Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Passover which we just finished is the begining of the new year and the begining of the Jewish people. It is said that the Jewish people are eternal, becasue G-d promised that we would be. Unfortunatly we are selves are not eternal. We come to this world and we are like a rain drop that blows in the wind and then we are no more (my writing),
We are the voices of the wandering wind, Which moan for rest and rest can never find; Lo! as the wind is so is mortal life, A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.
Turning 50, is a wake up to remember that G-d puts us here for a short while and we have a duty to walk in G-d's ways while we are here. Happy birthday in Nisson to me when my secular birthday and Hebrew birthday almost coincide since it is a leap year
Love Yehuda Lave
The Beauty of the Kinneret and Gamla Waterfall
On our First Anniversary trip, we go first to Safed and then on the East side of the Kinneret and enjoy the beauty and the most beautiful wildflowers that we have ever seen. It was a masterful day and the weather was stunning for the beauty of Israel.
Karet ('excision') is the biblical penalty, for certain offences, of being 'cut off from the people'; for example, for failing to be circumcised (Genesis 17:14); for eating leaven on Passover (Exodus 12:19); and for committing incest (Leviticus 20:17). The
(Keritot 1:1) lists thirty-six offences for which the penalty is karet.
The Problem of Definition
The chief problem here is the meaning of karet. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 3.12:1) remarks: 'To those who were, guilty of such insolent behavior, he [Moses] ordered death for his punishment', implying that karet is identical with other death penalties in the Pentateuch.
This view is accepted by many biblical scholars but fails to explain why this term is used instead of 'he shall be put to death', that is, by the hands of the court. Other modern scholars hold that karet denotes some kind of exclusion from the community, the offender being 'cut off', that is, excluded from the community.
But, as Milgrom has rightly pointed out, the penalty of karet is limited to purely religious offences and is never enjoined for offences such as murder, the penalty for which is judicial execution. Consequently, the unanimous Rabbinic view, as stated in the Talmud, has much to commend it, that karet is a form not of human but of divine punishment, though it is unclear how karet differs from the other divine penalty mentioned in the sources, 'death by the hand of Heaven.'
Divine Punishment and Providence
In one view, karet means a divine punishment of death before the age of 60, which is why a Talmudic Rabbi had a party on his sixtieth birthday. In another version karet means that the offender will die childless. In the confession of sin on
one sentence reads: 'For the sins for which we are liable to the penalty of karet and childlessness.'
The medieval philosophers endeavor to explain how the penalty of karet fits into the scheme of divine providence. Maimonides (Teshuvah, 8:5) identifies karet for the worst sinners as total annihilation of the soul in the Hereafter.
This whole area is very obscure and is largely ignored in present-day Jewish theology.
The number 50 is the distinguished number of transcendence. The count up to 50 is composed of two essential and distinct stages.
The first phase is the step-by-step progression rising from 1 up to 49. As the square of 7 (7²=49), 49 denotes the complete cycle within the physical universe.1 This is a natural development, one that reaches the extremities of the outer boundaries. This may be the furthest limit as far as nature is concerned – but it is not the endpoint. But the ultimate destination of a Jew is his arrival at the second phase – one where he somehow manages the supernatural leap from 49 to arrive at the transcendental quality of 50.
The progression from 49 to 50 has, as its precedent, the stepping stone from 7 to 8. The soul is likened to the 7th center of holiness within the body that sanctifies the 6 directions of the physical world toward spiritual pursuits.2 Through this process, the soul is able to elevate itself, and the body with it, toward perfection.3 In number terms, the 7 is elevated beyond to reach 8, which is synonymous with entry onto the higher transcendental plane.4 And the arrival at 50 similarly marks the entry into this exalted state.
A Passage to Sinai
Perhaps the count toward the number 50 finds its most well-known historic expression in the Exodus and its aftermath. – exodus: 50
The momentous event that commemorates the birth of the Children of Israel as a nation was the exodus from Egypt. Not only is there a twice-daily remembrance of this milestone,5 but much of mitzvah observance is marked by repeated references to the Exodus. Its central importance is due to this event celebrating the Jewish People's brand-new state of existence.
