Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

In Jewish theology, much importance is attached to the day on which one dies, one's yahrtzeit, but little is mentioned about one's birthday. Rabbeinu Menachem ben Shlomo (a 12th century scholar) writes[1] that a majority of people cherish the day on which they complete years of their life because that day corresponds to the day of their birth. Therefore, on that day, they are especially happy make a party. However, this majority does not necessarily reflect Torah values, it might simply reflect the attitude of the majority of society. Indeed, many Torah authorities have differing opinions on the proper approach to the concept of birthdays. Some authorities are staunchly opposed to any celebration of birthdays, while others embrace and even encourage such celebration[2]. Yet others maintain that such celebrations are only appropriate on certain years.

The Munkatcher Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro (1871-1937), notes[3] that celebration of one’s birthday is unheard of in rabbinic literature. He writes that such a celebration is antithetical to the Jewish trait of humilty. He also writes this opposition is seemingly supported by the Talmud which determined[4] that it is better that man not have been born than man have been born. Rabbi Shmuel Edels (1555–1631) explained[5] that the sages of the Talmud counted the positive commandments (248) and the negative commandments (365) and concluded that since the negatives commandments greatly outnumber the positive ones, one who is born is more likely to become a sinner than to be righteous. This explains the Talmud’s conclusion that one is better not having been born than having been born. Accordingly, celebrating one’s birth is simply premature because the child will more likely grow up to become a sinner. Indeed, King Solomon remarked, "A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death [is better] than the day of birth”[6], for by the day of death, it is already clear whether one will be righteous or sinful. Therefore the anniversary of one’s birth is not necessarily cause for rejoicing. However, concedes the Munkatcher Rebbe, a gentile who is not bound by 613 commandments is more likely not to become a sinner; thus, for a gentile, a birthday can indeed be a time of happiness.

Another reason for opposing birthday celebrations is simply the fact that the Bible only mentios such a party in conjunction with the Pharaoh of Egypt celebrating his own birthday. This implies that only someone like Pharaoh would celebrate his birthday, but such a celebration is inappropriate for a Jew[7]. Indeed, the Aderes, Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Teomim (1843-1905) writes in his autobiography[8] that those who offered him birthday wishes upset him because the only instance of a birthday mentioned in Tanach was that of Pharaoh. Therefore, he reasoned that the celebration of birthdays is not a Jewish concept.

In describing the release of Pharaoh's butler from jail, the Torah says, "It was on the third day, the birthday of Pharaoh, and he [Pharaoh] made a banquet for all his servants[9]…" Targum
Jonathan explains[10] that "birthday of Pharaoh" in this context means Yom Genussa. Rashi explains[11] that "birthday of Pharaoh" literally means his birthday, the anniversary of his birth. When listing idolatrous holidays, the Mishnah reckons[12] Yom Genussa and the King's Birthday as two separate idolatrous holidays. Rashi explains that on the King's Birthday, a national holiday would annually be declared and the people would offer sacrifices to idols. Yom Genussa, according to the Talmud[13], is the day of the coronation of the king[14]. In this, Rashi is consistent with his opinion in his commentary to the Torah because Rashi understood “Pharaoh’s Birthday” to literally mean his birthday. However, the explanation of the Targum Jonathan requires explanation, for the Targum defines Yom Genussa as the King’s Birthday, yet from the Talmud it is evident that they are two separate holidays. The Jerusalemic Talmud, in discussing this Mishnah concludes[15] that Yom Genussa is "birthday"[16]. Then why is the King's Birthday listed in the Mishnah if it is the same as Yom Genussa? The Jerusalemic Talmud[17] answers that the King's Birthday is a national holiday celebrated by all of the king's constituents on the anniversary of the king's birth, while Yom Genussa is a day celebrated by each individual man and his household on his own birthday. From here, one clearly sees that the celebration of one's birthday is an idolatrous practice[18].

