What are the 3 Pillars of a B’nai Mitzvah?

Jewish essayist Hayim Greenberg has said, “A Jew who…does not know to their deepest sounding, such Hebrew expressions such as mitzvah, tzedakah, chesed…. Cannot carry a part in that choir that gives voice to the Jewish melody.  These are the powers that build a Jewish personality.”

Micah 6:8 “What does God require of you, only this: To do JUSTICE, love KINDNESS, and walk MODESTLY with your God.”

  • By JUSTICE it means responsibility as a citizen, to speak the truth, to pursue peace between all people, to give Tzedakah and to live with integrity.
  • By KINDNESS it means to not covet or hate. To be mindful of your manners and be careful not to embarrass others.
  • By HUMILITY it refers to modesty in speech and dress. To respect your body and that of your friend. To demonstrate self-control and not fall prey to peer pressure. Also not to engage in harmful activities.

Becoming a B’nai Mitzvah is the beginning of participation in the adult Jewish world and not an end in itself.  Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Sages, teaches that the world stands on three things: On learning, on worship and deepening one’s spiritual life, and on acts of lovingkindness and repairing the world through volunteerism, service to the community, and tzedakah.  While parents, the b’nai mitzvah coordinator, tutor, and  clergy are all expected to help shape a student’s program of preparation in these important areas, the responsibility rests primarily upon the shoulders of the maturing young Jewish adult.

Each student at Congregation Beth Shalom is obligated to fulfill the requirements in each of the pillars:

Torah – Text Study

Through the child’s formal Jewish education they must engage in the texts of our history, as well as modern interpretations of those words. The key is to make the concepts come alive for them and applicable to their lives.  Each student is REQUIRED to be currently enrolled in a religious school education program (supplemental Hebrew school at CBS or local day school). The equivalent of such a program may be discussed with our Educational Director, if a student’s needs mandate special attention. Torah study shall be further explored through their development of their d’var Torah for the b’nai mitzvah service.

Avodah – Spiritual Practice and Participation in Services

While attendance at synagogue services is incumbent upon every adult Jew, it is prior to, and certainly during, this b’nai mitzvah process, that one’s pattern of future behavior can be molded. Each student is encouraged to make a commitment to regular synagogue attendance, and in particular, to attend designated services during their b’nai mitzvah preparatory year. Each should be strongly encouraged to continue their Jewish observance following the b’nai mitzvah ceremony.

Each student’s own spiritual growth will mature at a unique rate. Exposing our Jewish youth to tradition and ritual, as well as literature and the arts focused on Jewish life and spirituality, will nourish their souls and help them find their truest inner selves.

Each student is encouraged to attend religious services of various types to experience the array of religious moments they will encounter as adults.

The services in which your child’s attendance will be anticipated will include the following:

  1.  weekday minyan, morning or evening (Sunday through Thursday nights or Friday morning)
  2.  Friday night or Shabbat mincha (afternoon) service
  3.  Shabbat morning
  4.  Yom Tov (Festival) which occurs during the b’nai mitzvah year*

*Participation opportunities in their own ceremony will be based upon the successful fulfillment of this portion of the study program.

Gemilut Chasadim – Tzedaka/Tikkun Olam Project

Each b’nai mitzvah student is expected to undertake a tzedakah/tikkun olam project. The project should be hands-on and developmentally appropriate so that the child is able to see a direct connection between their actions and the “repair” of one small corner of the world.  For many of our families, the project becomes a shared family activity, with children working alongside their parents. Ideally, participation in these righteous acts will become a lifelong habit and this is most likely to happen when it becomes a regular feature of family life. Involvement in the CBS Youth programs, such as Kadima, will offer the student multiple occasions to remain involved in acts of tikkun olam.

Project requirements:

  1. The student is responsible to confirm his/her choice for a project with the Cantor prior to making any commitments in this regards. If the student is creating an original project, they may receive additional direction from our offices. If one chooses to volunteer at an existing agency or program, they must identify those willing to have pre-teenaged children as volunteers. Many agencies have minimum requirements for volunteers, so please be sure that the student is capable of fulfilling their obligations as it will reflect not only upon the student, but equally impact those who may attempt the help this agency in the future.
  2. Each student will be required to present a project scrapbook prior to their b’nai mitzvah ceremony. The book will be displayed outside of the sanctuary on the day of the ceremony.

The album should include an introduction to their project and their reasons for choosing it. Secondly, they should do some research into the issue for which the agency labors. Next, present some diary entries that would be helpful to keep along the journey within this project. Each should explain what might have been learned in this process, either about the agency and its cause, or about themselves. How did they mature as an adult, and specifically as a Jewish adult during this experience? Include pictures showing how they have been involved in the process of learning about this cause.

For wonderful ideas for a Mitzvah Project, you can search these sites:

  • www.juf.org click on the “Tov Volunteer Network” box and look for BM ideas
  • www.masorti.org click on “Programs” and then “Special Needs” for Operation Mazal Tov

Within this process of education and maturation we hope that the student will begin to find their place within the adult Jewish community. In alignment with the principles found in our Three Pillars Program it is a responsibility for the student to be active within the synagogue youth group. The programs which are offered by the Youth Department are varied and within the many options we are confident that each individual can find programs and activities that will be fulfilling for themselves.