The Problem and Repair of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah Candle Lighting Ceremony

B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

This article teaches unique and meaningful ways to convey honor and blessing to special people present at a rite of passage, for example, a bar or bat mitzvah. The birthday cake strategy with candles present that are lit with nice things being said about family members was invented by a Christian caterer and become mistakenly adopted during some bar and bat mitzvah parties. That caterer didn't understand a) That candles are lit to start and end the Sabbath, never during it and b) that a bar and bat mitzvah is not a 12th or 13th birthday party. Indeed, it is something very different, the converse of a child's birthday party. It is a religious rite of passage based not on being born, but rather on a lot of hard work, emotional and spiritual development, Jewish studies and much more that help a child transition into a young adult. Further, the candle is the symbol for a soul in Judaism and we do not blow candles out or use them to symbolize another individual unless they are dead and being memorialized, and then not on a birthday cake. That said, there are lots of wonderful ways to honor those present and those who have left this world.

1. Dedicate a poem or page in your bar or bat mitzvah service booklet in the memory of family members. Speak your wishes for them to be able to see you on this special day, at some point in your ritual or at the party.

2. Ask someone you want to honor to go for a walk or talk with you. Tell them how much they mean to you, what it is about them that you love most. Ask that person an important question, a useful one might be: "Tell me about something difficult that you've overcome in life and how you did it." Or "Tell me about the most awesome thing you've ever seen or experienced in your life." Far more than the clang of drums and DJ at a party, these walks, talks and sharing will become a blessing treasured and remembered by all.

3. Also, keep in mind, the power of blessing those you love is built right into the service. After each aliyah, segment of Torah reading, it is possible to give a blessing based upon the theme or because of a special occasion or situation. Developing the ability to give someone a blessing is a special aspect of becoming an adult. Although customary, the cantor or rabbi doesn't need to do this for you, let them know you would like to give these blessings. Blessings are also done at the Torah when someone is ill, or has just returned from a journey, or is engaged to be married, or is naming a new baby, or celebrating surviving a narrow brush with death.

Here's an example: You've spoken about how Moses was a frustrated leader trying to help a new nation form in the wilderness. You connect this to today, how hard it is to be a leader in, let's say Israel, in such difficult times. You invite people to come up before the Torah during an aliyah that has the theme of the difficulties of running a country, family or business at this time.

The people come up and witness your reading about Moses' leadership stresses and how he was always climbing a mountain to ask for guidance and inspiration. Now, turn to bless those who came up because this theme is important to their lives. What will you bless them with? Perhaps something like:

"May you be blessed to take the time out you need to recharge, gain inspiration, connect with the meaning of what you are doing. May people appreciate your leadership and respect how hard you try. May you know when to step up to lead and when to step down. May your leadership roles be a source of satisfaction to you."

Suppose all of your grandparents come up together for an aliyah or for a blessing from you during another part of your special day, or all of your uncles or aunts.

How might you bless them? (Write down your thoughts. You have built-in instincts for the right thing to say.) They will always remember the power of receiving a blessing from you at your B-mitzvah. Here's one young woman's blessing for her Aunt Sallie:

"Aunt Sallie, You have been a great blessing to me. The trips together to art museums and concerts turned me on to a side of life I'd not have known much about without the way you've taken an interest in me. Even more, I cherish how well you listen to me and understand my feelings. You never make fun of me and your ideas are so helpful. Aunt Sallie, I know how much you dream of taking your first trip to Israel. So I bless you to have the courage to make that trip, and maybe we can figure out a way for me to go with you!"

4. There is a prayer called the kaddish d'rabbanan, it is a prayer for our teachers. You might ask your teachers of life and Jewishing skills to rise and also remember teachers who have died during this prayer that occurs during traditional services and can be found in the prayerbooks of virtually every Jewish group. Hazzan Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, composed a lovely English version which is recorded on at least one of her CDs and Rabbi Shefa Gold has a contemplative chant version as well. 

5. Another great time to honor people is at a Havdallah ceremony, when we do have candles - the braided candle used to symbolize the end of the Sabbath (Shabbat). This candle shows how our lives have become braided together in greater closeness through this special occasion and Shabbat together. The Sabbath starts with two separate candles but ends with a braided one which symbolizes transformation. This is a beautiful way to transition into your party, which by tradition begins after the sun has set, so that it's not Shabbat anymore - it's party-time!

You have the power of blessing. Go for it!