When one is young, a birthday is all about the fun of the party - and getting lots of gifts! As one ages, one seems to feel less enthusiastic about this big day. It seems, that as each year comes and goes - we feel less positive about ourselves. Have we accomplished what we could have?!
Imagine if we could go back in time and feel the excitement we once had when birthdays were all about gifts, music, games, ice-creams and all the other goodies that came/comes with them?! At least we can have those feelings of nostalgia as each year comes by and we remember the good times we had so many years ago.
But is this all that a birthday is about? Could there possibly be more to it than games, gifts, melodies and magicians?!
The Lubavitcher Rebbe began the custom of celebrating a birthday in a Jewish spirit - many years ago. Indeed, a birthday IS a special occasion, and one not to be missed!
So, just how can we celebrate our birthdays in the right way - a way that will uplift us and make us appreciate this special day?
The Rebbe writes:
"As to the forthcoming birthday which you write of, on that day, you will no doubt observe the recently-established customs of Anash (those connected with Chabad Chassidus): to be called to the Torah on the birthday itself (if it is a day on which the Torah is read), or otherwise on the preceding Shabbos; to give charity before Shacharis (morning prayers) and Mincha (afternoon prayers) on the birthday, or if it falls on Shabbos or Yom-Tov, on the preceding day; to study an extra session of nigleh (revealed Torah) and of Chassidus (hidden Torah), in addition to one's regular, daily shiurim (lessons) and the three shiurim of Chitas (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) which apply equally to everyone, as instituted by my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe - in Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya."
"On one's birthday one should spend some time in seclusion, bringing to mind recollections from the past and pondering over them. As to those [of his bygone actions] that call for rectification or repentance, one should repent and rectify them"
On this day one's mazal (one's spiritual link in the world's above) is dominant and assists him (See Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 3:8)
"This should be stressed likewise concerning every individual Jew, for since one should be as joyful on the day of the bar-mitzvah [of one's son] as he is on the day of his [son's] wedding (Zohar Chadash, Bereishis 15:4), and since (according to the writings of the Arizal) the same downward flow of Divine light is elicitied afresh on the same day every year, it follows that a person should be spiritually aroused on his birthday every year." (Note of the Rebbe in Sefer HaMaamarim 5702, p. 143)
The Rebbe lists a number of other customs:
- Investing increased time and effort in one's recitation of the prayers, and meditating on the greatness of the Creator. Likewise, reading chapters of Tehillim with devout concentration, including (if possible) at least the whole of one of the five sefarim (books) that comprise the Book of Tehillim.
- Studying the Psalm which corresponds to one's new age, and which will now be recited daily throughout the coming year, (e.g. Tehillim 21 for someone turning 20.) This is done in addition to the practice described by the Previous Rebbe, of studying part of one's current Psalm every Rosh Chodesh; "If the Psalm is long, one studies two or more verses each month, and if there are fewer than 12 verses... then some of them should be repeated, so that the entire Psalm is studied in the course of the year."
- Studying a Maamar of Chassidus by heart ("from whatever text your heart desires - but conscientiously," as the Rebbe writes in a letter.) This Maamar is then to be recited from memory in the presence of a group of people on the birthday, or on a suitable related occasion, preferably at the Seudah Shelishis of the following Shabbos.
- Reaching out to one's fellow Jews, teaching them Torah in general and Chassidus in particular, in a spirit of true Ahavas Yisrael.
- Undertaking a new act of piety that is within one's grasp, or a more scrupulous observance in some particular area, beginning (as the Rebbe recommends in a letter) with an additional regular session for the study of Chassidus. As the Rebbe once pointed out in a Sicha: Just as it is proper to undertake a new practice of this kind on Rosh HaShana, so is it appropriate to undertake such a practice on one's personal Rosh HaShana - his birthday, when his individual new year begins
- Celebrating with family and friends, giving praise and thanks to the Creator, and (if possible) expresssing one's joy in the fulfillment of a Mitzvah by reciting the blessing of Shehecheyanu over one of the season's new fruits.
There is much to be done!
A birthday is certainly a time for great joy and festivity! But it is also a time for serious reflection on where one finds oneself in one's own level of growth. It's a time to resolve to grow further in the coming year - and like Sefiras HaOmer - make each day count!
There is no need for further sadness as the years go by. On the contrary, each year brings with it further growth, and this is what makes each of us become even greater. We are not in the world to simply enjoy each material and physical pleasure as they come our way. If this would be the case, there would be much room for being depressed as the years pass, and we find ourselves less able to enjoy the pleasures we were once so easily able to enjoy. Life is about becoming more spiritual - within the physical. It's not about holy beings doing holy things, but rather about unholy beings doing holy things!
Make your next birthday count! Remember that while your solar birthday may mean something in terms of the apparent day of birth, it is really your lunar (Hebrew) birthday that is truly connected with your soul. If you're not sure what day your Hebrew birthday is, click here and find out now!