In his commentary to Nazir 29b, Rashi comments based upon the Midrash that Levi was thirteen years old at the time that he and Shimon took vengeance on the men of Shechem. Wherever the Torah uses the word ish, man, it refers to someone over the age of thirteen years. Likewise, we find that Betzalel, architect of the Mishkan, was thirteen years old when he made the Mishkan. Concerning him, the Torah writes, Ish ish mimelachato, “Each (man) of them from his work” (Shemos 36:4). Additionally, we find that the Rambam reiterated the halachah that the age of thirteen years constitutes ish status. Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, explains the rationale for this. The Zohar HaKadosh (Shemos 128) writes: man gabeir d’is al yitzrei ikri ish, “One who conquers (is stronger than) his (evil) inclination is considered an ish.” David Hamelech told Shlomo, v’chazakta v’hayissa l’ish, “You should strengthen yourself and become a man” (Melachim 1:11), which is interpreted by Targum Yonasan, “A person who has the power to overwhelm his yetzer hora/sin.” When one achieves ish status at age thirteen, he becomes a bar daas, has sufficient mature intelligence and responsibility.
Rav Schlesinger takes the concept of ish up one notch, explaining that when one reaches the age of thirteen years, he becomes a metzuveh v’oseh, he is commanded to perform mitzvos. It is no longer extra-credit. It is an obligation. Chazal (Bava Kamma 87:1) teach Gadol ha’metzuveh v’oseh mimi she’einu metzuveh v’oseh, “Greater is he who is commanded and performs the mitzvah than he who carries out the mitzvah, even though he is not commanded to do so.” Tosfos (Kiddushin 31: ) explain that one who understands that his actions count, that he must carry out the mitzvah appropriately to the full extent of the law, will be anxious that he do it correctly, unlike the one who performs the mitzvah because he wants to. He knows that if he did not act accordingly – it is not the end of the world. He does not worry. He is not anxious.
Horav Shmuel Rozovsky, zl, explains that one who is a metzuveh v’oseh lives his entire life – every moment of his existence – in fear, worrying that perhaps he did not make the grade. His anxiety extends far beyond the mitzvah that he is performing; rather, it permeates his entire being, knowing that he has a responsibility towards Hashem, to carry out His command to its fullest potential. Thus, the advantage that the metzuveh v’oseh has over his counterpart is not simply with regard to the actual mitzvah that he is now carrying out, but rather, it is all about his mindset – the metzuvah v’oseh has a totally different temperament. A Jew who is an ish is one who worries, who is in a state of concern with regard to his frumkeit, religious observance. “Am I practicing as well as I should?” “Am I performing mitzvos in the manner that Hashem expects of me?” “Am I making Hashem proud of me?” Metzuveh v’oseh is a lifelong experience that permeates every aspect of a Jew’s life. This also defines gadlus, religious maturity. If a day passes in which he has not acted as a metzuveh v’oseh, then he was a kattan, underage, and not a bar daas. We begin each day with the realization that we are fulfilling our religious mandate to serve Hashem as mature, observant Jews. This is our mission. This is our responsibility to Hashem.