What does it mean to become a bar mitzvah? What are tefillin and why do Jewish men wear them?
What is a Bar Mitzvah?
A bar mitzvah is celebrated when a Jewish boy turns 13 years old. Whether or not this momentous birthday was celebrated, a boy past the age of 13 retains his status as a “bar mitzvah” for the rest of his life.
Dissecting the Phrase:
- "Bar" means "son of" or "owner of" in Aramaic.
- A "mitzvah" is a Torah commandment. Every mitzvah is an opportunity to become closer to G-d.
Putting these words together, "Bar Mitzvah" means "son of commandments" or "owner of commandments." When a boy turns 13, he now becomes responsible to do mitzvos. The bar mitzvah party celebrates this newfound responsibility and celebrates the fact that the bar mitzvah boy can now take ownership of his own relationship with G-d.
Why the Celebration? Why Are We So Happy?
Every time that a person fulfill’s G-d’s will - by giving charity, smiling at a friend, or saying a prayer, for example - he becomes closer to G-d. When a boy turns 13, he celebrates this occasion with his family to celebrate the fact that he now has many new opportunities to become closer to G-d, through his newfound responsibility in keeping mitzvos.
Join the Club!
When a boy turns 13, he is allowed by Jewish law to take on a greater role in several areas of Jewish communal life. A bar mitzvah boy can...
- Be counted toward a minyan (the minimum of 10 men necessary for public prayer groups).
- Lead the prayers in synagogue as the Chazzan.
- Be counted toward a mezuman (the minimum of 3 men needed in order to say special extra blessings after a meal).
- Read aloud from the Torah in synagogue on behalf of the whole congregation.
What Are Tefillin?
When a boy approaches the age of bar mitzvah, he becomes responsible to put on tefillin (phylacteries) every weekday for the rest of his life.
The tefillin consists of 2 black leather boxes attached to leather straps. One box is placed on the head and the other is placed on the upper arm. The boxes are bound in place with the leather straps.
The tefillin are worn during weekday morning prayers.
Inside the tefillin boxes are parchments inscribed with the Shema and other passages from the Torah. These passages discuss our belief in the unity of God, our belief that there are consequences to our actions, and our obligation to remember our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt.
Tefillin Fast Facts
- 2 Black leather boxes: one on the head, and one on the arm
- 4 Passages from theTorah written onthe parchments
- 31 Verses contained in the 4 passages
- 7 Times the tefillin staps are wrapped around the arm
A Deeper Look at Tefillin
We all struggle daily with the challenge of overcoming our physical desires in order to do what we intellectually know is right.
The purpose of tefillin is to help us succeed in these challenges. Jewish men wrap the tefillin around their head and arm (near the heart) to strengthen their resolve to always use their intellect (head), emotions (heart), and actions (arm) properly, in ways that further their spiritual development.