Monday, July 9, 2012

How I managed to say Baruch sheP'tarani

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.


  1. I would be more concerned if you had said that you weren't worried. That worry isn't such a bad thing at all.

  2. think of the alternative interpretation-the father is making it for the son who is no longer liable for the father's shortcomings
    joel rich

  3. right. Just as the child is becoming a teenager, a parent says he is no longer responsible? Oy Veh

  4. Mazal Tov. Your son is very fortunate to have a father who is so thoughtful and self-reflective, not to mention a תלמיד חכם

  5. Jack-
    Thanks; I've missed you.

    Have you seen that somewhere?


    R' Joshua-
    Thank you.

  6. MA 225 : 5 quoting the lvush
    Joel Rich

  7. Mazal tov!

    I don't see the bracha as saying the parent has no responsibility for the child, but that he is exempt from punishment - not the same thing at all.

  8. Daniel-
    Certainly not the same thing, but my question is this: How could a parent who has not equipped the child properly be exempt from punishment?

  9. Surely halakha sometimes exempts people from punishment even though they have a degree of moral responsibility? Although admittedly off the top of my head I can't think of a good parallel example.

    Perhaps the brakha is also suggesting that the child can no longer say "It's my parents' fault; they failed to educate me." From now on, he has a duty to educate himself.

  10. Daniel-
    Taking your suggestion, perhaps the child should recite a berachah...

  11. I check in more frequently than you probably know. Don't always comment, but I am here.

  12. I was thinking. Maybe it is a chesed from hashem that yes, you the father, have caused the child to now have real losses (oinshin) or even loss of a reward (schar), but it is a chesed (kindness)of hashem that you are not punished for that - see the halachic rationales for punishments or lack thereof for breaking "Lo Seiten Michshal" (stumbling block before the blind) or geramo/garmei (indirect types of damages in tort/contract).
    It is in fact though a wake up call to the parent to double his/her efforts to continue to educate the child so as to avoid those losses that the child would suffer.
    if he/she does not know them, then they would come into the category of tinek shenishbah (orphan who does not know things) or shogeg (unintentional) (although shogeg implies a pre-existing knowledge).
    I think that taken this way, it would prove a powerful motivator to future education/love from the parent.
    I haven't thought through this properly yet, just a gem of an idea.
    Thank you for raising it. Having just seen your blog, I hope to look at it more often.
    And mazal tov on the barmitzvah.

  13. Jack-
    Glad to hear it; I am not nearly as good a friend.

    Thank you for this idea; I like it a lot. I wouldn't necessarily think of it as pshat, but it does fit the שפטרני language, and it does address my discomfort. Thanks!

  14. I struggled saying it for my older son. IY'H, I will have the opportunity in 2+ yrs. I am curious, are there any sources that suggest the reverse - that the son say it at his bar-mitzvah since he is no longer liable for the sins of his father? while I appreciate the Midrashic source in parshat Toledot, a healthy argument could be made that once a bar-mitzvah, the son's fate is no longer tied to that of his father's. I heard the Levush held this way but have not been able to find the mekor. thank you

  15. Hi Mitch,

    I haven't seen any sources suggesting that, no. Levush OC 225:2 cites saying Baruch shePitarani, and suggests not to use HaShem's Name because a father is not exempt for his son's misdeeds where the son emulates the father.