Birthday Customs

 

The customs of a Birthday

 

Introduction

It is customary amongst many people to celebrate their birthday. It is a happy day in which people yearn and desire to be cherished and allow themselves extravagances and luxuries that they would usually not partake in. In the secular world, many use the day for partying and sometimes partaking in lustful or sinful behaviors. The question with regards to a Jew is whether such behavior is encouraged or discouraged by the Torah. The Rebbe, seeing a birthday celebration as a great opportunity to bring change to the person and his service of G-d, dedicated a great deal of talks and writing to the subject of birthday celebration, and encouraged every person to celebrate their birthday in a way that will bring them closer to Hashem.  

 

Source in the Torah for celebrating a birthday:

The Torah makes mention of a birthday celebration in reference to Pharaoh when he celebrated his birthday and requested his imprisoned head baker and vintner to appear before him, as predicted in Pharaoh’s dream. The Midrash[1] comments on this that majority of people are accustomed to celebrate their day of birth and make a party or celebratory meal in its honor. This is further stated in the Poskim that a birthday is cordially celebrated by some through making a festive meal, and so was the custom of the Ben Ish Chaiy.[2]

 

The auspiciousness of a birthday:[3]

On one’s birthday, one’s Mazal is dominant and assists him. This is learned from the Talmud Yerushalmi[4] which states that the Amalekites positioned those soldiers who had birthdays that day to enter battle with Bnei Yisrael. The reason for this is because on that day one’s Mazal shines and gives him assistance in battle. What then did Moshe do? He mixed up the constellations, hence removing the Divine assistance from the Amalek birthday soldiers. The same then applies for every person, that his Mazal shines on this day. The same downward flow of Divine light is elicited afresh on the same day every year; it follows that a person should be spiritually aroused on his birthday every year.

Utilizing the day:[5]

Every man, woman and child is to utilize his/her birthday to strengthen and add in all matters of his Judaism, in Torah and Mitzvos, and in the three pillars of Torah, Tefilla and Tzedaka. One is to take upon himself new resolutions for the coming year.

The birthday of a child:[6]

The parents are to celebrate the birthday of their children.[7] This applies to children of all ages, beginning with a child’s first birthday. The parent is to utilize the day to give thanks to Hashem for the gift of having the child and make appropriate resolutions for the proper education of the child. When the child is too young to perform the birthday customs himself, they are to be performed by the parents, such as increasing in learning Torah and giving charity. The parent is to take upon

Studying Chassidus by heart:[8]

In honor and preparation of one’s birthday, one is to study a Mamar of Chassidus by heart. One may study the entire Mamar or a section of it.

What to learn:[9] One may study by heart from whatever Chassidic text his heart desires, but conscientiously.

When to recite it:[10] This Mamar 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.

Receiving an Aliya:[11]

In honor of one’s birthday, men above the age of Bar Mitzvah are to receive an Aliyah to the Torah.[12] One is to receive this Aliyah on the Shabbos preceding the birthday. [One may receive the Aliyah either by Shacharis or Mincha.[13]] If the birthday falls on a weekday in which the Torah is read, then in addition to receiving an Aliyah on Shabbos one is also to receive an Aliyah on the day of the birthday itself.[14] 

Giving Charity:[15]

On the day of the birthday one is to give charity before Shacharis and Mincha. If the birthday falls on Shabbos or Yom-Tov, one is to give charity on Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov, and it is proper to also give charity the day after.[16]

How much to give:[17] On several occasions the Rebbe instructed to give charity in numerals of 18. Some are accustomed to give in equivalent to the age that they have now reached, plus one more year. Thus, if one has turned 34 then he gives 35 to charity.

Davening with extra intent:[18]

On the day of the birthday one is to invest increased time and effort in one’s recitation of the prayers, and meditating on the greatness of the Creator.

Saying Tehillim:[19]

On the day of the birthday one is to increase in the recital of Tehillim. One is to read at least one Sefer of Tehillim.

Studying ones new Tehillim:[20] On the day of the birthday one is to study the new psalm which corresponds to one’s new age, and which will now be recited daily throughout the coming year, [i.e. Tehillim 35 for someone turning 34].  

Reciting the new Tehillim: On the day of one’s birthday one is to begin reciting his new chapter of Tehillim after Davening that corresponds to his new age. Some have the custom to also recite their Tehillim of the previous year on the day of the birthday and they thus recite two chapters of Tehillim that day.[21] Nonetheless, the general directive is to only recite the Tehillim of the new year on the birthday.[22]

Study extra Torah:[23]

On the day of the birthday one is to study an extra session of the revealed Torah and Chassidus, in addition to one’s regular, daily studies and the three shiurim of Chitas and Rambam which apply equally to everyone.

