I was nervous in the days leading up to my son's bar mitzvah, but the tension wasn't about how he would do with the Torah reading, or whether we would have enough food for guests. I was nervous in the way many of us become nervous before Rosh HaShanah, and Pesach. Here my oldest child was reaching the age of halachic independence, when he would now be expected to fend for himself in the world of religious education – and I knew I had not prepared him adequately. And I don't mean "run a household" adequately, I mean "live a teenage life" adequately.
Does he know the laws of hefsek [appropriate and inappropriate interruption] in davening?
How complete is his knowedge of berachos for food and scent?
Could he check lettuce properly, left to his own devices?
Does he understand the nuances of yichud, kol isha, kiruv basar (aka negiah)?
Does he now what he may and may not do if his clothing becomes dirty on Shabbos?
And so on.
Like someone who knows he has not yet atoned for every sin of the past year at the end of Elul… Like a homeowner who can't shake the feeling that there must be some chametz, somewhere… I knew that I hadn't set up my son with the full knowledge of halachah he should have had.
[Yes, I am fully aware that most kids don't reach 12/13 with that knowledge. No, that provides no comfort.]
Chinuch continues after the child reaches maturity [although the precise halachic definition of the mitzvah is unclear to me]. After all, Bava Basra 21a describes parents in the period of the second Beis haMikdash sending their children to school, for the first time, at the age of 16 or 17. But still – am I not obligated to make sure my child will be capable of functioning on his own by that age?
With all of this in my head, I couldn't look at "Baruch shep'tarani" with anything less than revulsion. "ברוך שפטרני מענשו שלזה Baruch shep'tarani mei'onsho shelazeh" is the blessing recited by many when their sons reach the age of bar mitzvah; it translates to, "Blessed is the One who has exempted me from this one's punishment." With this berachah, we declare that the child is now "on his own", responsible for himself.
[The questions of where this berachah comes from, whether to use Gd's Name, whether to recite it for daughters and whether mothers should say it, are all beyond the scope of this post. Google them.]
So how could I say this berachah? But did I really want to make a halachic statement by declining to say it? [No, in case you were curious.]
Fortunately, on Shabbos morning I had an insight which changed my way of looking at the berachah. As we have discussed before [such as here], I believe that parenting teens requires greater tzimtzum, ratcheting down the direct instruction and substituting more subtlety. Now I looked at the berachah in that way: A reminder that my son was entering a new stage, and that my role would change as well.
It's not the literal meaning of the berachah, but given the odd pedigree of the berachah in the first place, I was good with that, and able to proceed.