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Birthday Parties

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 11/7/2020

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Birthday Parties[1]

We know many make a birthday party when that big day arrives.[2] What is the Jewish outlook on this?  

 

R Yisrael Lipshitz (1782-1860),[3] the author of the commentary Tiferes Yisrael on Mishnayos, told each of his family members, in his Tzavaa (ethical will), that all the siblings should send birthday greetings of Mazal Tov on the occasion of their birthdays. He writes further that this custom shouldnt be stopped, and only if there is an absolute emergency should it be shortened.

 

The Midrash Seichel Tov[4] says ... , to most people, their birthday is beloved to them and they rejoice and make a party.

 

The Ben Ish Chai[5] remarks that there are those who are accustomed every year on their birthday to make it a festive day, and this is a good omen. This is what we are accustomed to doing in our house. R Ovadia Yosef[6] writes that when there are Divrei Torah and songs and praises ( ) to Hashem at a birthday meal, it is a Seudas Mitzva.

 

When the Chafetz Chaim turned 70 years old, he invited his studentsR Elchonon Wasserman and R Yosef Kahanamen (known as the Ponovitcher Rav)and said the Bracha of Sheheciyanu[7] in their prescence and gave them cake[8] and schnapps .[9] R Dovid Chazzan would celebrate his birthday yearly after he reached the age of 70.[10]

    

R Nosson Adler (1741-1800),[11] the Rebbe of the Chassam Sofer, held a birthday party on the 80th birthday[12] of his mother and invited the entire town. For R Shmuel Salants[13] 93rd birthday, on Rosh Chodesh Shvat in 1909, a party took place at his house with cake. Nearly all of Yerushalayim was there including the Chevra Kadisha, the staff of the Bikur Cholim hospital and the Bdatz of Yerushalayim.
Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R Mordechai Friedlander Ztzl for close to five years. He received Semicha from R Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the Sefer, Fascinating Insights: Torah Perspectives On Unique Topics. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] This essay shouldnt be confused with the one titled Birthdays that is found in the newly released Sefer, Fascinating Insights, as this one specifically speaks of birthday parties.

[2] R Tzadok Hakohen (Divrei Chalomos 20) writes that a person is at the strength of his Mazel ( ) on the day he is born and he shouldnt be afraid on his annual birthday that something bad will come (See also the Karbon Haeidah to Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 3:8, s.v. ). A woman in need of surgery posed the following question to R Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Sicha p. 174): Should the surgery be delayed in order that it be done on her birthday since the Mazel is strong on this day in addition to it being a day where Tefila is more accepted?

[3] He became the Rav of the following cities: Dessau, Schotland, Weinberg, Langfurt, and Danzig and its province near the end of his life. His son R Baruch Yitzchak testified concerning him: From the time he became the Av Beis Din of Dessau, he studied incessantly and fasted often, at times for three days and nights in a row, enwrapped in his Tallis and wearing his Tefillin under his coat, without anyone noticing. He studied constantly, making his nights into days of Torah study. R Lipshitz wrote many Sefarim: Commentaries on the Rambam, responsum on all areas of Torah, and his commentary on the Mishna. He practiced charity throughout his life, as he went from house to house collecting funds to help poor Jewish women get married as well as to help other Tzedaka causes. A few days before his death, at the age of 78, people saw him going from street to street, and even climbing stairs to the highest floors, to collect money for the poor. During Tzom Gedalia in 1860, he went to the Beis Midrash as usual to daven. After reciting Selichos and giving his daily Shiurim, he fainted and rendered his soul to his Creator, wearing his Tallis and Tefillin.

[4] Breishis 40:20. This was authored by R Menachem Ben Shlomo and written in 1139. 

[5] Reeh, ', 17.  See Hoshea 7:5, Metzudas Dovid.  

[6] , Orach Chaim, 6:29:4.

[7] See Pischei Teshuva, Yoreh Deah, 217:16.

[8] See , 70.

[9] Sefer Chafetz Chaim Upaalav, 40, Askan Tziburi, s.v. . The Gemara (Moed Katan 28a) relates that when R Yosef reached the age of 60, he made a festive day for the rabbinic students as he said that he left the range of , kares ( is inflicted between the ages of 50 and 60).

[10] " , 123; see Yishrei Lev, ' , p. 2b.

[11] See Igros Sofrim p. 83. When R Nosson Adler was ten years old, the Chida, who was in Frankfurt collecting money for those in Eretz Yisrael, said on him the words that the Isha HaShunamis said on Elisha, I now know that there is a Holy man of Hashem among us. R Adlers doors remained open day and night, and he declared all his possessions to be common property, so that he might prevent the punishment of those who may carry away an item with them unintentionally. He adopted the liturgical system of the Arizal, assembling about himself a select community of kabbalistic adepts. R Adler davened with Sefardi pronunciation of Hebrew, and gave hospitality to a Sefardi scholar for several months to ensure that he learned that pronunciation accurately. In his Minyan they did Birchas Kohanim daily. Every Shabbos morning, R Adler received two AliyosKohen and Maftir. The customs and use of Kabbala were making the community at large fearful, and in 1779 the Rabbanim gave him an ultimatum to either disband this group or be put into Cheirem, to which he ignored. In 1782, he became Rav of Boskowitz but there also were people who couldnt get used to his ways. He was ultimately forced to leave after three years and returned to Frankfurt. After four more years in Frankfurt with not much change, R Nosson Adler was put into Cheirem that lasted until shortly before his death in 1800. His life and his ways were shrouded in mysticism, allowing only the greatest of the great to understand his lofty level. R Adler didnt leave behind any children. His only daughter passed away when she was twelve years old, while he was serving in Boskowitz. He also didnt leave behind any Sefarim, although a Sefer was published from the cryptic notes in the margin of his Mishnayos. One responsum is found among the Chassam SofersYoreh Deah, 261. R Shimon Sofer once praised R Nosson Adler to his father, the Chassam Sofer, by saying, Your Rebbe is a Malach of Hashem. The Chassam Sofer objected, saying, There is no Malach like my Rebbe. No Malach has ever reached this level and no Malach has merited what R Nosson has merited. In the eulogy of his Rebbe, the Chassam Sofer said: He (R Adler) achieved the complete purpose of Chassidus and Prishus (abstinence)and all gates of Torah were open before him.  

[12] See " , 32.

[13] R Shmuel Salants father, who died when he was a child, was the rabbi of the town as well as the rabbi of Trakai near Vilna. After marrying the eldest daughter of R Yosef Zundel of Salant, R Shmuel Salant (18161909) adopted his father-in-law's last name. At an early age his lungs became damaged and was advised to seek a warm climate. This pushed him in 1840 to go with his wife and son to Yerushalayim. He arrived in Yerushalayim in 1841, rejoining his father-in-law and about 500 other Ashkenazim who had preceded him. Upon his arrival in Yerushalayim, he moved into a tiny two-room apartment without windows in the courtyard of the Churva, where he would live and work for the next fifty years. In his capacity as chief rabbi, he met with the great sages and prominent people of the era to discuss communal matters, in addition to the continuous stream of plain folk who came to consult with him. From 1848 to 1851 he served as a meshulach (fundraiser), visiting the principal cities of Lithuania and Poland to collect money for the impoverished Jews of the Old Yishuv. In 1860, he traveled to Europe to collect funds. Upon his return to Yerushalayim, he succeeded in ensuring that his contributions were equally divided between the Sefardim and Ashkenazim. He also collected donations for the building of the Beis Yaakov Shul in Yerushalayim, which was named so after James (Yaakov) Rothschild. In 1860, he also founded the Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis Salant charity together with his father-in-law. Its purpose was to provide for all of Israel's poor and impoverished, Sefardi and Ashkenazi. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Yerushalayim as well as helping found Bikur Cholim Hospital. He encouraged people to move into new neighborhoods outside the Old City walls. During his tenure as chief rabbi, the Jewish population of Yerushalayim grew from 5,000 to 30,000. R Shmuel Salant would have a quick Seder on Pesach followed by a nap. This was because he drank four cups of wine rendering him unfit to Paskin the many Shailos that would come to him on the night of the Seder. In 1888, his eyesight began to fail, and a few years later he became blind. R Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, who was his student and grandson by marriage wrote that though funerals in Yerushalayim were generally performed within the same day or night as the passing, R Shmuel Salant's was an exception. He died at night and the funeral wasnt held until daybreak because the Rabbis were concerned that the massive attendance to a nighttime funeral procession would lead to injuries or worse. R Shmuel Salant served as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Yerushalayim for nearly 70 years. 

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