Meaningful Birthdays

For translation of this page in Portuguese, click herehttp://asknoah.org/essay/os-significativos-do-aniversario

Based on an essay from Sichos in English

(with editing for Noahides by the Director of Ask Noah International)

Publisher’s Foreword

During the months of Adar, Nissan and Iyar of 5748 [19'88], the Rebbe devoted many of his public talks to the potential religious importance of birthday celebrations. Citing Torah-law and Aggadah sources, as well as traditional Chassidic practices, the Rebbe has urged everyone to make appropriate gatherings on birthdays and to encourage and emphasize more Torah study, more charity, etc.

Within the essay, we are printing parts of the Rebbe’s public talk of the 25th of Adar, 5748, the anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chayah Mushka Schneerson o.b.m., (5661-5748), which marked the initiation of the Rebbe’s campaign for birthday celebrations.

The Concept of Birth

A fetus in its mother’s womb, near birth, is a complete, growing, living being, with a completely formed body. It truth, however, it has no independent existence at all. It is nourished by the food the mother eats, and wherever the mother goes, there the unborn baby is automatically carried.

From the moment the baby is born, it begins to freely move its limbs, sound its voice, and generally begins its own development, in an entirely new manner, both physically and spiritually.

For a human being, birth is a joyous time. It is a time of fulfillment for the parents who were blessed with a son or daughter, and for the child who came into independent existence. Therefore, when a person reaches maturity, each year on the birthday, it is appropriate to express gratitude and praise to the Holy One, Blessed be He, the Giver of life.

Birthday Celebrations

A Midrash on Genesis 40:20 relates: “Most people cherish the day on which they were born and make a party on that day.”

Just as the birthday of a nation is celebrated each year, so too, the birthday of an individual should be appropriately observed. An individual’s birthday can be utilized to strengthen and increase Torah study and observance of one’s mitzvos [commandments; for Gentiles, these are the Seven Noahide Commandments and their many offshoots, and their Torah study should be directed to better understanding and observance of these Noahide precepts]. This starts with the three pillars which uphold the world: Torah study, prayer and charity. These good practices should be observed on the birthday, and good resolutions for the future should be accepted.

Most importantly, gather your family and friends for a festive gathering on your birthday, and the joyous party will encourage them to also accept good resolutions — and the happiness that is generated will imbue your future observance with enthusiasm and zeal.

The Previous Rebbe revealed that one’s birthday is also a time for reflection, when one may “remember and think about those aspects of his life which need improvement and repentance” [from the book HaYom Yom compiled by the Rebbe, entry for his birthday, 11th Nissan]. This should be achieved by increasing Torah study and prayer on the birthday, as well as charity and other mitzvos. The Torah study should include revealed aspects (i.e. the Hebrew Bible itself, and practical rules for observing the mitzvos) and esoteric aspects (i.e. Chassidus).

Birthday Resolve

It is therefore appropriate to publicize all the above good customs of birthdays. Children should be taught the spiritual importance of a birthday, and small children will be even more impressed by this suggestion and will be more enthusiastic in carrying it out.

On one’s birthday, one can rejoice in the knowledge that on this day his soul descended to the physical existence in order to serve the Creator. This commemoration crystallizes in the fact that at the celebration itself there will be more Torah studied and mitzvos observed, and more good resolutions for the future. This joyous occasion may be observed by young and old — for as soon as a child is able to understand and appreciate the importance of good acts, his or her birthday party will become the focal point for commemoration of the past and solemn resolve for the future.

Anniversary of Physical and Spiritual Birth

Such a celebration is also connected to the fact that on his 13th birthday a boy enters the age of maturity and is responsible to observe his mitzvos. The same is true of a girl on her 12th birthday. The goal is that a young boy or girl will certainly grow up to fulfill his or her Torah obligations. Consequently, there is reason to especially rejoice at the time a mature person accepts the yoke of observing his or her mitzvos.

For this reason, men above 13 and women above 12 should see in their birthdays additional significance: (a) it is the anniversary of physical birth, (b) it is the anniversary of maturity, or spiritual birth.

With this in mind, you have reasons to celebrate your birthday at any age. And at each age you can find satisfaction and personal growth when you become one year older.

Why Were You Born? To Make a Sanctuary!

This suggestion is directed to everyone, even small children, and their parents should explain to them that on their birthdays there should be a renewal of all aspects of goodness. A happy celebration should be organized at which the child and the friends will joyously accept good resolutions in enhanced and increased Torah study and observance of mitzvos. This is a golden opportunity on the birthday, for it is a time when one’s mazal [fortune] is strong.

A Custom of Old — Renewed

This is not a new custom, rather an extension of the responsibility everyone has to encourage others to increase good deeds, Torah study and observance of mitzvos among friends, in a happy and friendly way. If for some reason this was not so common until now, it is needed now, and as we have seen, it in based on the practices of the great Jewish leaders. In the darkness of the pre-Messianic diaspora — we need more good deeds that will radiate light. And this activity and its good results are tried, tested and true.

Since this spiritual exile is seen as the time of incubation and the future redemption as the time of birth, may our good actions on birthdays speedily bring the ultimate true redemption.

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Recommended Customs for a Birthday

1. On your birthday, increase your contribution to proper charity before praying.

2. Put more time and effort into your prayer to G-d. Pray with greater concentration, meditate on the greatness of the Creator, and put more intensity in your recitation of Psalms as well.

3. Recite the Psalm that corresponds to the number of your new year that you are entering into. You may say that Psalm daily through the coming year until your next birthday. (For example, when one reaches the age of 20, he may recite Psalm 21 daily as “his Psalm”.)

4. In addition to your regular daily study periods, on your birthday study an extra lesson in revealed Torah [especially the parts that explain those commandments that you must observe], and esoteric teachings [Chassidus; to see recommendations for Noahides in both areas of Torah, go to http://asknoah.org/books ].

5. Reach out to others and teach them Torah, including Chassidus, as appropriate.

6. Isolate yourself in seclusion for a while on the day of your birthday and retrospectively review your conduct for the past year [1], see what needs repentance and improvement, and make good resolutions for the future years.

7. Accept upon yourself some new act of piety or more zealous observance in some area of action [2] — making sure that it is something that is within your grasp.[3]

9. Celebrate a happy party with your family and friends in honor of your birthday, giving praise and thanks to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and after eating with joy and happiness say a blessing of thanks to G-d.[4]

Notes:

These customs (unless otherwise noted) are excerpted from: HaYom Yom, entry for 11th of Nissan; Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad, p. 81; Letters of Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 6, Letters #1,548, #1,858; Vol. 7 #1,898, #1,929, #2,022, #2,066, #2097, #2116, # 2146, #2210, #2226, et.al

[1] See Letters of Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 7, #2226.

[2] Start by adding a new study period for Chassidus (Letters, ibid., # 2066).

[3] It is proper to accept a new aspect of religious zealousness on Rosh Hashanah; one may deduce from this that on an individual’s personal Rosh Hashanah — his birthday when his individual new year begins — the same should apply. See the Rebbe’s Sicha [public talk] of Acharon Shel Pesach [last day of Passover] 5748, footnote 33), and Letters, ibid.

[4] Sichos: 25 Adar 5748; Acharon Shel Pesach 5748.

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