Their deliverance was not only from physical slavery but also from the Egyptian worldview. The Exodus released them from an outlook constrained by the natural realm.6 The redemption catapulted Israel into an alternate state of reality. They exchanged the restricted for the unrestricted, the natural for the supernatural, and the ordinary for the extraordinary. It was the seminal event that would define what Israel had now become: God's Chosen People. Their transcendental quality was now evident in the aftermath of their trailblazing liberation.
The historic event of the Exodus is mentioned in the Torah a total of 50 times.7 And the redemption process which started on the first day of Pesach finally reached its completion stage 50 days later at Sinai. Indeed, God freed the Children of Israel in order that they accept the Torah. The Divine instruction given to Moshe at the burning bush was to lead Israel out of Egypt and bring the nation to serve God at that mountain.8 – shavuot: day 50
The 50 stages of redemption required a minimum 49-day interval for their national metamorphosis. Prior to their liberation, the Children of Israel had sunk to the nadir of spiritual impurity: the 49th level of impurity. The Exodus introduced a spiritual cleansing process. Israel embarked upon a gradual path of ascension, one level after another. Theirs was a phenomenal rise from their degraded position on the 49th gate of impurity up to the 49th gate of purity.9 Finally, they arrived at the highest spiritual pinnacle on the 50th day.10
This period bridges the Festivals of Passover and Shavuot. The journey is alluded to in the mitzvah that famously links this time frame: the 50-day Counting of the Omer, from date of the cutting of an Omer measure of the new crop of barley, which was brought up as an offering on the second day of Pesach: You shallcount for yourself … 7 weeks that shall be complete until the morrow after the 7th week – it shall be 50 days …."11 – torah: 50
Shavuot is the only Festival not referenced by a specific date in the Jewish lunar calendar. Its classification as the time of the giving of Torah is recorded as Day 50 after the Exodus. This firmly establishes Shavuos as the climax of the Exodus. In the relationship between God and Israel, the giving of Torah at Sinai is termed on your wedding day.12
Marriage celebrates the total commitment of two parties to each other. The obligations of a Jewish marriage arrangement are recorded in the ketubah, the wedding contract. The set monetary settlement allocated to a maiden was 50 silver shekels (equivalent to 200 zuz/dinars in Mishnaic currency).13 This sum finds its perfect parallel in the giving of the Torah, where the contractual duties of Israel's wedding day came into effect on the 50th day after the Exodus.
Here God showered His beloved nation with the best wedding gift of them all: the gift of Torah. The metaphysical quality of Torah often sees its depiction as qualities of the Divine intellect. Its transcendental nature is over and above the physical existence of This World. Appropriately, Torah was given at the beginning of the 8th week after the Exodus. It taps into the symbolism of 8 transcending the natural realm epitomized by the number 7. In this respect, 50, which follows the cycle of 7 weeks each consisting of 7 days, shares the "out of this world" quality of the number 8.14
As the 50th day after Egyptian deliverance, in the 8th week, Shavuot relates to the transcendental nature of Torah.15 In the singular form, the word Torah is said to occur 50 times in the Torah.16
Parallel to the number 8, the 50th level relates to that which is "out of this world."17 The Mishkan, Sanctuary, and subsequently the Beis HaMikdash, Temple, revolved around Torah as represented by the Luchos, Tablets, housed in the KodeshHaKodashim, Holy of Holies. (In itself, the construction of a House of God served to immortalize the giving of Torah at Sinai.18) The purchase of the Temple site took effect through the 50 shekels of silver paid by each tribe.19 The maximum age for a Levi to serve in the Temple was 50 years old.20 In particular, the innermost chamber, the KodeshHaKodashim relates to this 50th transcendental level.21 And there were 50 golden hooks upon the roof spread directly above the curtain cover at the entrance of the KodeshHaKodashim.22
We have noted that 50 represents the full journey toward acceptance of Torah in the 50 days bridging Pesach and Shavuos. The passage through life calls for the Jew to emulate the national passage to Sinai. He must proceed until the natural end – and then go beyond it. He must transcend the finite and touch the sublime 50th gate that belongs over andabove the natural rules of This World.23 – 50: at a distance
The number 50 is used as the measure that places something at a distance. The Talmud notes the use of a rope measuring 50 cubits for matters such as measuring the 2,000-cubit distance of techum Shabbos, the distance beyond the city one may travel on Shabbos.24 Because of the negative impact of a granary, leather tannery, and cemetery, these were not halachically permitted to be located within 50 cubits of the city.25 Of course, the 50-day journey from Egypt to Sinai ensured that Israel was no longer under the sinful influence of their idolatrous past.
No less than 50 stages of redemption – parallel to the 50 times the Exodus is recorded in the Torah – were required to achieve a clean break from the past. Now, on the 50th day, Shavuos, the shackles of bondage were finally broken. This is recorded in the mention of the Exodus in the opening verse of the 10 Commandments: I am Hashem your God Who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery.26 – 50: gates of understanding
The creation of Israel in the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot ties into another aspect of symbolism found in this number. God created the universe with the 50 Gates of Understanding.27 The 50 Gates relate to the ascending spiritual levels within the world through which man must pass in order to uncover the inner secrets of creation and in order to comprehend the powers, capabilities, and life forces within.28
In a sense, the 50 Sha'arei Binah signify the distance of how far removed man is from God's wisdom. It is incumbent upon man to pass through these Gates of Understanding in a journey to uncover the Divine wisdom hidden in the words of Torah. This often involves the deductive reasoning of understanding, ("bina" in Hebrew) to derive "one thing from something else."29 "Bina" is cognate to "bein", between,30 which indicates the gap that man must bridge in order to approaches his Creator.
The 50 days of the Omer parallel the 50 ShaareiBinah.31 The word binah further relates to "binyan", building.32 The count of the Omer toward Shavuot is the process of building where the Jew builds himself up from the lowly level of an animal up to the spiritual heights of a Godly being.33 It is his bid to traverse the 50 gateways of Divine wisdom. He endeavors to transcend the natural and to touch the supernatural realm where he will gain a clearer perception of God.
The highest level humanly possible is 49 gates; it is God Who enables a person to make the final leap from 49 to 50. The human being who passed through the full 49 gates was Moshe.34 However, the final 50th gate still lay beyond his grasp. The secret of this ultimate step would lie within the secret nature of Yovel.35 – yovel: year 50
The 7 weekly cycles of 7 days lasting until the 50th day, Shavuot, has its obvious parallel to the 7 Shemittah, Sabbatical cycles of 7 years that culminate in the 50th year, Yovel, Jubilee Year.36 Yovel marked the cumulative conclusion of an epoch. Everything that had occurred previously – even something termed as lasting l'olam, forever37 – comes to an end. The slate is wiped clean. It returns to its original pristine state to enable the process to begin anew.
Shemittah is classified both as holy, and as Shabbos; Yovel is Holy of Holies, and "Shabbos of Shabbosos."38 Actually, Yovel's description as Shabbos of Shabbosos is shared by the festival of Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.39 On this date, the Jewish nation was forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf that had undermined the Torah given on Day 50. A new era began as Israel was given the second set of Tablets, delivered by Moshe on Yom Kippur.40 This signaled that God had forgiven Israel, affirming that He would not destroy them.
The process of teshuvah, repentance – itself related to binah41 – is such that sin is eradicated. What happens? A person relates to his transcendental roots, returns to God, and emerges as a new creation.42 Interestingly, there is a total of 50 days of teshuvah from Rosh Chodesh Elul (29 days) until the end of Hoshana Rabbah (21 Tishrei).43
The word yovel also refers to the shofar-horn of a ram.44 Indeed, the 50th year assumed the status of the Jubilee year only once the shofar was sounded.45 The yovel/shofar was blown on Yom Kippur46 of the 50th year. It would herald that people and objects would revert to their original position. Sold fields returned to their original owners. Jewish slaves were released from their captivity.47 Here they freely return to their true identity.
