Bar Mitzvah Day Dilemma

Q: Every year, my son’s yeshivah takes the sixth, seventh and eighth grades on an all-day trip. Understandably, this is a major event which all the boys eagerly look forward to. My wife and I just realized, however, that this year the trip is planned for the day of our son’s bar mitzvah. And I don’t want my son to go on the trip. For one thing, we don’t know when the bus is supposed to return. And it could get back too close to his bar mitzvah seudah. But the main reason I do not want him to go is because I want the day of his bar mitzvah to be more of a day of ruchniyus rather than one of fun and games.

My son very much wants to have a one-man-band at his bar mitzvah seudah. I told him we cannot afford it. I was considering, however, telling him that I will pay for the live music if he agrees to skip his school trip. But I wouldn’t offer him that deal if you feel it’s the wrong thing to do. What would you say about this?

A: One critical component of the picture which you omitted was your son’s feelings. How important is the trip to him? How would he feel if he missed it? And, how would he feel towards you and your wife if you discouraged him from going?

Even the wicked Lavan and his mother said, “Let us call the girl [three-year-old Rivkah] and ask her [feelings about accepting Eliezer’s shidduch proposal]” (Bereishis 24:57). And, in case you think the behavior of idolaters should not be emulated, Rashi comments, “From here we learn that we do not marry a [Jewish] woman without her consent.”

Another missing piece is your wife’s position. Is she in agreement with you? Does she have a different point of view? A child is the product of two parents, both of whom should contribute to all major decisions affecting his or her life.

Furthermore, you must consider the auspices of this trip. This is not an outing planned by your son and his buddies. This is an event sponsored by your son’s yeshivah. The hanhalah of the yeshivah must surely know that the possibility exists for a talmid to be participating in this excursion on the day of his bar mitzvah. The itinerary, therefore, should not be one that would pose a ruchniyus challenge even to a boy on the day of his bar mitzvah.

If you would object, nevertheless, to the plans for this trip, you should be expressing your opposition to the hanhalah of the yeshivah, not to your son. Presumably, you chose this yeshivah. And the yeshivah conforms to your standards. Certainly, you are permitted to advocate for improvements. But this must be done with the hanhalah and not your son. To ask your son to adopt higher standards than the yeshivah to which you send him is to impose an unfair burden on him.

You might ask, “Just because ‘everybody does something,’ does that mean I must permit my child to do the same? Can’t parents set the rules for their own family? What’s so wrong with telling children, ‘In our home we do things this way’?”

Just because a child claims everybody is doing something does not mean that is so. If some do and some do not, you can certainly decide to which group your children should belong. If your child’s yeshivah organizes a trip, however, and you want your child to be the only absentee — even if you offer a tempting incentive — you are planting the seeds of future resentment of you and even possible disregard for the authority of the yeshivah.

Finally, you did not clarify what your expectations are for your son on the day of his bar mitzvah. Exactly how would you want him to make this a day of more ruchniyus? When you became a bar mitzvah, were you busy with fun and games? And, if so, are you now looking for him to achieve goals you never reached?

If the latter is true, consider the following words of Harav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l: “[Some parents] view a child as a possession which belongs to them. And his purpose in this world is to benefit his parents…  [They believe the passuk, ‘Educate a child] according to his way’ (Mishlei 22:6) certainly means their way… All too often I have met parents who assign great value to those things which were missing from their childhoods. This is well intended but should not be applied in an exacting manner. Just because something was missing from the parents’ childhoods still does not mean that thing is appropriate for their child.” (Z’riah U’binyan B’chinuch, Feldheim, 1995, p. 30)


 

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.