Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#121 - Age of Responsibility

While today may have seem to be just another day in my life, there is something today that I thought of in relationship to my Bar Mitzva some 28 and a half years ago. You see, there is a schedule of learning a Mitzva a day that started fifty years ago, called Mitzva Yomi. Anyways, a few months ago, I was curious to know what was the Mitzva of the day for the day of my Bar Mitzva. It didn't take long for me to figure this out, and it turns out that it was Mitzva 121. Now, while not all views hold exactly the same exact 613 Mitzvot, based on what I have written in the past, Mitzva 121 is the positive commandment for the Beit Din/Jewish Court to bring a bull if they made a mistake with a ruling of theirs causing the Jewish people to erroneously commit a sin punishable by spiritual extinction (Karet) if performed willfully and if done by mistake then one normally brings a fixed sin-offering for it. After 17 cycles from the day of my Bar Mitzva, the Mitzva of today - 27 Tishrei - is the same Mitzva.

As it turns out, I am writing about Mitzva 121 in my 121st Post. But more than this, perhaps it is this Mitzva more than just about all the other Mitzvot of the Torah that teaches the concept of responsibility, which is the distinctive factor for a Bar Mitzva boy or a Bat Mitzva girl to reach this stage in his/her life in contrast to before they reached this stage. While some people may think that a child at age 12 or 13 to be considered an adult in terms of being responsible for any and every action that he or she takes performing Mitzvot or Aveirot/sins is a little drastic, especially seeing how society is like today with teenagers being in a "rebellious stage" in their life, this is NOT how the Torah deals with teenagers. The fact that in Western society in the United States and other liberated democratic countries may have plenty of teenagers who do what they feel like it from receiving earings for men, tattoos, premarital sex, drugs etc. does not mean that teenagers are not grown up yet, except for the fact that they were not raised the right way by their parents or are surrounded by the terrible influence of their peers who pick up all the bad things from movies, television, internet, etc.

However, Hashem knows better. It's true that not all children even in what is called a religious environment will be fully trained to do everything right at the Mitzva age. However, Hashem is not going to have the good guys wait until the ones without the proper training grow up. The age at which one is held responsible for all commandments or sins for which one will receive Heaven or Hell pending future behavior begins at age 12 or 13, as there is a song that starts off with "Ready or not, here I come." You see, the truth is that one who is raised the right way will be of sufficient maturity by this time, as was the case of much of the youth in yesteryear in Europe and Middle East countries where Jewish children learned in the Cheder without the goyishe environment to influence them, especially knowing that not too many non-Jews loved Jews. The fact that not all Jewish children, at least outside of the Israel, are in the right environment only means that action needs to be taken to improve their spiritual lot. Of course one has to bear in mind that with the high divorce rate today, even in some observant Jewish circles, it doesn't help matters when children don't feel quite in place and feel that they need some outlet to make up for what they are lacking at home.

As per the above, this is not to speak of how some Bar/Bat Mitzva ceremonies are performed today that are a true mockery of everything that the Torah stands for, especially in Conservative and Reform congregations, which includes just about everyone driving to the temple on Shabbat, the rabbi and Bar/Bat Mitzva adult (not child!) using the microphone on Shabbat, praying in a mixed sitting of men and women while the boys/men are looking at the girls/women most of whom don't dress modestly even for the temple, and this is not to speak of the Bar/Bat Mitzva party where the women are "dressed to kill" - which is really only a euphemism for half not dressed, along with the mixed dancing, and sometimes the food isn't even kosher. So of course, what is so surprising when 5-10 years later between college and employment, the Mazel Tov wishes are for a upcoming mixed marriage to a non-Jew?

While we can't expect all children by the time that they reach Bar/Bat Mitzva to do everything right, for even who are called fully matured, scholarly, righteous people can mess up, as we see that even Moses was prone to mistakes, one of which cost him by not being allowed to come to Israel with the Jewish people whom he led for 40 years, what we can do is to take responsibility and teach others of what responsibility is, and not assume that children aren't old enough to learn so much responsibility. You see, this is the reason why in much of the United States, children do not learn as much as children in other countries in elementary school. If the education system does not think that children are mature enough, then of course the children themselves will feel the same, even if they are never called a bad name to this effect. However, if they are already treated as adults at a much earlier age and are taught to use their minds more productively, then in the due course of time, these children will feel that they have to behave "above their age" rather than "below their age".

And so, as Hashem knows that even people on the spiritual level of Moses can make mistakes, He prepared the remedy before the mistake can happen. Hence, Mitzva 121 teaches us that the Beit Din, which consists of some of the top scholars of the day, bring an animal sacrifice in the Temple to atone for the sin that they caused others to perform due to mistaken decision in their Torah learning. The fact that they meant well to begin with does not justify saying, "Look, even they are human, so what does Hashem expect from them when they did their best thinking that the Torah said to do or not do a certain thing". But the truth is that if they would have lived to their full potential, in whatever area that may be, they would have been granted the Divine Assistance not to err, and certainly, not to cause other Jews to err.