Yovel replicates the impact of the shofar to awaken man toward repentance.48 The freedom of Yovel was unhindered by any constraints. It denotes the transcendental point that stretches above any prior attachment to what came before. – 50: all-in-1
In This World, there can be no independent human expression on the 50th level. It remains the ultimate, yet unknowable Godly dimension. It can be characterized as elevated or apart, from everything that precedes it. It transcends the natural world and human experience.49
In one respect, the 50th is the uncountable number. The Omer period lasts for 50 days – yet only 49 are to be counted. The counting of 49 automatically leads to the arrival of the 50th. This elevated state was reached at Sinai. It truly surpassed everything that came before it.50 It was on the 50th day, Shavuot, that the union between Israel and God, like a marriage, was solemnized.51
With this act the Jewish nation supernaturally transcended worldly existence to become one with God.52 Israel achieved this unity when they arrived at Sinai to encamp in a unified state: like a single person with a single heart.53 The names of the 12 Tribes of Israel, which were engraved upon the Stones worn by the Kohen Gadol, have a total of 50 letters,54 merged as one entity with their Creator.
Thus, the 50th is the point of arrival. This is where man has come "all the way." This is the ultimate level; man has successfully completed the requisite stages of the natural passage and progressed to transcend up to the Godly level of eternity. This is the dimension of Torah, of Divine understanding, of true freedom. It is where Israel transcends to truly become one with God.
Ramchal, Derech Hashem 1:3. The reentry of the soul into the body after revivification is destined to propel man to a higher spiritual level than he could attain in life.
See "8: Out of the World."
The root of the word מִצְרַיִם is related to the wordמֵיצַר , straits, as in the verse, ּall her pursuers overtook her within the straits (בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים) (Eichah 1:3).
Zohar 2, 85b; 3, 262a. See Sfas Emes, Shabbos HaGadol 5634, for how the 50 references to the Exodus correspond to the 50 weeks and 50 Shabbosos in every year. See also Vilna Gaon, Tikkunei Zohar, p. 84.
See "49: The Full Measure."
Their development is beautifully symbolized in the 50-day ripening period of an apple – an allusion to receiving of Torah. The Midrash notes that the apple takes 50 days to ripen and this occurs in Sivan (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:2). This is a reference to the 50-day period between Pesach and Shavuos, when the Jewish nation embraced the Torah. (The apple symbolically relates to the declaration Na'aseh v'nishma, "We will do and we will hear" – Shabbos 88a. See Tosafos, ad loc. for how the apple refers to the esrog.)
1. Vayikra 23:15-16.
Shir HaShirim 3:11 and Rashi ad loc.
Mishnah, Kesubos 1:2. A divorced or widowed woman who remarries is entitled to half this sum: namely 100 zuz. The basic amount of 50 silver shekels for a maiden is derived from the laws of the penalty payable by a man who violates or seduces a maiden (Devarim 22:29; Kesubos 10a).
Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael 25.
Maharal ibid. Though the Omer count is stated to be for 50 days, only 49 are counted. One does not – indeed, cannot – count the 50th. It is not simply another day in succession to the 49 before it. It is separate and apart; it goes beyond the possible, beyond the countable.
Rokeach, Devarim 6:7.
See Tanchuma, Pinchas 15, about how Shemini Atzeres, the 8th day after the onset of Succos, should have ideally been positioned 50 days after Succos in the same way that Shavuos was placed 50 days after Pesach. See "8: Out of This World."
Ramban, Shemos 25:1 (Introduction to Terumah). See "410: First Temple."
Zevachim 116b. See also Succah 53a and Sifri, Nasso 42 for how David purchased the site of the altar for 50 shekalim.
See Bamidbar 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47.
Maharal, Chiddushei Aggados, Rosh Hashanah 21b. See "8: Out of This World."
Shemos 26:6. See Rokeach, Shemos 26:6, p.141, for how the 50 golden hooks attaching the curtains parallel the 50 times the word Torah is mentioned in the singular in Chumash.
See Maharal, Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaTorah 1 for how the 50th is uncountable, as it belongs to the ethereal, elevated world that is not subordinate to time.
Bava Basra 24b-25a. See Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 7:13.
