I would like to know the proper way to celebrate birthday parties for any age. Our daughter will be thirteen this June. After joining The Restored Church of God we learned about how paganism is associated with birthday parties. We have left that organization and I wasn’t sure if we could have a party without cake and presents. Since we are not Jewish nor do we want to do mainstream worldly things we would love to know what Ancient Jewish Wisdom says about birthday celebrations.
Thank you so much to “everyone” involved in this organization! You “all” are a true blessing.
We have long noticed that the only birthday celebration mentioned in the Five Books of Moses is that of Pharaoh. In Genesis 40, we find that the fulfillment of the dreams of the butler and the baker that Joseph had interpreted for them, took place at a party on Pharaoh’s birthday.
While we don’t look to Pharaoh as a role model, neither should we repudiate the idea of celebrating birthdays because he did so.
Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that noting the anniversary of one’s birthday is perfectly natural. What is more, it is indeed a day worthy of celebration. We are all supposed to thank God for deliverance from danger. A narrowly averted car accident or full recovery from a perilous disease are instances when we ought to happily offer prayers of thanksgiving. If you think about it, getting born and surviving another year is pretty major. It is fitting to offer happy thanks to God each year when that date comes around.
The oral transmission of the Torah does include the birth date of many personalities, such as the tribes. We particularly note that Moses was born and died on the same day, the 7th of the month of Adar. So, the specific date of birth does carry meaning.
While there is little to find in ancient Jewish wisdom recommending or opposing making a big to-do on the day on which one was born, Pharaoh’s party is worth noting. The real question is why does Scripture find it necessary even to mention his birthday? The answer is in what Pharaoh chose to do to celebrate the occasion. He reviewed all his actions of the past year. In doing so, he realized that he had unjustly imprisoned the officer of beverages and freed him. This provides us with a powerful clue about how we ought to celebrate our own birthdays.
Age is important, as is keeping track of passing time. Contrary to how it is frequently and sadly celebrated today, a bar-mitzvah or bat-mitzvah means reaching the age of legal responsibility for observing Torah rules. With or without a party, when a boy turns thirteen or a girl reaches the age of twelve he or she is responsible for his or her behavior.
We would suggest that whether or not one comes from a family tradition of verbal birthday wishes, cake and ice cream, or lavish blow-out parties and presents, what matters is making sure that one can point with pride to the growth that has taken place since the previous year, set goals for the coming one, and offer gratitude to God for life.
Many happy returns of the day,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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