The Magic of the Kotel Bar Mitzva

Every Monday and Thursday morning throughout the year, young men of all religious affiliations, come to the Western Wall to celebrate their Bar Mitzva. It is a celebration because it marks a kind of “coming of age” where  young men of 13 get counted as adults and accept the responsibilities of mature, committed Jews. It is a happy occasion for all of the Jewish people as we continue to survive as a people with another generation carrying on our traditions.

The experience at the Kotel, also known as the Wailing Wall, has its own share of magic. Families join together from all parts of the world to watch their little boy suddenly turn into a man right before their eyes. Even families that are minimally committed to Judaism and rarely attend their respective synagogues, feel the magic. When the Bar Mitzva boy emerges from the tunnel that houses the numerous Torah scrolls, and he is seen holding one of these Torah scrolls and is accompanied with singing and dancing, the emotions run high. The parents and grandparents are unable to hold back their tears of joy. What exactly is going on to elicit such an emotional response?

The combination of being in Jerusalem, Israel’s holiest city, and facing the only remnant of our holy Temple, at the holiest location on earth, certainly contributes to the specialness of the day. But there is something much larger that is taking place at that time. It is a truly pure and spiritual feeling that is being felt. It is an awakening of the Jewish soul.

When the Torah speaks about G-d breathing into man a spirit and a soul in the “image of G-d”, it is telling us that man is higher than the animal. The animal does not have the same potential for holiness as man as it does not have this soul. The Jewish people were given a greater potential for holiness because they were given their own unique set of laws that they received on Mount Sinai. Man is finite but the soul is eternal. Just as the body needs its nourishment, the soul longs for spirituality for it to thrive.

When people live lives devoid of spirituality and their reason for living is materialism and physical pleasures, their soul is greatly depleted as it is not getting what it needs. However, everyone’s soul “dances” at a Kotel Bar Mitzva. There is so much sacredness and purity and innocence, that its intensity, elicits feelings that the celebrants were not aware that they possessed. What is remarkable is that every family feels it no matter where they come from and how religious they are.

There is a lesson to be learned from all of this. There needs to be an awareness on the part of every Jew that he can have similar experiences of this special joy if he will only become aware of the needs of his soul. The Rabbis explain that every Jew has a yearning to connect to the Al-mighty and cleave to Him and develop a burning love towards the Creator. It is a spiritual need that if nurtured and worked on, ultimately yields an amazing feeling of happiness and contentment with the knowledge that we are protected by G-d’s loving kindness.

The magic that so many continue to experience every Monday and Thursday, is proof that if we apply ourselves, we can achieve real spiritual joy and bliss. This connection will allow us to cope with every challenge that comes our way. After all, what could possibly harm us when our souls are dancing!

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.