Rosh Hashanah 21b; Nedarim 38a. "The 50 occasions Exodus is mentioned in the Torah correspond to the 50 Gates of Understanding" (Vilna Gaon, Aderes Eliyahu, Balak).
Ramban, Introduction to Sefer Bereishis. See also Vilna Gaon, Safra D'Tzniusa 1.
See Rashi, Shemos 31:3.
Ibn Ezra, Shemos 31:3; R' S.R. Hirsch, Bereishis 41:33.
Vilna Gaon, Aderes Eliyahu, Balak.
See Niddah 45b.
The Omer brought on Pesach was an offering of barley, a grain that is used for animal feed. By contrast, the 2 Breads of Shavuos were made of wheat, a human food. This symbolizes the spiritual transformation from a non-spiritual beast to a spiritual human. See Sotah 15b; Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael 25.
Rosh Hashanah 21b. See "49: The Full Measure." Parallel to Moshe's inability to attain all 50 Gates of Understanding, he was unable to pass over the River Jordan, whose width is said to be 50 cubits (Tosafos, Sotah 34b) and pass onto even 1 cubit of the ground of the Holy Land (see Baal HaTurim, Devarim 3:25 and Rokeach ad loc.).
Ramban, Introduction to Sefer Bereishis.
Shemos 21:6; Kiddushin 21b. This refers to a Jewish servant who rejected going free after his original 6 years of enslavement.
Maharal, Chiddushei Aggados, Rosh Hashanah 21b.
See Taanis 26b expounding the verse, the day of His wedding (Shir HaShirim 3:11). See Rashi ad loc.
In the Amidah, the blessing of teshuvah is juxtaposed to binah (Megillah 17b). See Shelah HaKadosh, Chullin, Torah Ohr 63, Shelah Toldos HaAdam, Beis Chochmah (2nd) 24. See R' Tzadok HaKohen, Pri Tzaddik, Tu B'Av, 6, as to how the level of 50 Gates of Understanding is the level of knowledge given to a penitent.
See R' Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak, Yom HaKippurim 1. See Shelah Toldos HaAdam, Beis Chochmah (2nd) 24, as to how Yom Kippur is a source of binah, returning the past year back to its roots and source.
See Panim Yafos, Vayikra 16:30.
Rosh Hashanah 26a and Rashi, Shemos 19:13. In the acceptance of Torah at Sinai, an extended blast from the yovel (shofar) indicated that the Shechinah had departed and the people could now ascend the mountain (Shemos 19:13). This, too, relates to the cessation of a phase.
Rosh Hashanah 9b.
See Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 335.
Vayikra 25:10-13. See also "9: Where to Turn?"
On Yom Kippur the 50th and most profound of all gates is opened, the closest level to gain insight into the ways of God (Sfas Emes, Yom Kippur 5653).
Incidentally, we can explain with this the reason that, in the Purim narrative, Haman constructed a gallows that was specifically 50 cubits high (Esther 5:14). Symbolically, the wicked Haman presented himself as a deity who "supposedly" was not subject to the natural law of the land – namely, that he was on the transcendental 50th level (Maharal, Ohr Chodosh, Esther 5:14). See also Maharal, Ohr Chodesh, p.175 and Be'er Hagolah 4:14 for the symbolism of this 50-cubit gallows being constructed from the wood of Noach's Ark (Yalkut Shimoni, 1056). See also R' Tzadok HaKohen, Pri Tzaddik, Purim, 2, for how Haman's gallows of 50 cubits corresponds to the 50 Gates of Understanding.
Maharal, Rosh Hashanah 21b, Chiddushei Aggados.
One who assaults a maiden must give her 50 coins of silver to marry her (Devarim 22:29). This is parallel to Israel receiving Torah on Shavuos, the 50th day after leaving Egypt (Rokeach, Bereishis 32:11).
See Tikkunei Zohar, end of Tikkun 22.
Shemos 19:2 and Rashi ad loc.
The 12 Tribes of Israel were represented on the Avnei Shoam, the stones affixed to the shoulders of the High Priest's Apron. There were 6 names, consisting of 25 letters, on each of the 2 stones, a total of 50 letters (Sotah 36a-b).