However, the good side to this is that when the Beit Din does bring this atonement sacrifice, it means that they take responsibility for their actions, and admit, "Yes, we screwed up; however, we are not going to blame this on others or walk away from this, but we will take responsibility for our actions to the point that we are bringing a sin offering which shows that we were wrong, especially having caused others to sin, and we hope not to repeat this again."

This point is highlighted when a few verses later after the section in the Torah which contains this commandment, it states Asher Nasi Yecheta "When a ruler sins..." (Leviticus 4:22). Now, while the word Asher (that or when) is a most common word in the Torah, in this instance, it is meant to teach a lesson, since this word is used instead of the word Im/if. As Rashi points out, the word Asher is related to the word Ashrei/fortunate, stating that "Fortunate is the generation whose ruler has in mind to bring an atonement offering for his erronous sin; and certainly that he regrets his intentional sins."

This is all fine and dandy, but why mention the point about the generation of this leader? Wouldn't it be sufficient to make note of the ruler taking responsibility for his actions as a praiseworthy thing? But as we see, the ruler is supposed to take responsibility for his actions, not only because this is the right thing to do, but because he is the role model of the generation. If he were not to do so, G-d forbid, then everyone else will feel the same way, and say that if he doesn't do so, then what does Hashem expect of me? And so, the fact that a ruler, despite his mistakes, takes responsibility for his actions, shows that there is accountability for our actions. Yes, everyone makes mistakes at times, but this is where the responsibility factor comes into play, for without it, society could not last very long, at least without a change in the system.

In Halacha/Jewish Law, we see that at the Kriat HaTorah/Torah Reading for the Bar Mitzva adult, his father makes a declaration "Blessed is He Who has exempted me from the punishment of this one (my son)." Now, while all Jews are responsible for one another, at least as far as the Talmud is concerned, as far as raising one's child seeing to it that he follows the way of Hashem, the punishment for failing to do so and the child performing sins which is the sole responsibility of his father as opposed to the child's is only until the child becomes Bar Mitzva. From henceforth on, the responsiblity of the father for his son is not any greater than for any other Jew who sees another Jew doing wrong.

Before concluding, while the number 121 was not used in any Gematria sense here in this post, or any other number for that matter, it is a significant number in that the makeup of this number is a number multiplied by itself, as 11 times 11 is 121.
And so, we see that the number 11 is an especially strong number in terms of the number 121.

The reason that I mention this is because once, I heard from a guy that people think that when they tell a secret to someone else, that they are only telling it to one person, as one plus one is two. But the truth is that in fact, one person telling this secret is saying this to 10 other people, as is shown with numbers that the number one placed next to another number one is 11, not two. And so before you know it, everyone in town knows the secret.

Coincidence or not, I am reminded of where it states in Parshat Ki Tavo that when the Jews would come to Israel, that they were supposed to stand on two mountains reciting blessings and curses for keeping or not keeping the Torah. Aside from the final verse of curses where it states the general curse of "Cursed is the one who doesn't fulfill all the words of this Torah", there are 11 specific curses. One of these curses is "Cursed is the one who strikes his friend in secret" (Deutronomy 27:24), upon which Rashi points out that this is referring to one who speaks Lashon Hara/evil talk on another Jew behind his back.

Ultimately, one who says bad things about others, or speaks secrets that are supposed to be just that - secrets, is one who is doing more than just another sin, regardless of how great or not such great a sin it may be in itself. It is one's lack of responsiblity, not thinking of the end result of his loose speech, which sometimes includes murder or breakup of family and friends, that is the big problem here. One who lacks a sense of responsiblity does not have moral values to say the least, and certainly does not respect society, or even the ones closest to him whether distancewise or friendshipwise. Such people are the very ones who destroy the fabric of society, because if all they will be is talk machines, not giving a hoot to what their speech can cause, then they are no better than animals, in fact, far worse and evil than animals. For in fact, only human beings have the power of speech, and while animals may make grunting noises with their companions as their source of communication, it doesn't compare to how people speak in great detail. At least animals do not rattle off speech that will hurt their companions as many people do, since Hashem knows that if they had the power of speech, animals wouldn't use it the right way since they don't have the brains that humans do to think before talking, having been created rather to follow their natural instincts, regardless of whether they will hurt others or not.

And while I am writing about the number 11 in relationship to curses and slander, the Chofetz Chaim, who wrote the book with the compilation of all the laws in the Talmudic and Halachic literature related to the prohibition of saying evil speech about others, called Chofetz Chaim, was born on the 11th day of the 11th month (Shevat).

Yes, eleven - NOT one plus one. True, it is another year or two for children to become of Mitzva age, but just as children before their Bar/Bat Mitzva take lessons on reading the Torah and all, so too, they should be taught and trained to learn what true responsibility entails beforehand, not just for their sake, but for our sake too, because as parents, it is OUR responsibility to teach what this word truly means to the next generation. Then, when they reach that big day, they can truly say that they have reached that AGE OF RESPONSIBILITY.

27 Tishrei 5772

No comments: