We make a meal and celebration when a boy reaches thirteen, honouring the fact that he has become of age to be obligated in mitzvos.

The question, however, is why are we making a celebration now - if it’s mitzvos that we are honouring then surely the best time to celebrate would be in a few years time after he has done a significant amount of mitzvos! Why do we celebrate at a time when the child has performed very little mitzvos in his new adult life? There are a few answers here, most of which can be weaved together to form one general approach.

Firstly, the gemarra (Shabbos) notes that any mitzvos which Klal Yisrael accepted with joy are still observed well, whilst mitzvos which were initially accepted heavy-heartedly tend to be discarded as the generations move on.

Thus, we make a huge celebration and up the simcha at the start of the bar mitzvah boy’s religious

adulthood to ensure that he accepts the mitzvos with simcha, thereby ensuring that he will continue to commit to a life of mitzvos.

Moreover, this is part of a general concept called hakol holech achar harosh; ‘everything follows the beginning.’ This means that the start of any given journey, plan, or commitment is the most crucial stage, and if anything goes slightly wrong at the beginning then the end product will be vastly out of shape.

For example, if a ship starts its course by sailing a couple of degrees off course then it will end up much further away from its destination than if it had veered off a couple of degrees at the end of its journey.

So the celebration of a bar mitzvah is aimed at making sure that the beginning of the boy’s religious adulthood is fully on course.

In addition, the bar mitzvah celebration is a celebration of the obligation of mitzvos itself, regardless of how many mitzvos have been performed yet. The very fact that one becomes obligated in mitzvos means that one receives more reward for doing them. For it is harder to do something knowing that you have to do it - there’s always a force (yetzer hara) pulling you back.

Therefore, when you do manage to perform a mitzvah that was incumbent on you to perform anyway, you are rewarded more than had the mitzvah been voluntary. This additional level of reward for mitzvah observance, and the fact that HaShem obviously wants us to perform His mitzvos (hence Him obligating us in them) is what we are celebrating in a bar mitzvah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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