Birthdays in the Jewish Tradition by Tzvi Sinensky
"They cast a pur, that is the lot." A Tanna taught: When the lot fell on the month of Adar, he rejoiced greatly saying: The lot has fallen for me on the month in which Moses died. He did not know, however, that Moses died on the seventh of Adar and was born on the seventh of Adar.
And on the seventh of Adar he was born - As it is written, "I am 120 years old today" (Devarim 31) - today my days and years are filled. Birth is sufficiently weighty to atone for death.
בראשית מ׳:כ׳(כ) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י י֚וֹם הֻלֶּ֣דֶת אֶת־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וַיַּ֥עַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּ֖ה לְכָל־עֲבָדָ֑יו וַיִּשָּׂ֞א אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ ׀ שַׂ֣ר הַמַּשְׁקִ֗ים וְאֶת־רֹ֛אשׁ שַׂ֥ר הָאֹפִ֖ים בְּת֥וֹךְ עֲבָדָֽיו׃ Genesis 40:20(20) And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and the head of the chief baker among his servants.
קהלת ז׳:א׳(א) ט֥וֹב שֵׁ֖ם מִשֶּׁ֣מֶן ט֑וֹב וְי֣וֹם הַמָּ֔וֶת מִיּ֖וֹם הִוָּלְדֽוֹ׃ Ecclesiastes 7:1(1) A good name is better than precious oil; And the day of death than the day of one's birth.
Eruvin 13b:14It was taught in a Braisa: For two-and-a-half years the house of Shammai and the house of Hillel argued. These said: Better for man never to have been created than to have been created. And these said: Better for man to have been created that not to have been created. They counted and decided: Better for man never to have been created than to have been created. Now that he has been created, he should sift through his actions. And there are those who say he should examine his actions.
(1) All images are prohibited, because each one is worshiped once a year, according to Rabbi Meir. But the Sages say: Only that which has in its hand a stick, or a bird, or an orb is prohibited. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: Any that has anything in its hand [is prohibited].
(5) The day on which the idolators gather together to crown a king and offer sacrifice and praise to their false deities is considered to be one of their holidays, since it is comparable to their other holidays. In contrast, on a day which is celebrated by an individual idolator as a festival on which he gives thanks and praise to the star he [worships] - for example, his birthday, the day on which he shaves his beard or hair, the day on which he returns from a sea-voyage, the day on which he leaves prison, the day on which he makes a [wedding] feast for his son, and the like - it is forbidden [to do business] on that particular day only with that individual man.
Similarly, when [it is customary] that the day on which one of them dies is marked with festivities, it is forbidden [to do business] with those individuals on that day. Whenever [a person's] death is marked by the burning of his utensils and the offering of incense, we can assume that idol worship is [involved in the ritual].
The [above] prohibition applies only to those who worship [the false deity]. In contrast, it is permitted to do business with those who join in the celebrations by eating, drinking, and observing it as a matter of custom or in deference to the king.
שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים א:קד
אבל אין זה שום ענין וסמך להחשיב זה דבר מצוה וסעודת מצוה, כי הוא רק כשמחה של יום הולדת בעלמא.
Responsa Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:104
However, there is no notion and allusion to consider this as a mitzvah and joyous meal, for it is like the joy of a mere birthday.
שו"ת אפרקסתא דעניא חלק א סימן קכג
ואגב אזכיר מה שמצאתי בכתבי מו"ח הגה"צ ז"ל בשם החת"ס ז"ל דאין לישראל לחוג יום מולדתו, כ"א את יום שנכנס בבריתו של אאע"ה, ועי' בספרו תורת משה פ' וירא ע"פ ביום הגמל.
Responsa Afarskea De'anya 1:123
As an aside I shall mention that which I found written in the writings of my teacher and father-in-law, the great righteous one, in the name of the Hatam Sofer, that a Jew ought not celebrate the day of his birthday but the day he entered into the covenant of Avraham. See his book Torat Moshe Parshat Vayera on the verse "on the day that [Isaac] was weaned."