Spend time in seclusion:[24]

On one’s birthday one is to 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. One is to contemplate his actions of the previous year and make good resolutions for the coming year.

Picturing in one’s mind a past Yechidus with the Rebbe:[25]

On the day of the birthday one is to picture in his mind a Yechidus that he once had; recall what you asked the Rebbe and what he answered, and then study his teachings.

Resolutions/Undertaking a new Hiddur:[26]

On the day of the birthday one is to undertake a new act of piety that is within one’s grasp, or a more scrupulous observance in some particular area.[27] The resolutions are to be taken in a public setting, thus making it more affective.

Adding in learning of Chassidus:[28] One is to begin his resolutions by adding an additional session for the study of Chassidus. 

Doing an act of Ahavas Yisrael:[29]

On the day of the birthday one is to reach out to his fellow Jews, teach them Torah in general and Chassidus in a spirit of true Ahavas Yisrael.

Having a festive meal with family and friends:[30]

On the day of the birthday one is to celebrate with family and friends and have a festive Chassidic gathering, which is a Simcha Shel Mitzvah, giving praise and thanks to the Creator. One is to take upon himself his new year resolutions during his birthday celebration.

Shehechiyanu:[31]

On the day of the birthday one is to try to recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu over one of the season’s new fruits.

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[1] Sechel Tov Vayeishev 20

[2] Ginzei Yosef 4; Ben Ish Chaiy Rei 17

[3] Note of the Rebbe Shlita in Sefer HaMaamarim 5702, p. 143

[4] Yerushlami Rosh Hoshana 3/8

[5] Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146]

[6] Hisvadyus 1982 4/2190

[7] Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 153 footnote 25

[8] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 3

[9] Sefer Haminhagim p. 187 [English]

[10] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 6

[11] Minhagei Yom Huledes  in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 1; Igros Kodesh 11/355; Sefer Haminhagim p. 186 [English]

[12] The reason: An Aliyah has ability to elevate the soul and draw down higher levels of spirituality to a person. Thus, it is most proper to receive these extra powers on the day of one’s birthday, which is the day that his Mazal shines and is dominant. [See Sefer Haminhagim p. 186 English]

[13] See Hiskashrus 766 footnote 17

[14] So is written in Hisvadyus ibid that one is to receive an Aliyah on both the day of the Birthday and the preceding Shabbos; However see Igros Kodesh 11/355 that one is to receive the Aliyah on the birthday itself, and if the Birthday is not on a day of Torah reading, then one is to receive it on the preceding Shabbos. This letter is also recorded in Sefer Haminhagim p. 186 [English], and implies one is not required to receive an Aliyah on both occasions if the birthday falls on a Torah reading, and that the main time to receive the Aliyah is on the day of the actual birthday. Nonetheless, the final custom remains as recorded above from the Sicha of 1988, which was the Rebbe’s final stance on the issue.

[15] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146]; Igros Kodesh 11/355; Sefer Haminhagim p. 186 [English]

[16] So is added in Hisvadyus ibid

[17] See Hiskashrus 766 footnote 13

[18] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 3

[19] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 3-4

[20] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 4; Igros Kodesh 3/451

[21] The Rebbeim would say a Derush also on the previous year’s Tehillim on the day of the birthday. The Rebbe says that from here it is proven that also the previous year’s Tehillim is relevant to the new birthday. [Mamar VeHashem Amar Hamechaseh 5737 letter 7 [Printed in Sefer Hamamrim Melukat 1 p. 210] based on Sefer Hamamrim 5680 p. 357]

[22] Answer of Rebbe to individual; See Hiskashrus 766

[23] Minhagei Yom Huledes  in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 5; Igros Kodesh 11/187; 17/327

[24] Minhagei Yom Huledes  in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 8

[25] Sefer Haminhagim p. 186 [English]

[26] Minhagei Yom Huledes  in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 9

[27] Just as it is proper to undertake a new practice of this kind on Rosh HaShanah, so is it appropriate to undertake such a practice on one’s personal Rosh HaShanah – his birthday, when his individual new year begins. [Rebbe ibid]

[28] Igros Kodesh ; Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] footnote 5

[29] Minhagei Yom Huledes in Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 7

[30] Midrash Sechel Tov Vayeishev 20; Ginzei Yosef 4; Ben Ish Chaiy Rei 17; Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146]

[31] Ginzei Yosef 4; Hisvadyus 1988 vol. 3 p. 152 [146] letter 10

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