Sources to the Bracha
In the middle of the Bar Mitzvah celebrations, the father makes an unusual bracha which is unlike any other. The bracha relates to the bond of culpability that exists between the father and the son which ceases at the age of Bar Mitzvah. Thus, at this time, the father notes the newfound release of culpability by making this bracha.
The source for the bracha is found in our parsha (25:27) “and the youths grew up” upon which Chazal expound (Medrash Rabba) “Rebbi Elazar says: one is obligated to take care of his son until he reaches 13, after which, he should say baruch shepatrani mei’onsho shel zeh – blessed is the One who has freed me from the punishment of this one.”
This halacha is brought by the Rema quoting this Medrash (OC 225:2) “There is an opinion that when one’s son becomes Bar Mitzvah, he should say “Baruch ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shepatrani mei’onsho shel ze” and concludes that it is better to say the bracha without shem u’malchus (the name of Hashem).
The Meaning of the Bracha
The commentaries explain that this relationship of culpability is actually a dual affiliation with both the father being accountable for the sins of the son and the son being responsible for the sins of the father.
As a result of this, there is an overarching dispute as to which punishment the father refers to when making the bracha – on that of the father to the son or the son to the father. This difference has many halachic ramifications e.g. what is the halacha with regard to the bracha for a grandson or for an adopted child? Is there a difference between a son and a daughter? Is a mother obligated in the recital of this bracha? Is there any connection between the mitzvah of chinuch and this bracha? What is the definition of the bracha?
Definition of the Bracha – Punishment of “zeh” (this one)
The word “zeh” in the bracha is referring to the Bar Mitzvah boy, meaning, “this one who is standing here in front of us.” There are those who infer from this word that one only makes the bracha in the presence of the son and that a father who happens to be in a different location at the time of the Bar Mitzvah would not actually make the bracha (Shut Tzel HaChochmah vol. 5, 132, brings the varying opinions on this matter).
As mentioned, the poskim discuss whether the bracha is referring to the culpability of the father or that of the son, and the bracha itself can actually be interpreted both ways. Either we are talking about the punishment that the father gets as a result of the sins of the son and the word “zeh” denotes that the son is the cause of the punishment; or we are talking about the punishment of the son and the implication of the word “zeh” is that the sins of the father result in the punishment of the son.
Opinion of the Magen Avraham – Negligence of Chinuch Responsibility
The source of these two approaches in the interpretation of the bracha is found in the Magen Avraham (OC 225:5) who brings both explanations. He explains that although a katan is exempt from mitzvos until he reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah, Chazal placed a certain burden of responsibility upon the father to educate his son in mitzvos in order that he should be learned and accustomed to the mitzvos (Rashi, Sukkah 2b). This obligation is derived from the verse in Mishlei (22:6) “Educate the youth according to his way, [so that] even as he gets older he will not stray from it.” (Rashba, Megillah 19b, Ritvah, Sukkah loc. cit.)
The Magen Avraham explains that should this responsibility be neglected, it will result in the father being punished for the shortcomings of his son. The son reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah, however signifies the cessation of paternal chinuch obligation, resulting in a release of culpability resting upon the father. The father therefore makes this bracha to recognize this release of liability.
Opinion of the Levush – Liability of the Son
The Magen Avraham also cites another explanation in the name of the Levush regarding the son being punished for the father’s sins (until he reaches Bar Mitzvah). He suggests that the reason is that although the general principle is that “children will not die for the sake of the fathers; a man will die for his own sin” (Devarim 24:16), the Rambam (Hil. Teshuva 6:1) infers from the word “ish” – man – that the verse is specifically referring to a child who is halachically classified as a gadol (over Bar Mitzvah age), implying that a katan can indeed be punished for the sins of the fathers.
Using this inference, the Levush explains that the reason that the bracha is made with the child reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah, in turn attaining that status of a gadol, is that he will then be exempt from the punishment for the father’s sins.
This explanation however, still requires further clarification. What is the reason that the father would make a bracha when the son is released from culpability for the father’s sins? The Eliyah Rabba (OC 225:4) adds further clarity by quoting Tosafos (Bava Basra 22a) who brings a case of several amoraim who were concerned that they had brought about the untimely passing of Rav Ada. Tosafos understands that their cause for concern was based on a Gemora in Shabbos (149b) which states that anyone who causes suffering to his friend will not be drawn close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. For this reason, one makes a bracha when his son is no longer under the jurisdiction of his father’s punishment.
Connection to the Mitzvah of Chinuch
The Eliyah Rabba sides with the reasoning of the Magen Avraham, that the bracha symbolically represents the release of the father’s responsibility for the chinuch of his son. He substantiates this with the Medrash cited earlier which introduces the bracha by saying that “one is obligated to take care of his son until he reaches 13,” implying that the bracha is recited as a result of the paternal chinuch responsibility.
We shall now see that this proof is not faultless. The Rambam mentioned above bases his hypothesis on the fact that a child is an extension of his father’s property (kinyano), much like his possessions or assets. Because of this, he claims that just as one’s property can be affected by his sins, so too can one’s child bear suffering through his sins.
R’ Eliyahu David Rabinowitz in his commentary on the Rambam entitled Bnei Binyamin questions the source of this novel idea in the Rambam. Furthermore, he calls attention to this ruling being a direct contradiction to how the Rambam rules elsewhere (Hil. Erchin 6:21) that a child is not considered to be one’s possession!
