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Can you fail your bar mitzvah?

A young man prepping for bar mitzvah asked, "Is it possible to fail your bar mitzvah?" 

My first reaction was "of course not."

Then I thought about it for a long time and decided that his question - borne of fear - was worthy of a more considered answer.

I told him this:

Well, you're not getting a grade, no one will stand there - Olympics style - and hold up signs with judging numbers, and you're not getting a report card. So, to that extent, of course you can't fail.

But that's not totally true, and the answer is in your ballpark and under your control.

How can you fail? 

You can decide here and now that you don't care, that you'll never succeed, that this is a bunch of hooey being dumped on you by your parents. You can decide that because this is hard stuff, you just ... won't and you'll give up before you even start. You can decide that playing ball is more important (we already know it's probably more interesting) than prepping for our lessons. 

You can have your mom or dad call me with excuses when you're not prepared or you forgot your books/material at home or you plain blew off our lesson times. 

You can stand on the bimah on your special day, taking credit for things you didn't do, listening to your parents praise your efforts.

You can flat-out fib to me when I ask you - as per your synagogue community's guidelines - to attend Shabbat evening services, knowing full well that you're not going to come. Or by committing to continuing into our 8th grade program that will lead you to Confirmation in 10th grade, knowing that you have no intention of doing so. 

That's how you can fail.

But you can succeed, and here's how.

You can decide here and now that even if it's not that important to you, you're going to give it your all because your parents said it's important to them.

You can decide that even though you'd rather be outside playing ball, you're going to put in the time for prepping for our lessons. And even though it is hard, you can give this your best effort, knowing that the same willingness to risk failure that helps you learn to bunt can be translated to learning Jewish prayers.

You can text or email me or find me on Facebook or be up front with me when you're not prepared or you forgot your books/material at home or you plain blew off our lesson times. It's called taking responsibility; and you can do it. 

You can come to those Shabbat services and continue through Confirmation because you made the commitment to me, your parents, and your community.

And when you stand on the bimah, taking credit for things you did, listening to your parents praise your efforts ... that's success.

And when you DO succeed because you gave it the best shot you could, as hard as it was, you get to wear a magical locket that has a spiritual picture of the experience that shows you that you accomplished something you honestly thought you'd never do, something that took risk and responsibility and bravery beyond anything you ever imagined. 

I learned about this locket twenty-something years ago from Rabbi Steve Rosman, one of my teachers, as I was becoming a cantor; I stood with Rabbi Rosman and a soon-to-be-called-to-the-Torah young man on a Shabbat morning. I've never forgotten that lesson.

So yes, you can fail ... and you can succeed. It's up to you.

Comments

Haniye Asghari said…
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