On the other hand, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), permitted and encouraged such celebration on one's birthday as means of inspiring appreciation. He writes in the name of his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880-1950) that on one’s birthday, one should try to receive an Aliyah to the Torah (or on the Shabbos beforehand), give alms to the poor before Shachris and Mincha, and should increase his Torah study[19]. He then adds that it is also fitting to arrange a joyous gathering of friends and family on one’s birthday. He notes[20] that this is celebration is appropriate for men and women, children and adults. The Lubavitcher Rebbe also offers proof that a birthday is considered a happy occasion from the the Midrash which says[21] that HaShem delayed completing the construction of the Tabernacle until the first of Nissan so that the happiness of its completion can be combined with the happiness of the birthday of Isaac[22].



Education and Sharing Day is proclaimed anuualy in the United States of America on the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (11 Nissan) in honor and memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was originally proclaimed by American President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and has been reaffirmed by subsequent all presidents. Above is the text of President Bill Clinton’s proclamation of Education and Sharing Day for the year 2000. (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), White House Press Release March 24, 2000)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe penned a letter[23] in which he explained that the source of the happiness of a birthday is the celebration of the essense of one’s existence. He explains that the birthday represents the renewal of one’s life in the same way that HaShem renews a person’s soul every morning. Thus, just as one thanks HaShem every morning for this renewal, one should also thank HaShem every year for the gift of life. In describing Amalek's war tactics[24], the Jerusalemic Talmud[25] explains that the Amalekites knew that because of astrological influences one cannot die on their birthday[26]. Therefore they only conscripted men into their army for their birthdays, so that none of their soldiers could ever be killed. As a result, in order to fight the Amalekites, Moses had to Kabbalistically mix-up the zodiacal constellations in order to confuse the Angel of Death and allow the Amalekite soldiers to be killed even on their birthdays. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains why a person is immune to death on their birthday based on the idea presented above. He explains that one’s birthday represents the renewal of one’s existence; thus, just like on the day one is born, life is given to him from Above, the same is true in regard to one’s birthday. For this reason, one cannot die on his birthday.

However, one can ask on this idea set forth by the Jerusalemic Talmud that one cannot die on their birthday from another Midrashic passage: HaShem promised that if the Jews follow the Torah then "I [HaShem] will fill the number of your [the Jews'] days"[27]. This means that HaShem will complete the days of those who properly observe the Torah and allow them to die in complete years, i.e., on their birthdays. Similarly, the Midrash says[28] that when Moses said on the day of his death, "I am one hundred and twenty years old today[29]" it was his birthday, making him exactly one hundred and twenty years old on the day of his death, a complete year. Indeed, the Talmud assumes that Moses was born and died on the seventh of Adar[30]. Why then do the righteous die on their birthdays if according to astrology one cannot die on their birthday? Rabbi Avrohom Maskileison (1788-1848) explains[31] that only according to the laws of astrology can a person not die on his or her own birthday; however, Jews are not bound by the influences of the zodiac[32]. Therefore HaShem causes the righteous Jews to die specifically on their birthdays in order to express that they are indeed righteous[33]. Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) writes[34] that even though Jews are not normally bound by astrological influences (called Mazel) even a Jew is afforded special protection and "luck" on his birthday. He explains that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria merited a miracle in which he miraculously grew eighteen rows of white hair[35] because it was on the day of his eighteenth birthday. He proves this linguistically from the expression used by the Talmud to say that he was eighteen years old[36]. In the realm of Halacha, Rabbi Yosef Chaim ruled[37] in favor of his own familial tradition of celebrating a birthday as a semi-holiday.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad also mentioned a custom of celebrating the anniversary of one's circumcision with which he entered the covenant of Abraham. Indeed, some understand that Abraham himself followed this custom. This custom is alluded to in the words of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) who wrote[38] that when the Torah says that Abraham made a party on the day that Isaac was weaned[39], this refers to a festivity which Abraham celebrated every year on the anniversary of the circumcision of Isaac. Since Isaac was born on the first day of Passover, this yearly celebration was held on what was later to be the eighth day of Passover in the Diaspora. Rabbi Moshe Sofer says that this celebration held by Abraham on the anniversary of his son's circumcision is analogous to the yearly birthday celebrations of the Pharaohs[40].

