~FROM THE DESK OF~

RABBI ANTHONY KNOPF

 
 
  • Rabbi Anthony Knopf

From the Desk - What's the Deal with Birthdays?


Shalom Friends! I hope you're having a great week! Chanukah is coming round fast! This morning, Carly and I spoke, sang and lit candles at CPE Shalom's party for the holiday season. And the deadline for booking for our My Big Fat Greek Chanukah dinner is approaching fast (December 23rd). Please book through the synagogue office to secure your place! A couple of weeks ago, we were shocked by the trauma experienced by so many of our brothers and sisters in Israel as fires raged across the country. Although the wildfires appear to be under control, those families who lost their property and homes are in need of help and support. Many organizations have set up funds to assist them. The contact information for a number of those organizations can be found here. Last week, I started a supplement in my newsletter discussing various aspects of Jewish practice. This Shabbat is my birthday, so I have included below a discussion of the Jewish attitude toward birthdays. Another initiative begins this week as we include on our website and Facebook some questions, ideas and internet links on the topic of the previous week's sermon. You can access this week's section by clicking here. I hope this will give the opportunity to reflect on some of the timely and important messages that we discuss here at Beth Ora on Shabbat morning. In the meantime, we wish you Shabbat Shalom and a warm and safe week ahead, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami

What's the Deal with....Birthdays According to Judaism, should we celebrate our birthdays? If so, how should they be celebrated? And are there certain milestone birthdays that should be considered more significant than others? A key argument against celebrating birthdays is that we don't find anywhere in the Bible that Jews did so. In fact, the only Biblical personality who marked his birthday was the Pharaoh who enslaved the Hebrews in Egypt! Not only that, but there is an intriguing dispute in the Talmud in which rabbinic academies took different views on the question of whether or not a person would have been better off never being born. The conclusion recorded in the Talmud is that, indeed, it would have been better for a person to have never been born! If that is the case, why celebrate the day of one's birth? The Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson took a different view. Based on earlier sources, he argues that this understanding only applies to those people who don't live good lives. But for good, decent people, it is certainly better that they were born. Hence, the Rebbe supported birthday celebrations. Moreover, according to an important Sephardi authority, the Ben Ish Chai, one merits a special mazal on one's birthday and it is like your own personal Yom Tov! How should we mark our birthdays? One rabbi once noted that Pharaoh marked his birthday by 'making an accounting for other people'. It was on his birthday that he decided that his royal butler would be released from prison and the royal baker would be beheaded. In contrast, argued this rabbi, on our birthdays we should make an accounting for ourselves. We should contemplate how we are living our lives and whether or not we are achieving our potential in this world. The Rebbe of Chabad emphasizes the importance of expressing thanks and giving praise to G-d on one's birthday. He compares this to the law that one says a special blessing when one visits a location at which one experienced a personal miracle. The Tifferet Yisrael, an important Talmudic commentator, encourages the practice of sending birthday cards. He says this is a great way of making people feel good about themselves and is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself. According to the Book of Tehillim, the average person lives for 70 years. For this reason, some say that it is right to make a special celebratory meal for a 70th birthday and for the celebrant to recite the shehechyanu blessing, giving thanks for the gift of life.

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