For 13 years, I have watched my eldest grandson take on the characteristics of the proverbial mensch. Minutes after he was born, I witnessed a boy in the making. With his flagrant red hair, his calculated screams, and his sense of timing, Mr. Adin made an impression. Immediately after his covenantal circumcision, he began his preparation towards the real thing: his bar mitzvah.
Menschology is the art of making a child into a mensch. It is a gender-neutral word that encourages the creative strategies of parents and rabbis to fine tune the intricate details of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah in today’s contemporary society.
A mensch: A person of integrity and honor.
"Perhaps a public dialogue on the bimah about your parshah would be the way to go," I suggested to my daughter and grandson as we began exploring the essence of his bar mitzvah service at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
"Like what kind of questions?" asked Adin.
"Questions about your Torah portion. What are the Biblical and relevant themes? A few fun facts perhaps? Teaching moments," I concluded.
The morning of the bar mitzvah, I introduced the question/answer format to the congregation of friends and family. We did our back and forth routine with humor and affection.
After months of study and daily practice, my grandson learned some very important Judaic skills. Even before uncovering the sacred melodies of the scripted Torah, he had developed a built-in Jewish consciousness and a Talmudic mind characterized by his genuine curiosity.
So what was the task to be accomplished for his bar mitzvah?
The job of the bar mitzvah is to teach the young man how to swim in the world of knowledge, and how to navigate the nature of menschology. Both require a deliberate process with a talented guide/mentor. Both build on a strong foundation from the teacher/parent. Both are continuous and contiguous to each other. The bar mitzvah boy has to give himself over to the mystery that lies behind the Hebrew characters and learn to respect its history, legacy and sanctity. As a mensch in the making, the Bar Mitzvah boy has to search for his ethical and moral compass on a daily basis.
Have you ever watched the bar/bat mitzvah child during his special weekend? ow does he conduct himself around friends and family? What is his demeanor? Does he exude gratitude or haughtiness? Is he respectful to his family or is he spiteful? Has he begun the long road towards a person of character or a person of attitude?
As I watched my grandson stand up and be counted as an educated addition to the Jewish people, I was even more proud that after 13 years of character building and problem solving, his registration card reads, "Mensch." Now that the party is over, the guests have left, the daily practice routine has abruptly ended, we can focus on the art and maintenance of this thirteen-year-old mensch, Adin Isaac Yager. Mazal Tov!