There is only one source in Talmudic literature about celebrating birthdays. The Talmud says[41] that when Rav Yosef reached the age of sixty, he made a festival for his rabbinic colleagues[42]. When questioned about this practice, he explained that he made the party because now that he reached the age of sixty years old, he can no longer be punished with divine excommunication (Kares)[43]. It is related that Rabbi Yisroel Isserlein (1390-1460), the author of Terumas HaDeshen, hosted a siyum (a meal of completion) on a Talmudic tractate upon reaching the age of sixty and used this to discharge himself of his obligation to make a party like Rav Yosef[44]. Accordingly, some halachik authorities seem to require one to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Rabbi Moshe Sofer used to finish Chumash with his students on the 7th of Tishrei, his birthday, and then give all those who attended extra money to buy special food[45]. His son, Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, author of Ksav Sofer, (1815-1871), mentions[46] making a siyum for his fiftieth[47] birthday[48]. As told in the introduction to Ksav Sofer[49], Rabbi Shlomo Sofer (a son of the Ksav Sofer) was accustomed to sitting in solitude and completing an entire tractate of the Talmud on his birthday. On his fifty-fourth birthday, his disciples found him crying. He explained that fifty-four in Gematria equals דן (“judge”)which reminded him that HaShem judges him on his birthday, so, he explains, when he examined of all his actions, he had realized that he has wasted too much time over the years and therefore began to weep.. Similarly, the Tzelemer Rov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Greenwald (1893-1980), writes[50] that he heard that the Maharam Ash, Rabbi Meir Eisenstaedter (1780-1852), cried on his seventieth birthday because he felt that he would not be able to give a proper accounting of his time spent in This World. Thus, we find conflicting opinions over whether a birthday is a time for celebration and festivities or a time of introspection and self-evaluation[51].




This Jerusalem newspaper article (Havazelet, February 3, 1909) describes the celebration of the 93rd birthday of Rabbi Shmuel Salant. Many great Torah sages of Jerusalem attended this celebration and offered a toast to Rabbi Shmuel Salant’s long life and the stengthening of the Torah and settelement of Israel. It is also reported that Rabbi Chaim Berlin (1832-1912) brought him a cake with a special blessing in Hebrew written on it whose numerical value was equivalent to the year 5669. Rabbi Matis Blum relates (Torah L'Daas Volume 6, pg. 258) that Rabbi Moshe Kolodny (director of Agudath Israel of America archives) showed him this article. (Courtesy of the Jewish National and University Library and the David and Fela Shapell Family Digitization Project)

Rabbi Moshe Greenwald of Chust (1853-1910) writes[52] that despite the prevailing practice it is inappropriate for one to celebrate his seventieth birthday. He writes that it is a boorish custom and has no source in rabbinic tradition[53]. Nonetheless, Rabbi Chaim Palagi (1788-1868) writes[54] that from his seventieth birthday and onwards he hosted a festive meal for his rabbinic colleagues on his birthday. Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (1833-1904), Chief Rabbi of Chevron and famed author of Sdei Chemed is reported to have celebrated his seventieth birthday at which his students offered a toast to his longevity[55]. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (1838-1933), was said to have summoned his close disciples Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1874-1941) and the Ponovzher Rov, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (1886–1969), on his seventieth birthday in order to recite in their presence the Shehecheyanu benediction[56]. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman (1879-1967) is also said to have celebrated his seventieth birthday[57]. Although the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shmuel Salant (1816-1909), did not necessarily celebrate his seventieth birthday with festivites, he marked the occasion by giving extra money to the poor of Jerusalem[58].

In recent times, centenarian leaders of Jewry have also taken to celebrating their birthdays. Notably, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is reputed[59] to have held an event marking his 100th birthday and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg is said[60] to have done the same on his 101st.

Cursing one's birthday is an expression of one's dissatisfaction in one's life situation. The Midrash says[61] that two people cursed the day on which they born: Job cursed[62] the day he was born as a reaction to all the suffering to which he was subjected. Jeremiah also cursed the day of his birth[63] as a means of conveying the message of his bitterness in having to foretell the destruction of the Holy Temple, and worse, his knowing that the prophecy was destined to be fulfilled. Nonetheless, the significance of one specific birthday can serve as inspiration and hope for a brighter future: The Midrash says[64] that on the day of Tisha B'Av, the Messiah will be born. May it be the will of HaShem that he whose birthday is Tisha B'Av shall arrive soon, accompanied by the building of the Holy Temple, speedily and in our days: Amen.


[1] Midrash Sechel Tov to Genesis 40:20

[2] Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) writes (responsa Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. 1 §104, vol. 2 §30, vol. 4 §36) that the happiness of a girl’s Bas Mitzvah is no different than the happiness of any other birthday. This implies that Rabbi Feinstein agrees that happiness is an appropriate sentiment for birthdays. See responsa Yabia Omer (Orach Chaim vol. 6, §29).

[3] Divrei Torah §5:88

[4] Eruvin 13b

[5] Maharsha to Eruvin 13b

[6] Ecclesiastes 7:1

[7] See Otzar Kol Minhagei Yeshurun (pg. 60 in standard edition, pg. 304 in St. Louis edition, 1917)

[8] Nefesh Dovid pg. 41, (Tel Aviv, 1982)

[9] Genesis 40:20

[10] Targum Jonathan to Genesis 40:20

[11] To Genesis 40:20

[12] Avodah Zarah 8a

[13] Avodah Zarah 10a

[14] It is unclear whether this is specifically the day of the coronation itself or it is an anniversary of the day of the coronation celebrated annually like the King's Birthday.

[15] Avodah Zarah 1:2

[16] Rabbi Yosef of Trani (1538-1639) writes (Teshuvus U’Piskei Maharit HaChadashos, Shemos Gittin, pg. 244, Machon Yerushalayim, 1978) that the word Genussa is related to the Greek word γέννηση (Genesis) meaning “birth”.

[17] As explained by Rabbi Moshe Margulies (d. 1781) in Pnei Moshe to Jerusalemic Avodah Zarah 1:2

[18] Although, in his commentary to the Bible, Rabbi Dovid Altschuler (an 18th century Bible exegete) mentions (Metzudas Dovid Hoshea 7:5) that even Jewish monarchs celebrated their birthdays, this does not validate the practice because in the context which this is mentioned, the Prophet Hosea is actually rebuking the nation for celebrations which consisted of drinking and other forms debauchery.

[19] Shaarei Tzedaka §72, Kovetz Divrei Torah (Vol. 17, pg. 115)

[20] Likutei Sichos vol. 24, pg. 178

[21] Tanchuma (Pekudei §11)

[22] He mentions that although it has not been customary amongst Jews to publicly celebrate birthdays, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (1860-1920) instituted that the birthdays of Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) should be celebrated as a full-fledged Yom Tov (18th of Elul) and that “Gut Yuntiff” is the proper greeting on that day.

[23] Toras Menachem 5748, vol. 3, pg. 152

[24] See Exodus 17:8-16

[25] Jerusalemic Talmud, Rosh HaShannah 3:8

[26] The actual term used by the Jerusalemic Talmud to refer to birthday is Yom Genussa, this is consistent with the aforementioned explanation of the Jerusalemic Talmud in Avodah Zarah that Yom Genussa means birthday, not the day of the king's coronation as explained in the Babylonian Talmud.

[27] Exodus 23:26

[28] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah §360

[29] Deuteronomy 31:2

[30] When Haman was planning the genocidal anhilation of the Jews, he drew a lottery to determine during which month he should carry out his sinister plot. Through the lottery, Haman happily resolved to exterminate the Jews in the month Adar because Adar was the month in which Moses died, which shows it is an inauspicious time for the Jews. However, the Talmud notes that Haman did not realize that not only did Moses die during Adar, but Adar of Moses’ birth (see Megillah 13b, see also Sotah 13b, Kiddushin 35a, and Rosh HaShannah 11a).

[31] Mitzpeh Eisan to Megillah 13b

[32] See Shabbos 156a

[33] See Zayis Raanan to Yalkut Shimoni (Habakuk, §564) who explains that the Jerusalemic Talmud only means to say that one cannot be killed on his birthday, but can die on his birthday. This explains why the Amalekites chose only “birthday boys” to serve in their army, for they cannot be killed.

