Celebrating a Birthday Jewishly

Editor’s Note: Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and is currently studying at a yeshiva in Israel.

This week is a festive one. Tes Kislev (9th of Kislev) marks the birth and death days of the Mitteler Rebbe. The next day, Yud Kislev, is the anniversary of his release from prison, and Yud-aleph Kislev (the 11th) is my Hebrew birthday.

My coming into the world did not have the anywhere near the same amount of impact on Jewish history as did the Mitteler Rebbe. However, every person’s birthday is still very important. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a few suggestions on how we can celebrate the occasion in a deep, meaningful, and Jewish manner;  they are worth reflecting on here to remind myself and others.

The birthday celebrant should begin the day by increasing tzedekah (charity) before morning prayers and again before afternoon prayers.  If the celebrant’s birthday falls on Shabbat or on a holiday when it is forbidden to handle money, he can give extra charity before and after the Shabbat or holiday. The celebrant should pray with increased sincerity on his birthday and read at least one of the 5 books of Psalms. He should also study the psalm for his new year (the psalm corresponding to your age plus one). For example, a 23 year-old should study psalm 24. This psalm should then be said each day until the next birthday.  The celebrant should add an extra Torah study session (or designate a time to study Torah each day). The Rebbe also suggests that a Jew study (memorize if possible) a Chassidic discourse and deliver its message to friends on the birthday or during the following Sueda Shlishit (third meal of Shabbos). Finally, it is recommended that the celebrant seclude himself in a private area for a period of time during the day in order to reflect on his conduct in the past year and resolve to correct those areas in need of improvement. Oh – and the celebrant shouldn’t forget to party!

A Jew will certainly not be bored on his birthday. This birthday I know I will attempt to perform at least some of these tasks. No matter where we are holding in our knowledge and observance of Judaism, each of us can try to fulfill some of these directives and enhance the significance of our Jewish birthdays. To find out your birth date on the Jewish calendar click here. On your birthday I wish you Yom Huledet Sameach and many more!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Gotkin.