Birthdays, Blessings, and the Beauty of Judaism

Last Friday, May 6th, was my friend and rebbetzin’s birthday (Hebrew date 28 Nissan). I went over to see her and give her her gift, and was playing with the kids when she came and sat down to talk with me. She started by telling me that “Your mazel shines extra strong on your birthday.” What is your mazel? defines it as “A medium that conveys spiritual influence to worldly beings.” It is often translated as luck. But my rebbetzin went on to explain that it is similar to the Hebrew word nozehl, which is liquid pouring down. (My personal guess is that that’s there the English word nozzle came from!)

So basically this is why on your birthday, you can ask for things because depending on how you understand it, you have more “luck,” or your blessings pour down on you more. Your prayers are powerful everyday, but on your birthday, they are extra powerful.

But of course, since this is Judaism, there was more to it. “So since you have more mazel on this day,” my rebbetzin continued, “You traditionally give blessings to people. And I’d like to give you a blessing.”

I don’t know if I could ever put to words what I felt like (1) receiving a blessing (2) from my rebbetzin, (3) on her birthday. But what I can put into exactly one word is what I think about this tradition: beautiful.

This is one of my absolute favorite things about Judaism, the emphasis on giving. There is a secular holiday of going around and asking for candy, while there is a Jewish holiday of going around and giving candy. There is a secular tradition of making wishes for yourself on your birthday, and apparently there is a Jewish tradition of making wishes for others on your birthday. The secular world celebrates rights (what you expect to receive), while the Jewish world celebrates obligations (what you are expected to do/ give). It was from Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz I learned one of my favorite quotes: The only thing that is truly mine is that which I give away. The secular world on the other hand, believes that the things that are yours are things that you get to keep.

Judaism is so much about giving, it’s beyond beautiful. It’s not about how much you can hoard for yourself while on this world, but how much you can give to others, because that’s what is really going to last and make a difference in the world and in people’s minds: what you gave them to show them how much you cared. And when people know someone cared about them, the world becomes a little brighter and a little happier. And that will always last longer and amount more than the things you kept only for yourself.

P.S. In case anyone out there is curious, birthdays come with a whole list of customs you perform on that day (like almost everything else in Judaism). This list from lists some of them:

  • 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.

P.P.S. Thank you again, rebbetzin Tiferes Levy! ❤


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