Today I attended my first ever Bar Mitzvah. Not only have I never attended a Bar Mitzvah — I’ve never been inside a synagogue before.
Thankfully my friend had sent a letter along with the invitation to her son’s Bar Mitzvah. The letter explained the ceremony, and also listed the things that were off-limits. No bare shoulders, no cell phones, no applause, no writing, and no monetary gifts.
When I arrived, a kind woman met me in the lobby and handed me two books — a copy of the Torah as well as a prayer book called Siddur Sim Shalom. Next to the books were extra yamakas (head coverings) and tallits (prayer shawls). The yamakas were manditory for all men and boys; the prayer shawl was only for Jewish adults. Since I was neither a man nor a Jew, I bypassed that part of the table.
I sat in the back of the sanctuary, listening to the congregation sing the Hebrew texts. Then it was time for the 13-year-old to read the passage from the Torah, which today was from Leviticus. He then gave his interpretation of the text. He said that many people look at the Torah as a list of rules, but he looks at them as opportunities to better the community and get closer to God.
At the end of the service, people in the congregation cheered and threw candy at him, and his father lifted his son up on his shoulders and danced.
And suddenly I was glad I’d chosen to sit in the back of the sanctuary, because I couldn’t help the stream of tears that flowed down my cheeks.
Most of the time, the God in my head is punishing and unpleasable. I have to fight to believe that God is who He says He is — loving, patient, slow to anger, and abounding in love. But today, as I watched a glowing father lift his son on his shoulders, I didn’t have to fight to believe. I saw this reflection of God as a loving, proud father, who only wants the best for His children. Who presents us not with rules, but with opportunities to become more like Him. Who invites the angels to celebrate over His children. Who lifts us up on His shoulders and rejoices over us, and gently carries us Home.