At a recent Bar Mitzvah, I got chatting with a friend who was recently returned from Israel. Our conversation started with what’s become the typical post-service discussion of who tutored the Bar Mitzvah boy, how many months did they work together, and how wonderful the young man did with his service. My friend related to me that in Israel, orthodox families don’t think much of needing to prepare for their child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The child has been hearing and saying the prayers their whole life, they already know how to read tropes, and as the Torah portion they read is directly related to the day they were born, the family knows the portion upwards of 10 years before the child’s actual service, giving more than enough time for the child to perfect all the chanting. A few weeks before the event, the parents speak with the Rabbi to discuss who will called up for certain honors, and that’s it.
Theoretically, that means a parent or other family member could chant a young child’s Torah portion (and Haftarah) to them at night, as a sort of lullaby. To a young child, those musical notes and syllables would come to mean “I am loved” and “I am safe”. The kid would learn it as a comforting lullaby, building an unbreakable connection with whoever chanted and sang those words. Ten years later, having to chant a Torah portion in front of the community wouldn’t be something to make you nervous, you’re simply singing the song that you’ve always known.
When a Jewish child is born, they receive an invitation to two very special clubs.
The first club is comprised of all the other Jewish children being called to the Torah as B’nai Mitzvah that same Shabbat. All of those students learn the same Torah portion. In this club of having something in common, everyone shares the unbreakable bond of having been called to the Torah for the first time to read the same Torah portion. Chances are, many of you share the same birthday as well.
The second club is comprised of people you may not have anything in common with. In fact, no one from your first club will be part of your second club. Everyone in this second club was called to the Torah for the first time for a different portion than everyone else. There may be 54 people in this club, but more likely there is somewhere between 156 and 162. You each bring a different Torah portion to the table. Which means that when all of you are together, you literally have the entire Torah amongst you.
Jewish children of the world, the day you were born you received two invitations.
The day you were called to the Torah as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah you answered both of those invitations with here I am.