by Moshe Morrison, Teaching Elder, Tents of Mercy
Every society has some sort of "coming-of-age" ceremony for its young people. The onset of puberty is the beginning of major changes in the life of a young person, involving much more than just physiological development. This is the point in life where one is moving out of childhood and into the world of adults. Of course a 12 or 13 year old is not really an adult. However, the young person is quite capable of making serious life choices and commitments regarding faith and identity. If kept, these will develop into a genuine mature faith in the Lord and service to the community.
On a recent Shabbat morning my grandson, Itamar, chanted beautifully from the Torah scroll at Tents of Mercy Congregation. Surrounded by close family and friends I thought of my own Bar Mitzvah fifty-six years ago. It was so important to me then and still is. All my sons and daughters have done a Bar/Bat Mitzvah - some in the United States and some here in Israel. It is a ritual woven into our life.
In the Jewish community this rite of passage signifies that the young person is now obligated to keep the commandments. The Torah scroll has a prominent place - not in an idolatrous fashion, but because it symbolizes those things which are central to our faith. The Torah (five books of Moses) is the foundational revelation upon which all scriptures are built - the remaining books of the Older Testament as well as the Newer Covenant scriptures. Therefore it represents the entire revelation of God in written form and also Him who is the center of our faith - Yeshua the eternal living Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us.
Also, more so than Bibles printed in book form, the handwritten parchment scroll is a symbol rooted in the history of Israel. It is an expression of continuity with the covenant nation that received the Word at Sinai and has been entrusted with it until today. We are part of the remnant returning to the Land promised to our forefathers, and we are part of the remnant returning to the God of our fathers through the atonement of Yeshua HaMashiach.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an occasion when the young person has the opportunity to affirm his or her own connection with and commitment to the God of Israel, the Messiah of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the people of Israel - in a visible expression of the covenant community of believers. He or she reads the appropriate passage from the scroll for that Sabbath. Then, in our congregational tradition, gives a short teaching about the passage and an affirmation of their faith.
In whatever culture we find ourselves, "Coming of Age" should be an opportunity to bring a boy or girl into the sphere of responsibility where their walk with the Lord and their service to the community is beyond that of a child, and where they are expected to take on an ever-increasing responsibility for their own actions and a deeper pursuance of relationship with God.
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