[34] Ben Yehoyada to Brachos 28a

[35] Brachos 27b-28a

[36] The Talmud says "that day he was eighteen" instead of saying "at that time he was eighteen" which implies that on that day he became eighteen years old.

[37] Ben Ish Chai, Year 1, Parshas Re'ay §17

[38] Toras Moshe to Genesis 21:9

[39] See Genesis 21:8

[40] Indeed Rabbi Moshe Sofer is quoted as having said that a Jew should not celebrate his birthday, rather he should celebrate the anniversary of his circumcision. See responsa Afraskta D’Anya (§123) and Minhagei Baal Chasam Sofer HaChodosh (additions to chapter 7, §9).

[41] Moed Katan 28a

[42] See Iyun Yaakov there who infers from the wording of the Talmud that even if one would make a party for his sixtieth birthday, one should only do so with Torah Scholars, but should not invite his “friends” to such a party.

[43] Rabbi Avrohom Binyanim Zilberberg (1890-1962) in responsa Maharaav (vol. 2, §61) testifies that the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Alter (1866-1948) indeed made such a celebration on his sixtieth birthday.

[44] Leket Yosher, pg. 40

[45] Minhagei Chasam Sofer 7:14

[46] Responsa Ksav Sofer, Yoreh Deah §148

[47] See explanation from Rabbi Dov Meir Eisenstein (Zichron Shlomo, pg. 205) as to why he made this celebration specifically at the age of fifty.

[48] Rabbi Nosson Gestetner (1932-2010) explains (in a letter printed in Zichron Shlomo, pg. 200) that although the Talmud decided that one is better off not having been born than having been born, Tosafos HaRosh (to Eruvin 13b) explain that this was said in regard to the beginning of one’s life, when it is unclear whether he will be righteous or not. However, if a person indeed turn out to be righteous, then it is more worthwhile for such a person to have been than not have been born. Therefore, for a righteous person, a birthday indeed is a day of celebration. This explains why Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer specifically made a siyum and celebration on his birthday.

[49] See Ohel Leah, pg. 29

[50] responsa Megdalos Merchakim, §31

[51] Although, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

[52] Responsa Arugas HaBosem (New York ed., Orach Chaim §215)

[53] Although, his son, the Tzelemer Rov, concedes (responsa Megdalos Merchakim, §31) that Rabbi Yair Chaim Bachrach (1639-1702) ruled (responsa Chavos Yair §70) that one should recite the benediction, Shehecheyanu upon turning seventy years old. This benediction is recited exclusively at joyous occasions. However, Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Deutsch of Bonyhad is quoted (by his son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef HaKohen Schwartz, in responsa Ginzei Yosef §4) as having ruled that one should not recite Shehecheyanu on any birthday, even the seventieth, unless there is another halachikly acceptable reason for reciting the benediction. Such is the opinion of many other poskim (e.g. Pri Megadim, Birkei Yosef, Pischei Teshuva, Chasam Sofer, Kaf HaChaim).

[54] Ginzei Chaim, Yud, §16

[55] HaMe’assef, Teves 5665

[56] Chofetz Chaim, Chayav U’poalav, vol. 1 pg. 312. However, see Kovetz Ohr Yisroel (vol. 24, pg. 193 fn. 103) which questions the veracity of this account. See also Chofetz Chaim, Chayav U’poalav, vol. 1 pg. 25, fn. 1 which recounts that on his nintieth birthday that, Rabbi Kagan declared that he merited such a long life because of his efferts in spreading awareness about the severity of the sin of gossip through his work Chofetz Chaim

[57] “All for the Boss” by Ruchoma Shain (pg. 365)

[58] Otzar HaChessed Keren Shmuel (pg. 26) relates that Rabbi Shmuel Salant’s age and date of birth remained a mystery as the Jerusalemites were not prone to publicly celebrating birthdays. However, both became apparent when, on his seventieth birthday, Rabbi Shmuel Salant contributed a generous sum of money to the poor of Jerusalem in honor of his birthday. That book also relates (pg. 36) that Rabbi Salant’s students and constituents founded an organization to help the poor in Jerusalem in honor of Rabbi Salant’s nintieth birthday.

