by going to the kitchen to eat a hearty breakfast. But according to the Roish, after finishing his Maftir and Haftoirah, a Bar Mitzvah boy should be escorted from the main sanctuary by a group of his friends, singing and dancing, and should be led to the Yichud room for a half hour session with his Tahtee’s “special friend”, Bambi.
There is an interesting historical debate regarding another important Bar Mitzvah custom – the throwing of candy at the Bar Mitzvah boy. What is the source of this custom? According to the ARI ZAHL, the practice was established by the MAHARAM MiRothenburg during the persecutions of 1275 in order to beat away the dark Klipois from the body of the child, leaving only the Holy Sparks. However, according to Reb Moishe Cordovero, the custom of throwing candy was introduced by the RAMBAM during the recession of 1194 in order to drum up business by raising the level of diabetes in the community.
How much should one spend on a Bar Mitzvah? This question has been a source of deep Toirah discussion, Talmudic discourse, marital debate, and bankruptcy hearings for the past 700 years.
According to the Shulchan Aruch, a person should not spend more than would be required to feed guests “KeBaitzah”, about an egg’s volume of food. However, he believes that the Bar Mitzvah should be a celebratory event open to the entire community and neighboring communities, costing no less than two months of the average household income, as defined by the KY (Klal Yisroel) Index based on the average income of all Jews for the twelve months prior to the event.
The RAMAH, however, disagrees, referring to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the Mechaber of the Shulkhan Aruch, as a “swarthy cheapskate”. The RAMAH holds that one is required to feed every guest “KeTarnegol”, a volume of food equivalent to the size of a chicken. In addition, the RAMAH points out, one must have at least one live band, or, at a minimum, a DJ accompanied by motivational dancers. As well, suggests the RAMAH, one is required to hand out Tchatchkees (“little toys from China” in English) to all of the children to bring home, so that their parents will be reminded to begin planning for their own blessed events by serving a one dollar box of pasta at every meal for the next year, except for Shabbos Koidesh, when they are permitted to serve Traif meat since it is a quarter of the price of Koisher. The cost of the Bar Mitzvah should be no less than six months of average household income according to the KY Index, or half of the family assets, whichever is the larger number.
Finally, the Mishnah Berurah holds that one must feed every guest “KeEigel”, a volume of food equivalent to a small cow. The food should be varied and should include no less than four courses, including fresh sushi served by a Mexican chef who sort-of looks Asian. Further, it is a Mitzvah to have a half hour of speeches and a video montage, so that the guests will have an opportunity to take a brief nap between courses. In addition to Tchatchkees, there is a requirement to have novelty photo booths and games for the children to play. There should also be adult activities for the parents and grandparents – a makeup artist for the women, so they can experiment with different eye shades and colors of nail polish, and lap dances for the men, preferably delivered by the hot Shiksa motivational dancers. The Mishnah Berurah also holds that it is a Hiddur Mitzvah, a preferred additional Mitzvah, to have jugglers, Chassidic guys who can dance with bottles on their heads, and elephants. The minimum cost is equivalent to half of the value of the family home or ten times Yeshivah tuition, whichever is the larger number.
I spent much time going through these Halachois with my own son, Reb Boruch Gedalia Pesachya Issur Simcha Schmeckelstein, regarding the planning of the Bar Mitzvah for my Einikel, Feivel Yisroel Shmuel Eliyahu Rabbah. My son, of course, is known by his Rabbinic acronym, the BIG PISS, while my grandson is known as the Little PISHER. After a detailed discussion of the religious laws, as well as a forensic review of our family finances, we determined to spend somewhere between the position of the Shulchan Aruch and the RAMAH. However, we agreed that the more important component of the Bar Mitzvah was the reading of the weekly Toirah portion.
To ensure that the Little PISHER would not feel excessive family pressure, we hired an outside Bar Mitzvah teacher. For $50 a lesson, he taught little Feivel the week’s Parsha. For an extra $25 a lesson, he taught him the Haftoirah. And for another $20 a lesson, he also taught Feivel the week’s New Testament reading, which is from Mark, Perek Chuff Baiz, where we read about how Jesus kills an abortion doctor, and how John The Baptist is reassigned by the Church to teach in a school for children that can neither speak nor write.
I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. The Chernobler Rebbe, the Meor Einayim – Reb Menachem Nachum Twersky, was once delivering a Drasha on the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKan, the chasing away of a mother bird before taking the baby birds to eat. The Toirah, of course, promises the same reward for this Mitzvah as the reward promised for honoring one’s parents. The Cherlobler suggested that the Mitzvois of Shiluah HaKan and Kahbaid Ess Avicha are comparable because they are two sides of the same coin: The purpose of a parent is to raise a child to become an adult, and we must respect that role, even once the children have left the nest. Suggested the Chernobler, “We make a Bar Mitzvah celebration to commemorate the children’s leaving the nest. This is a celebration for the benefit of the parents, for which they receive great joy.”
After Shul was over, a boy of thirteen came over to the Rebbe and asked, “Rebbe, why is the Bar Mitzvah a celebration for the parents when it is the son who does all the work?”
The Rebbe looked down at the boy, smiled warmly, and said, “Son, at your age, you have a lot of joy. You wake up in the morning, and you have joy. You are in front of your classroom, writing at the board, and you have joy, to your great embarrassment. You are riding in the school bus and feel a bit of a vibration, and you have joy, whether you want it or not. You even get a little joy when you look at the three hundred pound secretary in your Yeshiva. And when you are alone in your room and have a few minutes to yourself, you are overflowing with joy, I am sure. I know I was when I was your age – at least twice a day.”
The Chernobler continued. “But your parents don’t have all that much joy anymore. If they are lucky, they have joy maybe once a week. So if the Bar Mitzvah gives them a little more joy, it can only help the marriage. At least until their house is repossessed.” With that, the Rebbe went off to do vodka shots, fondle Mrs. Goldberg, and take a nap.
Finally, I would like to address one related Shailah that many of my Talmidim ask me. Whenever I discuss this topic, they ask, why do I only focus on the Bar Mitzvah of a boy, and never discuss a Bat Mitzvah? The answer is quite simple: Girls are not supposed to have big celebrations when they reach the age of Mitzvois. According to the RIF, the most a girl should have is a party when she gets her first… err… Oirach KaNashim. At that party the parents should serve hard boiled eggs and hand out feminine protection to all the girl’s friends as party favors. After all, if the Reboinoisheloilum wanted girls to have a big party, read from the Toirah, put on Tfillin, be counted in a Minyan, be required to Daven three times a day, get equal pay for equal work, have the right to vote, be allowed to drive, etc., He would have given them a penis.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess