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Tuesday
May242016

A CHASSIDISHE BAR MITZVA

“It was a positive custom in Lubavitch that the father of the bar mitzva boy would bring his son for yechidus to the Rebbe so the latter could bless him and strengthen him and daven that he grow in Torah and good deeds.” (Shevach Yakar, kitzur minhagei bar mitzva al pi minhagei Chabad, p. 102)

The phenomenon is growing. Instead of renting a hall, hiring a photographer, and dancing with friends, the bar mitzva boy forgoes all that and travels with his father (or parents) to Beis Chayeinu where he has an aliya in the Rebbes minyan. * How does this work? What is involved? What do the bar mitzva boys have to say about this? 


T
hose who regularly daven in 770 are used to seeing the balabatim coming from around the world together with their sons to celebrate their bar mitzva in the Rebbes presence. This phenomenon of a bar mitzva boy coming with his father or his parents to 770 is growing. Teachers of the seventh grade in Chabad schools can tell of high percentages of their students going to 770 rather than celebrating at home in a hall with a musician, photographer, etc.

“In the seventh grade this year, about 60% of the boys went to the Rebbe for their bar mitzva,” says R’ Zalman, a teacher. “There are those who did not go for the actual bar mitzva but at least to put t’fillin on for the first time at the Rebbe, which is also an important milestone.”

Beis Moshiach went to check this out and to see whether this is something coming from the parents or the boys, how it works out practically, and how much it costs.

WHEN THE BOY INSISTS

“The completed and primary entry of the soul of holiness in a person is on the day of thirteen years and one day,” writes the Alter Rebbe. This line appears at the top of many Lubavitcher bar mitzva invitations. It would seem there is no better place for “the completed and primary entry of the soul of holiness,” than in the Rebbe’s presence where holiness is ever-present.

Throughout the years, this phenomenon barely existed aside from a very few Chassidim who came from overseas. The bar mitzva boys seen in 770 were primarily boys from Crown Heights. They had an aliya in the Rebbe’s minyan and many of them stood next to the Rebbe when he was given the third aliya.

Most bar mitzva boys in Eretz Yisroel and other countries stayed where they were, as opposed to chassanim (grooms) who always tried to have an aliya to the Torah in 770 on the Shabbos before their wedding. They then flew to wherever the wedding was being held.

It is hard to say when bar mitzva boys started coming from abroad to 770 but one of the first was R’ Dovid Nachshon, director of the Chabad Mobile Tanks in Eretz Yisroel.

“It was 5748 when my son Sholom Dovber became bar mitzva on 12 Cheshvan,” he told Beis Moshiach. “That year, our entire family was by the Rebbe for Tishrei. This was because the Rebbe had spoken a lot about Hakhel. After Tishrei, we decided it would be right to celebrate the bar mitzva by the Rebbe. Since there were another three weeks until the bar mitzva, I did not know whether it was proper to keep him in 770 and have him miss yeshiva. In addition to which, I knew that the Rebbe did not want people to remain too long after Tishrei.


“I wrote to the Rebbe and received a bracha and ‘azkir al ha’tziyun.’ The rest of the family returned home while Sholom Dovber went to learn in Oholei Torah for the interim period. Of course I submitted a bar mitzva invitation to the Rebbe.

“The bar mitzva itself took place in the small zal. In general, during that period of time, the Rebbe would return home around nine at night. For some reason, that night the Rebbe did not go home but remained in his office until the bar mitzva farbrengen ended around eleven o’clock at night, and only then did he leave his office and go home.

“The next day, I wrote a report to the Rebbe about the bar mitzva, who spoke and what they spoke about. I related that my son said the maamer nicely and also said something in Nigleh, reviewing a sicha of the Rebbe. The Rebbe responded on the note I had written, ‘Great is the merit etc. Azkir al ha’tziyun.’

“Another interesting thing happened when my son Sholom Dovber had his aliya, I said, ‘boruch shep’terani,’ and the Rebbe had the third aliya. Before he went down from the bima, the Rebbe turned toward Sholom Dovber and wished him mazal tov, something which he had not done for other bar mitzva boys.

“After the bar mitzva we returned to Eretz Yisroel and had a family celebration, a large seudas mitzva for all the relatives which was used, of course, as a Hakhel opportunity. That year, the Rebbe sent me money twice toward airline tickets for the family.

“I immediately publicized to everyone the answer I got, and it seems to me from that point on the matter began to become more accepted among Anash, albeit not at the rate we are seeing today. The chevra began getting into it.”

The phenomenon has only taken off in the past decade and has really exploded during the last four to five years.

What caused the sudden change in plans? Of those I asked, nobody had a clear answer. Some speculated that it might be the results of the Chassidishe influence on the children of Tzivos Hashem in the various projects that we are seeing in recent years.

“When my son Aharon was becoming bar mitzva he told us he wants a bar mitzva by the Rebbe. He asked for it like a child who wants nothing else,” said R’ Dovber Gurewitz of Kiryat Malachi. He celebrated his son’s bar mitzva a few months ago in 770 and he is still astonished by how much this meant to his son.

“I had many thoughts about it and weighed flying versus the usual celebration. Yes? No? For how long? Where? How many of us? On the one hand I thought of the importance of marking this day by the Rebbe. On the other hand, what about his learning? On yet another hand, for the price of two plane tickets and a week’s salary, there’s a lot of good that can be done. It was only after I slept on it that I realized that this is one of those things that cannot be taught, it can only be experienced in the school of life.”

Do you remember whether with your own bar mitzva it was also acceptable to go to the Rebbe?

(Smiling): “My bar mitzva was long before it became popular to fly. It did not take place in a simcha hall but in the Chabad shul in Kiryat Gat. Nobody dreamed about musicians, microphones, a photographer and video, video screens and a t’shura, but it was joyous. Everyone sweated both because there was no air conditioning and mainly, because they danced. Yes, they simply danced. The food was cooked in the yeshiva kitchen. When the mashpia spoke, everyone was silent. When I reviewed a maamer, it was silent. There was no such thing as someone coming to say mazal tov and then leaving. Everyone stayed and rejoiced together with the family.

“I had already made two bar mitzvahs by the Rebbe but the conditions were a lot easier. My second and third sons were born in Tishrei and they went to the Rebbe for the Yomim Tovim like many of their friends. They worked hard in the learning programs and received help in buying tickets and then, when it was their thirteenth birthday they celebrated their big day over there with their friends in the Machaneh Moshiach at a festive meal which took place in the dining room of the yeshiva at 1414.

“When my fifth son Aharon asked for a bar mitzva by the Rebbe, I told him that he could have a nice bar mitzva in Eretz Yisroel too, but he wasn’t interested in that. He was willing to forgo all the festivities here and go to the Rebbe. When I asked him why he was insisting he said, ‘I want a bar mitzva by the Rebbe because that is how I would like to remember my bar mitzva, not in a hall somewhere in Kiryat Malachi.’”

FOUR BAR MITZVA BOYS ON ONE THURSDAY

On 21 Adar II, four bar mitzva boys from Eretz Yisroel celebrated in 770. Three of them had won a raffle and had an aliya in the Rebbe’s minyan and one had an aliya in a nearby minyan.

In 770 there is no big ceremony; on the contrary, the aliya to the Torah takes place in the Rebbe’s minyan (see sidebar for a conversation with one of the gabbaim of 770). After the davening he reviews the maamer, usually by the table on the mizrach side near the Aron Kodesh, in the presence of a handful of people and bachurim from the yeshiva, right before they run off to breakfast. There are containers of orange juice and some cookies, and the obligatory bottle of mashke. Some arrange a big farbrengen in the evening after the bachurim finish learning, starting at ten o’clock. During Adar, when there was “Adar dancing,” they could only start at eleven. The refreshments? To each his own and his financial abilities. Nobody is trying to poke anyone’s eyes out.

Needless to say, the relatively low cost has dropped with the cost of flying. It would seem that the new European Open Skies policy which brought down the price of tickets to the US this past year (mainly flights with stopovers in Europe), have encouraged more and more people to do it.

That Thursday afternoon, when the zal was packed with bachurim learning Nigleh, I met R’ Yonasan Yaakov who came to celebrate his son Mendy’s bar mitzva by the Rebbe. It was a few hours after Mendy had an aliya in the Rebbe’s minyan for Shacharis along with classmate Mendy Wilschansky, both of them from Tzfas.

“Three years ago, we did not make our older son’s bar mitzva in a hall, because we wanted to give him a Chassidishe bar mitzva with a loftier content. With our second son, Mendy, who is here with me, we did not have to convince him and he himself wanted a bar mitzva by the Rebbe.

“We came here for ten days and I can tell you that the quality time that I have with him here is something that I don’t recall having in years.” R’ Yonasan smiled with a look of satisfaction and casually put his hand around his son’s shoulders.

Why did you decide to forgo a celebration in a hall with everything that entails and come here and mark the bar mitzva in a much more low-key way?

“I personally don’t see much point in standing in the entrance to a hall and receiving all the guests. It’s nice and all but there is nothing inspiring about it. We felt it was more important to come here and celebrate near the Rebbe. Today, his bar mitzva, Mendy said the entire T’hillim, learned Chitas, and is in an atmosphere of k’dusha. 

“Naturally, there are the gashmius, enjoyable aspects to it, like flying to the Rebbe. And staying here gives him a good feeling. We also plan on touring in Manhattan, so he has both ruchnius and gashmius.” 

What does your mother have to say about this?

Mendy: “My mother is very excited. She is happy we are here even though she did not join us and lost out on an event in a hall and on the bar mitzva here.”

Mendy went on to tell me that half of his class celebrated their bar mitzva by the Rebbe and the other half in a hall.

“In today’s digital age,” said his father, “five minutes after the aliya, my wife got pictures and videos and she definitely was excited along with us.”

A few hours later, Mendy and his father sat with his friend Mendy Wilschansky and his father for a bar mitzva farbrengen. Since it was Thursday night, the farbrengen went on late and Mendy repeated his review of the maamer at what was essentially his seudas mitzva.

R’ Yaakov adds, “As a resident of Eretz Yisroel who comes to 770, I am not that familiar with what ought to be done, what should be bought, where and what and when.” He suggests that there be bachurim in 770 who commit to helping bar mitzva boys and their fathers with the arrangements.

His idea is already being carried out. There are veteran bachurim who help do the shopping for those who have come from afar and are unfamiliar with the local set-up. It looks like this aid will soon be offered in an official form.

POWERFUL EXPERIENCES

In the early evening I met with R’ Shneur Schneersohn from the Chabad community in Ramat Aviv. He was sitting and learning with R’ Dovid Lieder, shliach for Hebrew speakers in Australia. They both came with their sons, the first to celebrate his son’s bar mitzva and the second to celebrate the hanachas t’fillin of his son in 770. This is because R’ Lieder, as a shliach, wants to mark the bar mitzva where he lives as part of his shlichus work.

R’ Schneersohn brought his son Sholom Ber and his whole family. He said, “A bar mitzva is a time for mesirus nefesh, as the Rebbe points out in sichos that Shimon and Levi were moser nefesh at the age of bar mitzva to kill the people of Sh’chem. I think that in the past you needed a certain mesirus nefesh to celebrate a bar mitzva in your place of shlichus, for the easiest thing was to do it by the Rebbe when they saw the Rebbe and could stand on the bima next to him. Today, when we don’t see the Rebbe, we need mesirus nefesh to leave the comforts of home and make a bar mitzva by the Rebbe, far from home, your community and family. This mesirus nefesh needs to permeate the boy’s heart for he naturally would want to be surrounded by his friends in a nice hall.”

Are you not afraid of the child losing out on the excitement?

“When we are here, I see, more than ever, how Chassidim are one family. Mamash family. There are many bachurim who learn here in 770 all year and they embrace the boy with love, are mekarev him and learn with him. On the night of the bar mitzva they will celebrate with us and will dance and take him on their shoulders as though they are his brothers.”

R’ Dovid Lieder: “I see the love of the bachurim here for my son Mendy. They were mekarev him and really opened his heart. They gave him attention and made him feel good. They learned with him, took him with them on mivtzaim on Friday, and gave him an added dimension of Chassidishe chayus and a strong connection for inyanei Moshiach and Geula which he lacks in Australia.”

R’ Schneersohn: “In general, a bar mitzva celebration used to be done as a warm farbrengen, unlike today when it’s a formal event. Unfortunately, the bar mitzvahs of today don’t have a farbrengen atmosphere. With a wedding it is hard to forgo all the sparkle but with a bar mitzva we should definitely have a more p’nimius’dike atmosphere. A bar mitzva boy should receive more of an emphasis on hiskashrus to the Rebbe and mesirus nefesh. This is the basis for everything and this is what you get here, in 770, in the most open way.”

Not far off I noticed R’ Menachem Ziegelboim, familiar to our readers, who came to 770 with his son Dovid. They were sitting together and learning Likkutei Sichos. I asked him what he thought about celebrating a bar mitzva by the Rebbe.

“I came here not only with my son but with my entire family. The confluence of reasons, it being a Shnas Hakhel and my son’s bar mitzva, led me to the decision to bring the family to 770 to celebrate the bar mitzva here. I think that this big day, more than anything else, should be celebrated with the Rebbe.

What about the cost and what about the child missing school?

“The Rebbe wants us to come for the Hakhel year, men, women, and children, so this is not a matter of wasting money. On the contrary, I think it’s a tremendous investment in the spiritual success of the entire family (naturally, after making the proper preparations). But even without Hakhel, a boy who chooses to go to the Rebbe for his bar mitzva and review the maamer in 770 – what can I, as a father, wish for more than that? If this is what my son wants, I can only be happy about it.”

During the time you are here together, what greater values do you impart to your son?

“Just being here is the greatest value I can wish for myself. In fact, I can say that I get from the experience no less than he does. I learn with him all day. We spend hours together. I show him around 770, where the Rebbe davened and where he sat at farbrengens. There are stories about nearly every point in 770 and this is the truest expression of what the Rebbe said, that you can draw spiritual energy from the walls here. I’ve been telling him about many of the experiences I had on previous visits to the Rebbe and I describe it to him while showing where the Rebbe went, where he sat and exactly where he looked. It takes on a whole new life and I myself am moved when I reminisce about those days.”

R’ Dovber Gurewitz, on the other hand, brings up another educational point that should be addressed.

“I have had the z’chus of celebrating five bar mitzvahs for my five sons and I still think there are two sides to the issue as to whether to make a bar mitzva in a hall with music, a photographer, videographer, and a t’shura, or to fly to the Rebbe. The answer is not black and white. As someone whose work includes bar mitzvahs (providing video screens), I attend many simchos and I see a difference between the boys who had a bar mitzva in a hall and those who flew to the Rebbe or just had a small celebration at home. 

“When a bar mitzva boy has a big event and he reviews a maamer in front of hundreds of people and then his friends pick him up and dance with him, he is wished mazal tov by dozens or hundreds of people. In all the speeches they bless him and he goes home with dozens of s’farim and happy memories. That’s when he gets it – he’s a bar mitzva! In one evening he was transformed and he is no longer a child but an adult. There is no question that this is an uplifting, growth inspiring event.

“That realization that comes about from one big evening is sometimes worth every dollar you put into it even months before the event. In my humble opinion, there is no comparison between the kabbalas mitzvos of a bar mitzva boy in front of hundreds of relatives and classmates and the kabbalas mitzvos with a minyan of bachurim in 770 whom he doesn’t know. There are children who need the pomp and ceremony and they can’t really forgo it.

“Parents need to know their child and the forge in which he was raised and educated, and need to think about what is better and more important for them and their child and take the full picture into consideration.”

CHASSID FIRST

It looks as though the phenomenon will continue to grow and more bar mitzva boys will celebrate the completion of the entry of the G-dly soul with the Rebbe. No question, this is a positive phenomenon and it certainly imparts a more powerful Chassidic “entry” for the soul of the young man, who in the course of a single day turns from a boy into a man obligated in all the mitzvos.

The importance of this can be seen in the expression used when people shake hands with the celebrants and heartily wish as per Chabad custom, “May you have much nachas from your son and may he be a Chassid, Yerei Shamayim, and a Lamdan,” the order is to mention Chassid first and to proceed from there.

WHEN THE REBBE SAID A SPECIAL MAAMER FOR A BAR MITZVA

In the time of the Rebbe Rashab, there were also a few standout Chassidim who brought their sons to the Rebbe. One of them, the Chassid R’ Asher Grossman, known as Asher Nikolayever, who was utterly devoted to the Rebbe Rashab, brought his son Shmuel to the Rebbe for his bar mitzva.

It was the summer of 5663/1903, and since the Rebbe was not in Lubavitch at the time, he traveled to the resort town of Serebrianka where the Rebbe was.

The Rebbe apparently cherished the fact that his Chassid chose to celebrate his son’s bar mitzva with him, to the point that he said a special maamer for the occasion. As the Rebbe Rayatz noted in a handwritten note on top of the maamer, “Naaseh Adam,” which was said, “for the bar mitzva of the bachur, Shmuel, son of Asher the shochet.”

SIGN UP!

I spoke with R’ Y. Y. Kratz who is in charge of the aliyos to the Torah in the Rebbe’s minyan. I asked him how one goes about arranging for a bar mitzva in 770.

R’ Kratz said, “There is no question that the phenomenon of celebrating bar mitzvahs here is growing and more boys and their parents are coming. Each one is received warmly.

“The Alter Rebbe instructed that his son, the Mitteler Rebbe, have an aliya at Mincha on Shabbos, even though his bar mitzva was on Thursday, since this time is ‘Raava D’Raavin.’ There are people who don’t know this but in Chabad a bar mitzva boy has an aliya only on Monday or Thursday or at Mincha on Shabbos, not on Shabbos morning.

“Unlike chassanim who have an aliya before their wedding, and are given an aliya based on a lottery, with the bar mitzva boys it is first come, first served. Some people ask two or three years in advance, but that’s not what I mean. We open registration anew every half a year. As we speak, registration is now opening for aliyos for bar mitzva boys from Pesach until Rosh HaShana, and as I said, first come, first served. I can tell you that about 40% of the aliyos in the summer months are taken already. People from all over the world call to make a reservation for an aliya for the bar mitzva date (you can call 718-316-8994).

“The way it’s done is, aside from the aliya to the Torah, they say l’chaim after Shacharis and bring some cake and the maamer is reviewed on the east side of the shul, near the Rebbe’s bima. There is no question that it’s a big z’chus.”

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