[59] See “Yomim Al Yimei Melech Tosif: Marking Maran Rav Elyashiv’s Shlita 100th Birthday” (Yeshiva World News, March 15, 2010)

[60] See “Marking HaGaon Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg’s 101st Birthday” (Yeshiva World News, September 26, 2011)

[61] Yalkut Shimoni, Prophets, §301

[62] Job 3:1-9

[63] Jeremiah 20:14-18

[64] Jerusalemic Talmud, Brachos 2:4, Lamentations Rabbah 1:51

2 comments:

Catherine Manna said...

very very interesting article.
I enjoyed the article very much.
I am a Torah student and observer and in our house we do not celebrate birthdays, but i do remember the day, thats all. Its not easy to follow the ways of Hashem in this world that makes everything look normal and you look not normal for not following there ways and you stand out but in the end, its GOd that blesses his people for there efforts, and they know who they are. thank you shalom Catherine Manna

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Keep in mind that the Jewish birthday celebrated is the date one was born on the Jewish calendar (see hebcal.com).
The following is from an article by Rabbi Abraham Stone in the Jewish Press, May 16, 2008.
"Is there a source in the Torah for celebrating one's birthday? And is it proper to make a birthday party?
"Midrash Sechel Tov (Bereishit 40:20) states: Most people treasure the day on which they were born and they make a party on that day.
"In Sefer HaSichot (5703/154) the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Y.Y. Schneerson, zt"l, relates: The Baal Shem Tov used to make a feast every year on the 18th of Elul, his birthday, and he would expound Torah insights on that occasion.
"We read in Or Yesha (464) that Rabbi Yisrael, the Rizhiner Rebbe, celebrated his birthday.
"It is stated in Ta'afot Re'em (30) that when the Radziminer Rebbe turned 50 years old, he made a feast and said, "Today is my birthday." Someone asked him: How can this be, when there is no mention of a birthday as a festive day for Jews? We find that a birthday is a joyous day for non-Jews, as seen by Pharoah (Bereishit 40:20): "On Pharoah's birthday he made a feast for all his servants." To this the Rebbe answered: Making a party on a birthday is a special source of blessing, as the Midrash notes (Bereishit Rabbah, Toldot): There is joy upon joy on the day a tzaddik is born.
"Rabbi Chayyim Palaggi states (Tzedaka Le Chayyim, ayin-556): On one's birthday one should give extra tzedaka, since this is why he was created.
"Responsa Ginzei Yosef (4) notes: There is no difference between one's 70th birthday and the birthday of all the other years, as it is proper to give thanks to Hashem on one's birthday.
"Ben Ish Chai (I-P. Re'eh/17) also asserts that every year one should celebrate one's birthday as a yom tov.
"In Minhagei Ba'al HaChatam Sopher we are told that on the 7th of Tishrei, the Chatam Sopher's birthday, he gave each student money to buy cookies after he finished teaching them Chumash.
"The Chida, commenting on the verse in Kohelet (3:2), "There is a time to be born," states (Chomat Anach): "On a birthday one's mazal is strong and it assists him in his needs," as stated in the Jerusalem Talmud (R.H. 3:8, Korban He'edah).
"Hayom Yom (11th Nissan-a booklet of Chabad teachings for every day of the year, by the Lubavitcher Rebbe) states: On one's birthday one should meditate and rectify the spiritual shortcomings of his past.
"Commenting on the verse (Esther 9:28), "And these days are remembered and celebrated in each generation," the Arizal teaches:Every year, when a particular season arrives, everything reverts to its original status, the way it was the first time. Proof of this is seen in the Mishna (Gittin 3:8), which enumerates the three times a year that one had to check if his wine had not turned to vinegar (for the purpose of giving tithes). Thus the wine in the barrel changes in each season of the "birth" of the grapes.
"In Melitzei Esh (54) it is noted that on one's birthday one can ask Hashem for what one wants and He will fulfill the request, as alluded to in the verse (Tehillim 2:7), "I have begotten you this day, ask of Me..."

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