Rabbi Bejamin Blech
Next week is my birthday, but I won't be celebrating.
It's not because I'm not sentimental. And it's definitely not because I don't like parties.
It's because a few years ago I noticed something remarkable in the Torah that made me rethink the whole idea of giving special significance to the day I was born.
There's only one time in the entire Bible that we read about a birthday party. The guest of honor, who in all probability planned it for himself? Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, whose birthday bash we read about in the book of Genesis.
Aside from this non-Jewish leader, whose lifestyle certainly doesn't deserve to be emulated by us, there isn't a single mention of a birthday celebration by any one of our people.
Why the strange neglect of what we would think is a significant day worthy of celebrating and rejoicing? Another occasion that Jews do celebrate yields an answer.
On the anniversary of the day of death of a loved one, the yahrzeit, it is our custom to share food and drink with others. It is then, with the passage of time, that we can reflect upon all that was accomplished by our departed as well as the legacy of their achievements. We have a right – as well as an obligation – to celebrate a life that we can now in retrospect acknowledge as having been well lived.
But birthdays link us only to the day of birth. When we are born, we have as yet accomplished nothing. We have no more than potential, alive to face the challenges that will confront us but with no assurance that we will overcome them successfully.
"God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well."
Birthdays don't really deserve applause because they commemorate nothing more than our first appearance on the stage of life. Voltaire put it well when he wrote, "God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well." How we play our role is the great test of our character.
שכל טוב בראשית פרשת וישב פרק מ
יום הולדת [את] פרעה... רוב בני אדם מחבבים יום שהוא תשלום שנתן, שהוא כנגד אותו היום שנולד ושמחים בו ועושין בו משתה. אפס כי אנשי עיר הקודש אמרו כי הוא יום גנוסיא של מלכים, שמביאין ספר יחוסי המלכים וקוראין לפני פרעה.
Sechel Tova Bereishit Vayeshev Chap. 40
The day Pharoah was born... The majority of people love the day on which their year is complete, for it corresponds to the day on which they were born, and they rejoice and throw a party.
(5) The day of our king. Meaning, on the day of a king's rejoicing, such as the day of birth or of his coronation. At that time the officers became ill from the wine flasks, for they filled them up too much for consumption and became ill from the quantity of drunkenness.
תלמוד ירושלמי ראש השנה פרק ג
ריב"ל אמר עמלק כושפן היה מה היה עושה היה מעמיד בני אדם ביום גינוסיא שלו לומר לא במהרה אדם נופל ביום גינוסיא שלו. מה עשה משה עירבב את המזלות.
Jerusalem Talmud Rosh Hashanah Ch. 3
Rabbi Joshua son of Levi said, Amalek was a sorcerer. What did he do? He would put up people [to fight] on their birthdays, as if to say, a person does not quickly fall on his birthday. What did Moses do? He mixed up the constellations.
תנחומא בא פרק ט
בט"ו בניסן נולד יצחק בט"ו בניסן נגאלו ממצרים, בט"ו בניסן עתידין להגאל משעבוד גליות.
Tanchuma Bo Chap. 9
On the fifteenth of Nissan Isaac was born, on the fifteenth of Nissan they were redeemed from Egypt, on the fifteenth of Nissan they will be redeemed from the exile.
(21) He [Yehudah ben Teima] used to say: Five years [is the age] for [the study of] Scripture, Ten [is the age] for [the study of] Mishnah, Thirteen [is the age] for [observing] commandments, Fifteen [is the age] for [the study of] Talmud, Eighteen [is the age] for the [wedding] canopy, Twenty [is the age] for pursuing [a livelihood], Thirty [is the age] for [full] strength, Forty [is the age] for understanding, Fifty [is the age] for [giving] counsel, Sixty [is the age] for mature age, Seventy [is the age] for a hoary head, Eighty [is a sign of superadded] strength, Ninety [is the age] for [a] bending [stature], A hundred, is [the age at which one is] as if dead, passed away, and ceased from the world.
