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What is Bar-Mitzvah?
Bar Mitzvah is a Hebrew phrase that means "son of commandment," and refers to the change in status of a thirteen-year-old boy in the eyes of Judaism. When a Jewish boy reaches the age of thirteen, he automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah and is considered a man in Jewish Law. Practically, this means that he becomes responsible for his actions and for observing the commandments of the Torah. The commandments focus one on that which is truly important; family, community and a relationship with G-d.
Thirteen is an age at which a boy's body is changing and developing and this is a direct reflection of the spiritual changes that his boy is undergoing too. According to Kabbalah, there are several levels of soul in a person's spiritual being and a new level of soul comes into awareness at the time of Bar Mitzvah. As a result, moral awareness and sensitivity develops and enables the young person to take responsibility for his actions.
According to the Talmud, a commandment that is performed because one is commanded to do so is considered greater than a commandment performed voluntarily due to the natural aversion one has to fulfill an obligation. The Bar Mitzvah is celebrated in Jewish circles precisely because of overcoming this aversion which signifies maturity. Bar Mitzvah celebrations are focused around reaching the stage of obligation.
In honor of this occasion, the boy is called up to read from the Torah scroll in the Synagogue on the Shabbat following his Bar Mitzvah. At the conclusion of the final blessing there is a custom to shower the boy with candies due to the sweetness of the occasion and in order to symbolize the blessing of the congregation that this boy will revel in the sweetness of Torah and it's teachings.
Other customs that have become acceptable over the years is for the boy who has reached Bar Mitzvah to celebrate with family and friends at a party or dinner that is thrown in his honor. Some people will even make an effort to take their son who reaches Bar Mitzvah to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, to get called up to the Torah in front of Judaism's holiest site in our days.
It is common for friends and family to give the Bar Mitzvah boy gifts at the Bar Mitzvah celebration, with immediate family usually giving religious items that are essential for a boy's religious observance, such as Tefillin, Tallit and books with religious content. Friends and other relatives will often give gifts with religious significance such as Jewish jewelry, Judaica gifts such as a Menorah or Torah hand pointer. Others may give sums of money in multiples of eighteen, due to the fact that eighteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew word Chai which means life in Hebrew- as a way of wishing the Bar Mitzvah boy a life full of happiness, health and G-dliness.