It seems that we could resolve this difficulty by differentiating between the two halachos. When the Rambam describes the son as a possession of the father, his definition is built on the idea that a katan “does not have daas and has not yet reached the age of mitzvos.” It is clear that this “ownership” is in fact not referring to the subject of “property-rights”, but is actually a “spiritual possession”; the concept of a father’s responsibility for the chinuch of his son is connected to him being his “spiritual possession”.
With this, we can answer the question that the Eliyah Rabba asked on the Levush that it seems from the wording of the Medrash that the cause of the bracha is from a removal of paternal responsibility and not because of a culpability of responsibility that the son has for his father’s sins. We could suggest that this culpability of the son actually comes as a result of the father’s responsibility for the son’s ruchniyus as a “spiritual possession.”
The Root of the Dispute
By delving into the depths of this dispute we will discover a wonderful principle in the whole subject.
Why does the Levush reject the reasoning of the Magen Avraham? There is a well-known concept in the Torah that although a child reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah signifies a newfound obligation in mitzvos, however until a child reaches the age of 13, he is not held accountable for any of the sins that he commits. According to this, it would seem problematic to say that in making the bracha, the father gives thanks for no longer being liable for the sins of his son (brought about by negligence in chinuch) seeing as the son himself isn’t even liable to be punished!
A simple answer to this question can be found in the Lechem Chamudos. He clarifies that even though the father should not have been culpable as a result of his son’s sins as the son himself is not accountable, however the father is still punished as a direct result of his son’s sins. The reason for this is because the burden of responsibility for the child’s chinuch falls upon the shoulders of the father, and therefore he is directly accountable as a result of any shortcomings in his son’s mitzvah observance, even though the child himself would not actually be punished for his sin. This is because the mitzvah of chinuch is a direct obligation of the father, and he neglected his obligation.
Bracha for a Bas Mitzvah
What is the ruling with regard to a girl reaching the age of Bas Mitzvah?
The Pri Megadim (OC 245:5 Eishel Avraham) and the Radal (commentary on the Medrash) both infer from the Medrash cited earlier that the bracha was only instituted for a boy reaching Bar Mitzvah and not for a girl reaching Bas Mitzvah.
This ruling would seemingly be difficult to understand according to both opinions on the subject. According to the Levush, a girl would also ostensibly be liable for the sins of her father as his “spiritual possession,” and according to the Magen Avraham, a father should also be obligated in the chinuch of his daughter.
Distinction Between a Son and Daughter
We will now see that this difference is based on a deeper understanding of the mitzvah of chinuch.
The Radal (loc. cit.) explains that there are two separate aspects to this mitzvah. One is a Rabbinic obligation to “train” the child to perform the mitsvot (the source of which being the verse in Mishlei which we brought earlier). There is, however another aspect of chinuch which is Biblical in origin – the mitzvah of teaching one’s child Torah. While the general mitzvah of chinuch to perform the mitsvot is practiced with both sons and daughters, however the mitzva of teaching one’s child Torah only applies to sons. The Radal suggests that the bracha refers to the mitzva of teaching one’s child Torah and therefore it is only relevant to say for a son and not for a daughter.
The Pri Megadim (loc. cit.) posits another distinction in that although a father is equally obligated in the chinuch of all of his children, his daughters simply do not have so many mitzvos to be educated in in their youth, and thus his level of liability for their sins isn’t great enough to warrant making a bracha upon its release.
The Sha’arei Rachamim (Sha’arei Efraim 4:20) rules that there is no obligation for a grandparent to recite the bracha on an orphaned grandson. He writes in Sha’arei Chaim (4:24) however, that since a grandfather has an obligation to teach his grandson Torah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 245:3), it seems clear that it would be appropriate to recite the bracha according to the reasoning of the Magen Avraham brought earlier and that the Maharam indeed rules this way.
It is reasonable to suggest that this dispute depends on how one understands the mitzvah of chinuch and if it relates to the general chinuch of mitzvos or specifically to the mitzvah of teaching Torah (as was brought earlier in the name of the Radal).
What is the law regarding a child who was raised by adoptive parents?
R’ Yitzchak Zilberstein (Chashukei Chemed, Pesachim 121b) was asked this question and writes that the answer depends very much on the reason why the bracha is made in the first place. According to the reasoning of the Levush, there are no grounds for an adoptive parent to recite the bracha as the adopted child is most certainly not culpable for the sins of his adoptive father. According to the Magen Avraham however, being that he is responsible for the chinuch of this child, there is good reason to propose that he should make a bracha.
He refutes this suggestion for three reasons:
- Perhaps the adoptive parent isn’t actually liable for his negligence in the chinuch of this child.
- It is not appropriate to say the bracha as the congregation may come to think that the boy is actually a biological son, leading to possible harmful consequences.
- In a case where he doesn’t know of his past, the child himself may think that he is a biological son of his adoptive father and may come to marry his sister.
Mother or Father?
The Pri Megadim (loc. cit.) citing the words of the Magen Avraham writes that a mother is not obligated to recite the bracha since she is not responsible for the chinuch of her son. He speculates that according to the reasoning of the Levush, it is logical that the mother would indeed be obligated in the bracha but discounts the suggestion based on an inference in the verse “who repays the sins of the fathers on the sons” (Shemos 34:7), implying that the sons are not punished on account of the sins of their mothers.
Time of the Bracha
The Mishnah Berurah (225:6) writes that the custom is to recite the bracha when the child leads the congregation in tefillah as the Shatz or when he is called up to the Torah on the first Shabbos since it is then recognizable to all that he is Bar Mitzvah. The accepted custom is to recite the bracha (without sheim u’malchus, as stated earlier) when the son gets called up to the Torah.