by Naftali Brawer
Alittle more than a year ago I was approached by a former congregant who wanted advice on how to create a greater sense of ritual for his daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah.
The bat mitzvah was going to be held on a Sunday, and he wanted to go beyond the conventional dvar Torah to create a real sense of a religious occasion.
After some thought, I drew together two sources of inspiration to create a bat mitzvah ritual called kos shel berakhah.
The first source of inspiration was a practice I had read about some years ago and have since integrated it into our family’s Seder ritual. The hasidic master Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz had the custom of inviting all the participants at his Seder table to pour a little bit of wine into the kos shel Eliyahu (Elijah’s cup). In doing so, he encouraged everyone to blend their deepest hopes and dreams into this collective symbol of redemption. Each year at our Seder we all take turns pouring a little bit of wine into Elijah’s cup while verbalizing our hopes for the coming year. This practice has elevated an often overlooked part of the Seder, bringing together our family in a very profound way.
The second source of inspiration was the kabbalistic/ Hasidic idea concerning the symbolism of wine and its centrality in sacred ritual. The grape, according to this idea, symbolizes untapped potential, whereas wine represents the fulfillment and fruition of that potential. The reason that wine features so prominently in key time and life-cycle events, such as kiddush, havdalah, brit milah, pidyon haben, and huppah, is that we mark these occasions with a blessing over wine to express our thanksgiving to the Almighty for enabling us to have reached these moments of completion, as well as to request the opportunity for future fulfillment.
An Innovative Bat Mitzvah Ceremony
Blending these two sources of inspiration, we created an innovative bat mitzvah ceremony that combined ritual and meaning.
We began with minhah, followed by the bat mitzvah girl’s d’var Torah. I then introduced the Hasidic concept of wine, and explained that a bat mitzvah is a celebration of the fulfillment of potential as we mark the transformation of a child into a young woman. At the same time, it also marks the beginning of new potential, beginning a journey of fulfillment in the years ahead as the bat mitzvah grows intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
The bat mitzvah’s parents then presented a grandfather’s kiddush cup and invited family members to each pour in a little wine and share a personal prayer or berakhah. The bat mitzvah then recited borei peri hagafen over the full cup of wine and shared it with her parents and grandparents. She concluded the ceremony by reciting the berakhah aharonah “al hagefen.”
This simple yet meaningful ceremony resonated deeply with the family and apparently with many of those in attendance, as in the following months many of them duplicated this ritual at their own daughters’ b’not mitzvah.
Because the event was held on a Sunday, aside from the symbolic meaning of the ritual, the cup of wine lacked the halakhic status of a kos shel berakhah. If, however, the ceremony had taken place on Shabbat, the bat mitzvah could have recited kiddush over the wine, rendering it a genuine kos shel berakhah. The same would hold for havdalah if the ceremony took place on motza’ei Shabbat.
The ceremony also creates an occasion for the parents or the community to present the bat mitzvah with her own kiddush cup (which could be a family heirloom), along with the opportunity to use it immediately. This gift could provide the inspiration for the bat mitzvah to make kiddush routinely in the months and years ahead.
Rabbi Dr. Naftali Brawer is an intellectual and author who speaks to diverse audiences on the intersection among faith, ethics, and society. He currently heads Spiritual Capital Foundation, a London-based nonprofit that helps leaders and organizations articulate their values. He previously served as senior rabbi at the Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue, one of the largest Orthodox synagogues in the UK.