Susan Barth
Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

A Triple Header Birthday Celebration

Growing up as children we are encouraged to close our eyes and make a wish before we blow out the candles on our birthday cake. Wishes come in many dimensions – especially depending on your age and can range from the superficial to the sky is the limit.

My “Unusual” Hebrew Birthday Wish

In my case, my wish was to celebrate my Hebrew birthday with private audiences for presenting special blessing requests in the merit of three special souls at their burial resting places in particular – Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk – each of whom share the distinction of being buried in the Holy city of Tiberius.

The occasion of my Hebrew Birthday on this 18th of Tishri during the celebration of this Succoth holiday provided the opportunity for me to have my wishes granted. And they were GRANTED in Royal Style.

Jewish Hebrew Birthdays – Cause for Major Celebrations

As I wrote in a prior blog entitled “Double Celebration Calls for Blessings,” the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, initiated a Birthday Campaign in 1988 encouraging Jews around the globe to start celebrating their Hebrew birthdays. In an article entitled What is a Jewish Birthday, the writer elaborates by indicating that the Rebbe asked that we all utilize this most special day of our lives to its utmost. A day to recommit to the mission that G‑d entrusted to us—bettering and sanctifying ourselves and the world around us.

Suggestions how to Celebrate Your Hebrew Birthday

The Rebbe outlined a number of suggested practices for celebrating the occasion of a Hebrew birthday which is considered to be an extraordinary event commemorating your birth and change of good fortune. The author Dovid Zaklikowski elaborates on the various practices in his article How Do Jews Celebrate Birthdays which include the following:

  • Giving charity should be a daily event.
  • Spend some extra time praying, focusing on meditating and concentrating on the words of the prayers.
  • Say as many Psalms as possible. Ideally you should complete at least one of its five books (Psalms is divided into five books).
  • Study the Psalm which corresponds to your new year. This is your age plus one — e.g. Psalm 25 if this is your 24th birthday. Click here to study it online. This is also the Psalm which you should try to say daily until your next birthday.
  • Take some time out to contemplate on your past year. Consider which areas require improvement, and resolve to do so.

3 Private Audiences with Royalty – Making Requests for Blessings

I took to heart the idea of praying and reciting psalms on my birthday but could not think of a better place to share the occasion of my birthday than with Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk.  First a little background on these famous celebrities –

Rachel and Rabbi Akiva

I have always been enamored with the Love story of Rachel wife of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Akiva and how this heiress to the fortune of her father gave up her riches in order to marry a shepherd considered unlearned in matters of Jewish education – and who thanks to her keen vision became the great sage Rabbi Akiva. She demonstrated for generations to come that character traits are the most important measures of success and that belief and commitment in a marital relationship can have extraordinary dividends for the Jewish nation.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk

In the Tanya, which is the seminal Chassidic work of the Alter Rebbe, the Baal HaTanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi dedicates a number of his chapters to exhorting his chassidim to financially support the Aliyah of Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk. I have always wondered about who this famous personage was and actually made a mission this year to discover his resting place in the old cemetery of Tiberius.

Who is Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk? – Chabad to the Rescue

A citation mentioned regarding the date of date provides a description on the life of Rabbi Menachem Mendel. The  Chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (1730?-1788), also known as Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, was one of the leading disciples of the second leader of the Chassidic Movement, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch. Upon the latter’s passing in 1772, R. Menachem Mendel was regarded by his colleagues as the leader of the Chassidic community in Russia, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi considered him his rebbe and mentor. In 1777, R. Menachem Mendel led a group of 300 Chassidim to the Holy Land and established Chassidic communities in Safed and Teberias. Rabbi Menachem Mendel passed away on the 1st of Iyar of 1788, and is buried in Tiberias.

The Triple Header of Prayer Requests

Visits to the resting places of our holy tsaddikim are known to provide an incredible opportunity for reflection and beseeching Hashem for blessings in the merit of the righteous ones at their burial sites.

Little did I ever imagine that this year I would have the incredible fortune of “private audiences” with not one or two but all three of these Torah giants. My reaction to having the women’s sides of the burial places at the gravesites of both Rachel and Rabbi Akiva was like I had won the lottery. And at the burial location of Rabbi Menachem Mendel z’l, there were no other visitors.

Now to appreciate this phenomena, I have visited two of the sites in the past, and each time the burial sites were completely filled with visitors and to have private time without others present was virtually unthinkable!  And the odds incredible to even contemplate. That is why I never dreamed that my wish for privacy would ever materialize at any of the locations.

In each case I took full advantage of my good fortune and settled down to the business at hand – prayers and psalms. Besides praying for personal matters and on behalf of others for good health and hatzlacha in all areas of life, and for shidduchim and Aliya for the recently departed souls, I had full physical time and space to sit and itemize and improvise my laundry list at each “stop” without interruption  and it consisted of  the following:

  • Prayers for the soldiers of the IDF
  • Prayers for Shalom in Israel from all our enemies
  • Prayers for the Removal of the COVID and cessation of deaths
  • Prayers for Good Decisions of the Government
  • Prayers for Singles to find their matches
  • Prayers for Children for those suffering from Infertility
  • And most of all for the long eagerly awaited arrival of the Moshiah – especially at the tomb of Rabbi Akiva who had mistakenly thought the Moshiah was Bar Kokhba

 In each of the burial places, my private audiences were the most cherished birthday presents I could have. I highly recommend the same experiences for readers!

 Hoshana Raba

Today is another opportunity for reflection. Hoshana Raba is considered the last day for making the appeal to Hashem for the final judgements for the year ahead.

We all have the opportunity to make an appeal for shalom in Eretz Yisrael and the world.

This year may all of our prayers come true.

I hope that you will take the time to celebrate your Hebrew birthdays in style and may all your “wishes” and prayers come true.

Chag Sameah

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education
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