A Black Panther Bar Mitzvah

Last week I took my kids to see the new box office smash, Black Panther. Not only was it a great movie and a fun way to spend a few hours on a snowy Minnesota day, it was a good way for me to procrastinate writing a “parent’s prayer” celebrating my son’s upcoming bar mitzvah. But as the final credits rolled, I realized that Black Panther was the perfect bar mitzvah movie – Hollywood’s PG-13 rite of passage conveniently falls at bar mitzvah age – and a wonderful inspiration for my words to him:

Micah, Mazal tov! You did a great job and I am so proud of you. I am sure there were times (many) when you would have preferred to be playing football or video games rather than working on your haftarah. But now that it has arrived, I hope you take pride in your accomplishment and take stock of the significance of this day.

As you know, Micah, I can hardly keep straight the difference between Superman and Captain America. But the Black Panther? Him I know. Because while you were enthralled by the movie’s action scenes, I couldn’t help but pay attention to its themes relevant to becoming a bar mitzvah. And I am not talking about the themes for the invitations and the party. No, these themes speak to the very essence of this ceremony that marks your entrance into Jewish adulthood. They are royalty and responsibility.


You’ll recall toward the beginning of the film that T’challa, the Black Panther, inherited the throne by virtue of his lineage. His father was the king. So now he was becoming king. But when a rival challenged his authority, he had to earn the throne on his own merit.

This reminds me of what we read in Pirkei Avot: “Perfect yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not yours by inheritance alone” (2:12). In other words, Torah does not pass genetically from parent to child. Instead, by improving our character and through diligent study, we make ourselves fit to receive the wisdom of generations past and to accept the mantle of leadership.

Do you get what I mean? Let me say it differently. Jewish values and traditions are an inheritance, a sacred gift, I pass on to you today. But it is up to you to, in the words of the Torah blessing you just chanted, to “hold fast to them.”

When T’challa does finally take the throne, he had a vision of his ancestors. He saw himself walking in their footsteps. He felt obligated to honor their memory, dutybound to do right by his birthright. But Micah, there’s something more.


At first, the Black Panther’s vision was narrow. He heard the call to be a blessing to his people. But only to his people. It took a usurper of the throne to make him look beyond the borders of his kingdom and to recognize his responsibility to the world outside of Wakanda. “We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe,” T’challa proclaimed before the United Nations as the movie credits rolled.

T’challa came to understand that he could use the riches of his nation and the talent of his tribe to benefit humanity without diminishing his people. And so must we.

Micah, to be a bar mitzvah is about royalty. It is about binding yourself to the Jewish people who are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It is also about responsibility. It is about following in the path of Abraham who was charged by God, “be a blessing all the families of the world will be blessed by you.”

As Queen Ramonda said to her son, T’challa, just before he became the Black Panther, so do I say to you, Micah on this special Shabbat: “My son, it is your time.”