Bar mitzvah in a time of Covid
From Dust to Stars (Vayishlach 5783 / 2022)

A mother's blessing

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Practicing one last time before Shabbat morning services began...


These are the words I spoke to my son at his bar mitzvah, which I share here with his permission.

Drew, when you were small I remember reading in some parenting book that one way to gauge a child’s temperament is to bring them to a crowded place and set them down. Some would cling to a parent’s leg. Others would run off to explore. I didn’t even need to try the experiment: I knew you’d be running off to a new adventure.

You share that spirit with my grandfather Eppie, from whom you inherited your Hebrew name. Eppie was brilliant; was good at fixing things with his hands; and was a terrific storyteller. I see echoes of him in you. 

Before you were born my spiritual director said, “this child will be one of your greatest teachers.” I laughed – what, my kid’s going to be the next Dalai Lama? But he was right. In just these first 13 years I’ve learned so much from you. How to find joy in leaf piles and snowfalls and Minecraft. How to dread the winter a little bit less, because as you told me when you were seven, early nightfall means more time to see the stars. 

There is so much about you that I admire. I admire your kindness. I admire how deeply you care about your friends, and how you want to make the world safer for them.

I admire your empathy. I admire your curiosity about how the world works, and your determination. When you decide you want to learn something, you stick with it – whether it’s chanting Torah, or speed-solving a Rubik’s cube.

I admire the way you grapple with what it means to act ethically. You’ve watched The Good Place twelve times, which means I have too, and we have regular conversations about whether Judaism favors deontology or virtue ethics.

I admire your boldness and love of color. Your fabulous nails and brilliant suit remind me of your Nonni, though I’m not sure she could have wrapped her head around the colorful manicure. And the way you make a point of checking on me reminds me of how Papa used to tell you to take care of me, every time he left here or we left Texas.

I’ve heard you say you’re “not very good at spiritual stuff,” but you make spontaneous blessings: usually the שהחיינו, or הטוב והמטיב when something wonderful happens – or as we pass a car accident, reminding God who we need God to be, the One Who is good and does good.  You understand how pausing to make Shabbat can change how we feel at the end of a tough week. You call me over to notice the moon or the sky. I admire how you don’t pretend away the things that are difficult – the pandemic, or a grandparent’s death – but you still notice the beauty in our world. 

It is amazing to watch you grow – and I don’t just mean your height! Jewishly, today I’m no longer responsible for teaching you kid stuff. You’re already beginning to approach your Judaism and your life with maturity (aside from the jokes about Achashverosh and his “scepter.”) Today you begin a new phase of your Jewish life. We don’t yet know what this new chapter will be – that’s partly up to you. 

The blessing that tradition offers me for this moment is:בָּרוּךְ שֶׁפְּטָרַנִּי מֵעָנְשׁוֹ שֶׁל זֶה.

Blessed is the One Who has freed me of some responsibilities and conferred new ones on you! 

When I became bat mitzvah, Nonni wrote a blessing for Papa to read to me. Two of the things they said, I want to offer now to you, from me and from them: May your cup always be full – and when life gives you lemons, may you make lemonade. May you always know yourself to be both a son of the covenant, and a citizen of the world. 

They would be so moved to see you reading and teaching Torah, taking your place in the chain of our generations and the flow of Jewish tradition. I think they are proud of you today. And I am so proud of the hard work you’ve done. Every day I thank God that I get to be your mom. 

May a life of mitzvot nourish you. May you continue to find new meaning in Torah and Jewish tradition, noticing how they change as you learn them more deeply and as you learn yourself more deeply. May you experience Torah and Jewish tradition the way you’ve experienced so many of your favorite stories: re-reading, re-encountering, finding more depth every time you return. 

May you always stand up for the vulnerable. May you always act with integrity and listen to that little voice that says, “Eleanor, don't grab that handful of olives from the salad bar” – I mean, “Drew, you know what’s wrong and what’s right.”

May you always find beauty in the world. May you always be curious enough to learn about others, and bold enough to let your own light shine. May you remember that “God is in this place,” or at least God can be in this place if we pause to feel the wow. And may you always know how much we love you, and may that love stay with you in all of your life’s experiences to come.