שו"ת כתב סופר יורה דעה סימן קמח
הנה ברך לקחתי ליום מולדתי א' דר"ח אדר שהגעתי בעזה"י לשנת חמשים, והודיתי להשי"ת ברבים על שהחינו וקימנו לזמן הזה וברוך ית"ש הנותן ליעף כח ללמוד וללמד, כן יעזרני למען שמו ותורתו, עד זקנה ושיבה אל יעזבני ואל יטשני, ויהי' עמי כאשר היה עם אבותינו הקדושים זצ"ל להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה, ולגדור פרצי התורה אשר רבו בעו"ה... ועשיתי ביום ההוא זה היום עשה ד' לי סיום למס' פסחים, ואמרתי ביום א דר"ח בע"מ וויען ברבים בסיום המסכתא.
Responsa Ktav Sofer 178
Behold, I have blessedly taken my birthday, the first day of Adar, on which I have reached the age of 50, and I have thanked God publicly for having enabled us to live, and sustained us to this time. And the Blessed One be He, who gives strength to the weak to learn and teach, may He assist me for His sake and that of His Torah, to old age that he not leave or abandon me. And may He be with me as He was with our holy fathers to increase Torah and glorify it, and to fence in the breaches of the Torah that have increased, due to our sins...
And on that day, the day God fashioned for me, I made a siyyum on Tractate Pesachim. And on the first of Rosh Chodesh Adar I delivered a public talk upon the tractate's completion.
שו"ת חוות יאיר סימן ע
סעודת בן שבעים שיש להסתפק אפילו זה הבן שבעים מברך שהחינו כי כך נ"ל.
Responsa Chavot Yair 70
The meal for one who turns 70, there is a doubt as to whether this individual recites "Shehechiyanu," for so it appears to me.
פרי מגדים אורח חיים משבצות זהב תמד
וסעודת בן שבעים שנה וכתב שם החות יאיר שמברך שהחיינו, וצ"ע.
Peri Megadim O.C. Mishbezot Zahav 444
And regarding the meal of one who is 70, the Chavot Yair wrote there that one recites Shehechiyanu, but the matter requires analysis.
בן איש חי (פר' ראה אות יז)
יש נוהגים לעשות את יום הלידה ליו"ט בכל שנה ושנה, וסימן יפה הוא וכן נוהגים בביתנו. ושמעתי שיש נוהגים לעשות סעודה ביום שנכנס בו בבריתו של אברהם אבינו בכל שנה ושנה ומנהג יפה הוא מאד, אך לא נהגנו בזה.
Ben Ish Chai (Re'eh 17)
Some have the practice to celebrate a birthday as a holiday every year; it is a fine symbol and such is the practice in our home. And I heard that some have the practice to make a meal on the day that one enters the circumcision of Avraham each year, and that is an extremely fine practice, although we do not personally have this practice.
R' Aryeh Leibowitz
Responsa Aparkasta D'anya (123) records that the Tiferes Yisrael insisted that his children write notes of mazal tov to each other on their birthdays. The custom to send a birthday card, while far from any form of halachic obligation or established custom, is a fine way to make others feel good about themselves, which is obviously a fulfillment of V'ahavta l'reacha kamocha. Sefer Hakatan V'hilchosav (chapter 84) writes that the Jews of Yerushalayim made a birthday celebration for their rabbi, Rav Shmuel Salant, in honor of his seventieth and eightieth birthdays respectively. As a form of celebration, Rav Salant sent the amount of coins corresponding to his age to tzedakah.
The K'sav Sofer also used his birthday as a time for personal reflection. Kuntros Ohel Leah (written by the son of the K'sav Sofer and printed at the beginning of K'sav Sofer al haTorah) records an incident when a student went to visit the K'sav Sofer and found him crying. The student asked his rebbe what the reason for his tears was, and the K'sav Sofer responded that it was his 54th birthday and he began to judge himself (dan, the Hebrew word for "judge" has a gematria of 54) and realized that he has not accomplished nearly as much as he should have in his 54 years in this world. He sensed that he was lacking in torah knowledge and righteousness, and was moved to tears by this realization.
See you tomorrow
Love Yehuda Lave
Rabbi Yehuda Lave
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