Excerpted from Dr. Mandell Ganchow’s Coming of Age: An Anthology of Divrei Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvah
by Rabbi Mordechai Willig
The parashah of Toldot contains the source for the berachah made on the occasion of a bar mitzvah. When Esav and Yaakov reached manhood, the Torah tells us, Esav became a hunter, while Yaakov entered the tents of study. The Midrash comments that from this verse we derive that a father must attend to his son until the son turns thirteen, at which time the father says, “Baruch she-petarani me-onsho shel zeh—Blessed is He who exempted me from the punishment of this [boy].”
The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 225:5) explains that after bar mitzvah a father is no longer punished for the sins of his son. The Levush maintains the opposite—that after bar mitzvah the son is no longer punished for the sins of his father. Both understandings, however, share the same difficulty: Why is this berachah limited to a father and son? Why isn’t the same berachah recited for a daughter? Why isn’t it recited by the mother?
Perhaps the basis for this berachah can be explained differently. The first halachah of the Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah states, “Women, slaves, and children are exempt from Torah study, but a father is commanded to teach his young child Torah.” Two questions can be raised. First, why does the Rambam mention only a child? Isn’t a father required to continue teaching his son Torah after bar mitzvah? Second, why does the Rambam begin this series of halachot by telling us who is exempt? Wouldn’t it be more logical to first describe the obligation of talmud Torah and then list the exemptions?
It would seem that, according to the Rambam, one cannot be commanded to teach Torah to someone who has his own personal obligation to learn Torah. Therefore, it is necessary to state that children are exempt from talmud Torah before stating that the father is obligated to teach him. Moreover, though a father is certainly responsible for his son’s education beyond bar mitzvah, this obligation does not fall under the specific mitzvah of “ve-limadtem otam et beneichem”—teaching Torah to one’s sons (See Chazon Ish Yoreh De’ah 152:1).
In this light, the berachah is the father’s statement of gratitude that he has completed his mitzvah of ve-limadtem and is no longer punishable for it. This interpretation is supported by the context of the berachah’s midrashic source: A father must care for his son for thirteen years, after which the son himself must choose the tents of study over the hunting field. Since ve-limadtem does not apply to daughters or mothers, the berachah is not said for or by them.
The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 225:4), citing the Zohar, requires that a father make a festive meal when his son becomes bar mitzvah just as he would make for his son’s wedding. The Zohar’s comparison to a wedding reflects a father’s mitzvah to celebrate with a se’udah when completing one of his obligations towards his son, namely, milah, pidyon ha-ben, teaching him Torah and marrying him off.
The Maharshal, however, views the se’udah from the boy’s vantage point—as a celebration for becoming commanded to do mitzvoth. As such, the Yechaveh Da’at (II, 29) equates bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. It would seem that the Maharshal’s reason does, in fact, apply and therefore the girl is required to make a party for her close friends and family. However, a wedding-like feast, which reflects the completion of the father’s obligation of ve-limadtem, applies, like the berachah of Baruch she-petarani, to a bar mitzvah only.
Rabbi Willig is rav of the Young Israel of Riverdale, New York and Rosh Yeshiva, RIETS.