Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy birthday to me

This morning, my shiur and friends made a birthday party for me. As much as I can be confident they'll make a party, every year is fraught with fear of what kind of present they will think of. I've been giving the shiur for thirty years, and I have friends with really big hearts and with even bigger senses of humor, so you can imagine how long and strange the list is. It started nicely, with a peirush on the Masechta we were learning, a sefer I mentioned that I didn't have, and the like. But it quickly got out of hand. A giant Yerushalmi, a new and improved Daled Cheklei Shulchan Aruch and a Tur. And then it got completely bizarre: a gargantuan snow blower, a Taser, wristwatches, restaurant gift certificates, enormous gas barbecue grill..... and I won't tell you what they had to be talked out of buying for me, Baruch Hashem!!! I should make a shehechiyanu on that alone.

This year their gift was donations to a tzedaka that is very meaningful to me, perhaps the most thoughtful and precious of all the gifts I've received.

I'm writing this because I want to record an insight into what a birthday means to me.

It is well known that birthday celebrations are not well known in Orthodox Jewish tradition. We famously say that the only birthday celebration in the Torah is that of Pharaoh. True or not, the fact is that birthdays are not a hallowed tradition, and I think this is related to our attitude towards Rosh Hashannah.

Rosh Hashannah is really a birthday as well. It is the beginning of a new year, just as a person's birthday commemorates the beginning of a new year of his life. Rosh Hashanna is not exactly a party, it is more a reminder that time is fleeting, a sober accounting of what we've done with our lives until then, what we ought to have done better, and what we ought to be doing in the coming year. I think that is true of birthdays as well.

On the other hand, when we wake up in the morning, and we realize that Hashem has graced us with life and the opportunity to accomplish something, that deserves not only gratitude, but also celebration on our part. How much more so is this true at the onset of a new year of life!

But to me, there is much more, and this is the reason I am posting this. My friends' celebration reminds me that I matter to them, and that they feel that I have, in some way, enhanced their lives. That, to me, is truly a reason to celebrate. I celebrate what a great blessing and joy it is to have dear friends who celebrate my birthday..


  1. Rav Shach zt"l (in Meirosh Amana, i believe it is in Parshas Vaeschanan) once explained that while a birthday is generally not thought to be an appropriate yime for a Jew to celebrate, as it marks the passage of another year which will never return, we /do/ celebrate a bar mitzvah. The reason for this is that a bar mitzvah marks not the year that passed, but a new level of achievement, a milestone that has been reached. As such, celebrations of this nature (ones initiated by attendants of one's Torah classes, for instance) are appropriate for other birthdays as well.

    ויה"ר שימשכו מעיינותיך להנפץ חוצה לאורך ימים ושנים טובות

    1. Excellent. Thank you for the vort from Rav Shach, and for the good wishes!

  2. article on birthdays in Halacha by Rabbi Efrayim Weinberger
    (Spertus college has a copy)
    שו"ת כתב סופר יורה דעה סימן קמח
    שו"ת חוות יאיר סימן ע
    Pri Megadim O”C 444 and Chasam Sofer Haghos O”C 225
    תלמוד בבלי מסכת מועד קטן דף כח עמוד א
    רב יוסף, כי הוה בר שיתין עבד להו יומא טבא לרבנן. אמר: נפקי לי מכרת
    Don't forget Reb Moshe - Bas Mitzvah is a birthday party so it's OK שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק א סימן קד
    Yerushlami RH 3rd Perek - Amalek took people whose astronomy was that they wouldn't die that year, so Yehoshua countered.
    Bavli RH 11 birthdays of Avos
    בית יוסף אורח חיים סימן תקנד about Moshiach borthday on Tisha B'av
    Don't forget Rishonim Avrahama made MIshteh beyom higamel es Yiztchak - on his second birthday.

    1. Having gathered mareh mekomos on the subject for a while, I can say that I don't think he missed a thing. Thanks.