In my social circle, everyone makes a really big deal about birthdays. I’ve got a birthday coming up and I was wondering: Is there any Jewish source that gives insight into the significance of birthdays?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Ironically, the one birthday mentioned in the Torah is that of Pharaoh (Genesis 40:20-22). In celebration, Pharaoh made a feast for all his servants. He also made an accounting of all his servants, and rewarded and punished them according to his estimation. It was then that Pharaoh took the Butler out of jail, and executed the Baker.
From these few lines in the Torah, we see that Pharaoh treated his birthday like a Day of Judgment. We find a similar concept in that the Jewish Day of Judgment – Rosh Hashana – is the birthday of mankind. Just as on Rosh Hashana God judges all of mankind one by one, and decrees, rewards and punishes, so Pharaoh did with his subjects. And just as Rosh Hashana is a celebration of God as King of the Universe, so did Pharaoh – who promoted himself as a deity – view his birthday as a celebration of Pharaoh, ruler over all.
Although the Torah gives this unusual example, we can deduce the proper way to celebrate one's birthday. A person should introspect, take stock of their life, identify personal strengths and weaknesses, and make a commitment to improve. Think about all the positive things that have happened to you in the last year. And think about what you would like to change in the year coming up.
But don't worry – a Jewish birthday can also be filled with fun and joy. Eat chocolate cake and ice cream. Invite your friends over and express how thankful you are for the many blessings in your life. Express gratitude to God for being alive and healthy, and to your parents. I always call my mother on my birthday and thank her for giving birth to me.
Happy birthday! And as we say in Judaism, may you live to 120 (the age that Moses attained).