Your birthday commemorates the day on which G‑d said to you: “You, as an individual, are unique and irreplaceable. No person alive, no person who has ever lived, and no person who shall ever live, can fulfill the specific role in My creation I have entrusted to you…”
Establishing a “Jewish calendar” was the first mitzvah (commandment) the Jewish nation received from G‑d. This unique calendar is based on the lunar month, but is occasionally adjusted so that it remains synchronized with the solar year and its seasons.
Thus from year to year, a date on the Jewish calendar will fluctuate with respect to other calendar systems, but will always remain in close proximity to its corresponding date on the commonly used Gregorian (solar-based) calendar. For example, if your civil birthday is on June 15th, your Jewish birthday will always be within a few weeks of that date
Your Jewish birthday has dual significance: a) According to Jewish tradition, your mazal (good fortune) is dominant on your birthday. b) As a nation we celebrate those dates when special events that affected our destiny occurred, a.k.a. holidays. As individuals we celebrate those dates that have personal significance—and what is more significant than your birth? It is when the Creator said, “Here, I am giving you a body, a soul, and a divine mission. I have absolute trust in your ability to pull through for Me.”
In 1988, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, inaugurated a “Jewish Birthday Campaign.” He asked that we all utilize this most special day of our lives to its utmost. A day to recommit to the mission that G‑d entrusted to us—bettering and sanctifying ourselves and the world around us.
First and foremost, a birthday is a day to feel grateful. It’s a day for parents to be grateful to G‑d for the precious gift He granted them. A day for the Jewish nation to be grateful for the addition of a new member of the nation-family. And, of course, it is a day for the birthday celebrant to express gratitude to G‑d for the gift of life.
This is the day when you were given the mandate to change the world. The day when G‑d entrusted you with the mission to challenge a world that is hostile to spirituality and transform it into G‑d’s private sanctum. And in accomplishing this goal, you, too, were given the ability to achieve incredible spiritual heights—heights unimaginable to the soul before it was dispatched from its lofty heavenly abode to inhabit a physical body.
Celebrating a birthday is thus also a demonstration of confidence. Confidence that you are and will continue to be worthy of G‑d’s trust. No matter the obstacles, you will persevere and live up to G‑d’s expectations of you.
This day takes on additional significance if you are above the age of bar or bat mitzvah. The word “mitzvah” means commandments, but is also related to the word “tzaveta,” which means “connection.” Fulfilling G‑d’s commandments is the vehicle through which we connect to G‑d. Until bar and bat mitzvah, mitzvot are primarily an educational experience—the commandment element kicking in upon adulthood. That means greater responsibility, but an infinitely greater connection, too. Your birthday is also the anniversary of that momentous occasion. Another reason to be grateful…
Time is like a spiral. Annually, on the anniversary of any momentous event, we have the ability to tap into the same spiritual energy that originally caused that event (hence the concept of Jewish holidays).
When you were born, G‑d invested within you a soul abounding with talents and qualities. Your mazel was shining and at full strength. That same energy is present once again every year on the anniversary of that date. On this day you have the ability to accomplish that which would perhaps be very difficult on another day.
Rosh Hashanah is so special because it is the birthday of humankind—it is the day when Adam and Eve were created. Your birthday is your personal Rosh Hashanah—utilize it to its utmost!
What’s so great about a birthday? Wasn’t it more comfy inside the womb?
But the day you were born was the day you became your very own person—no longer just a watermelon in your mommy’s tummy. That’s why it’s a day to ponder: What have I accomplished by being here? Did the world change because I left that womb?
So, when the Hebrew calendar comes back around to that wonderful day you were born, try some of these great customs:
- Find an enclave in time and space to think about the past year: what went right, what went not-so-right and what can be fixed.
- Take your life to a new level with a new mitzvah.
- Give some extra charity today. Best just before the morning and afternoon prayers. If your birthday falls on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday, then give before the day begins and after it’s out.
- Spend more time on your prayers. Say some extra Psalms. (Yes, Psalms are Jewish—King David wrote them.) Your mazel shines extra strong on your birthday, so ask for the right things.
- Every year of your life has a corresponding Psalm. It’s your age + 1. Learn it today, and say it each day for the coming year.
- Add to your Torah study time. Share whatever you learn with friends.
- Farbreng. That’s when friends sit together, make l’chaim and encourage each other to be better Jews. It’s also a great way to publicly thank your Creator for creating your life.
- Eat a new seasonal fruit on your birthday, just so you can say the Shehecheyanu blessing, thanking G‑d for granting you life.
- For men: Get an aliyah on the Shabbat before your birthday. If the Torah is read on your birthday, get an aliyah on that day too.