Tetzaveh: The Gift of a Birthday
Moses’ birthday was on the seventh of Adar. The Shabbat before Purim is almost always in the week of Moses’ birthday so let’s use this opportunity to discuss what it means to be born. Many think of birth as the beginning of our story, but it is not. It is only the beginning of a new chapter—our chapter on earth. We existed long before our bodies were born and we will exist long after we return our bodies to earth.
Picture this: The family gathers in the hospital waiting for the baby to be born. They are filled with anticipation; the bundle of joy will soon arrive. At the very same time, there is a parallel gathering in heaven. This assembly is comprised of family members who have already returned to heaven and friends who have yet to descend to earth. They gather to say goodbye and to wish their loved one a healthy and successful voyage.
Two gatherings. One to say hello, the other to say goodbye. Both are joyous occasions. On earth, we are excited to see a tiny newborn with all its little parts intact. We are waiting to glimpse a new face, to meet a new person, and to welcome a new member to the family. The gathering in heaven is excited for their loved one and happy that he or she was tasked with a distinguished G-d given mission on earth.
They gather not only to wish the soul well but also to fortify it with the strength and stamina to make the journey. It will be a strange and foreign environment and it will be hard for the soul to retain its heavenly integrity on earth. For this reason, they gather to wish the soul well.
At the last moment, the soul is administered an oath, “Be righteous, don’t be wicked. Even if the world tells you are that you are righteous, treat yourself as if you are wicked.” The oath helps the soul overcome the temptations it will encounter on earth. When we know we are bound by an oath, it is easier to follow through.
I heard a story about a member of overeaters anonymous. Whenever he was at a party he would call his sponsor, who would help him overcome the temptations. One day, the buffet was so mouth watering that he felt himself unable to resist. He ran into the fridge and found a slice of salami. He popped it into his mouth and that was the end of the temptation. The buffet was dairy, and he had just eaten meat . . .
No matter how much our brains drive us to indulge, if we know it is impossible, the temptation shuts down. It is like a smoker who goes all Shabbat without a cigarette though the compulsion becomes overwhelming the moment Shabbat ends. When we know we can’t, no matter what, we don’t. That is the purpose of the oath. It is to help us know that we absolutely must or that we absolutely can’t.
Mrs. Esther Yungreiz of blessed memory was once seated near a fellow Jew on an airplane. He talked about his family and his Jewishness, but when dinner was served, he accepted a non-Kosher meal. She said to him with dismay, “But sir, you took an oath to eat kosher!” He said, “Lady, what are you talking about?” She said, “I was there, I heard you take it.” He said, “When?” She replied, “At Sinai.”
Birth—The Journey on Earth
Once the oath is taken, the soul is properly fortified, and the heavenly party comes to an end. Everyone shouts mazaltov, the soul takes leave, and journeys to earth. At that very moment, we shout mazaltov on earth and greet the baby with joy. The baby stares at us uncomprehendingly. Why are you so excited? Who are you people? Don’t you know I just came from heaven and my ordeal has just begun?
We see a tiny baby who knows nothing. In truth, it is an old, wizened soul in a tiny body. The body is tiny and new. The soul is experienced and old. It understands more than those who have gathered to celebrate. They think they are celebrating the birth of a tiny body. The soul knows they are celebrating the task the soul was given to make the world a better place.
Yes, the day we are born is the day G-d tells us that He has something that needs doing that only we can do. If someone else could have done it, He would not have dispatched our soul on this arduous journey. If we came along, it is because only we can do it. That is the true reason for the celebration.
G-d Believes in Us
The question is, why are we celebrating prematurely before our task was completed? How do we even know that we will succeed? What if we fail and the celebration was in vain?
The answer is that the day we are born is not only when G-d entrusts us with a task. It is also the day G-d declares that He trusts us to succeed. If He did not believe in us, He would not have sent us. Yes, we have free choice, but knowing that G-d believes in us, helps us believe in ourselves. It gives us the strength to overcome our challenges and prevail.
This is the purpose of birthday celebrations. It is not just the day that we thank G-d for giving us physical life. Heavenly life was much better. It is the day that G-d gave us the opportunity to serve Him. To provide something that He needs. Most important, it is the day He declared His trust in us. Not only that we can succeed, but that we will. This is worthy of a celebration. It is our way of saying thank you.
Did you know that G-d administers this oath anew each year on our birthday? Each year, G-d professes one more time that He believes in us. He gives us strengths and abilities that He trusts we will use well. That is truly a reason to celebrate. It is not only a celebration of something that occurred many years ago. It is a celebration of something that reoccurred today. A celebration in which we accept G-d’s challenge.
The oath is administered on our birthday at the time that we were born. Surely, if we could pinpoint our very moment of birth, we could tap into it. However, if we can’t, the day is still just as powerful. The moment of our birth influences the entire day. The entire day is one of renewal and revival. On this day we are given strength and vitality to journey through the year with vigor and commitment.
It follows that the best way to spend our birthday is to be immersed in Torah study and good deeds. It is an opportune day to take on new resolutions; to tackle objectives that we found difficult in the past. It is best to make these pledges in public, at our party, so that others can encourage us throughout the year.
During this party, it is also wise to pray, share thoughts of Torah, and donate to charity. If our birthday falls on a day when the Torah is chanted, it is auspicious to arrange to be called to the Torah. Otherwise, we can arrange to be called up on the Shabbat before our birthday.
Our birthday is our personal Rosh Hashanah. May G-d grant us each a happy birthday and a successful year to come. Amen..