"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Monday, May 4, 2009

Birthday: Cause for Celebration

The Rebbe initiated a campaign that a birthday be celebrated with a joyous farbrengen [chassidic gathering], to which one should invite one’s friends.

Some may ask: Why set up a farbrengen to celebrate a birthday? What’s so special about a birthday of any individual, and an individual such as myself in particular? What are my great accomplishments? If anything, what I have left to accomplish is much greater than what I’ve accomplished.

One answer is that if this is what the Rebbe says, as
chassidim, we should obey out of Kabbolas Ol(May I add that the Rebbe directed this campaign to all Jews. However, a chossid must obey the Rebbe’s words, while a non-chossid is not bound by the Rebbe’s words in the same way; it would be more accurate to say that the Rebbes directives are something he is encouraged to do.)

We may be uncomfortable doing this, and on the contrary, we
should feel that way; if it’s uncomfortable, that’s a good sign. For after all, who are we, that we should make a big fuss over ourselves, especially considering all our faults, which each of us knows better than anyone else?

Yet from another perspective, we should not feel uncomfortable at all.

What are we celebrating on a birthday—the body? The Bestial Soul? No, we’re celebrating the
Neshamah (the Divine Soul), and the very fact that we have a Neshamah. And that the Neshamah is “a part of Hashem above” (Tanya ch. 2). The meaning of a birthday is that we do have a better self, and it’s time to get in touch with it. And it’s a time to think about the potential of this better self, and how much of this potential has been actualized thus far, and how to bring out more of this potential. This is the purpose of a birthday farbrengen.

To understand further why the
Neshamah is so crucial, let us quote from the Rebbe’s explanation here in Kuntres Inyanah Shel Toras HaChassidus:

Physical life is also very important, and especially that of a human being. Nevertheless, all Jews are princes, and the life of a prince is intrinsically dependent upon his bond with his father, the king. Thus, if he is given life but severed from his father, the king, and cast into a dung heap to live the life of an animal, not only will he not enjoy this life, but he will despise it.

[Along these lines,] there is the known story of the
chossid, Reb Yekusiel Liepler (see HaYom Yom of 6 Cheshvan). When the Alter Rebbe wanted to bless him with long life, he responded: “But not with peasant years, who have eyes, but don’t see, and ears, but don’t hear; they don’t see G–dliness, and they don’t hear G–dliness.”

This appears surprising. When one is given a gift, and all the more so when one is given a great gift, how can he refuse to accept it unless the gift is even greater? A long life has great intrinsic value (and especially since the pleasure of living includes all the pleasures of the world), how could Reb Yekusiel have made conditions in the blessing?

The explanation is that Reb Yekusiel’s condition was not that the blessing be increased, but that the long life be true life. He felt with certainty that the entire existence of life was to see and hear G–dliness. Thus, he stipulated, “but not with peasant years,” for he considered days and years in which one does not see and hear G–dliness completely worthless; on the contrary, he despised such days and years.
Thus, the Rebbe explains that when a Jew recites Modeh ani, he is not thanking Hashem that he is alive, as one might think. Rather, he declares “I thank you ... for returning my soul to me”—i.e., the special Neshamah of a Jew. For without the Neshamah, life is not worth living.

The same applies to a birthday. The true significance of a birthday is not that on this day the person was born, but that on this day he became a Jew—one who possesses a
Neshamah. (Moreover, the Rebbe says that since the Neshamah does not fully enter the person until the Bar/Bas Mitzvah, the birthday is also the anniversary of the person’s Bar/Bas Mitzvah.)

Since from the perspective of the
Neshamah every Jew is a prince, and this fact infuses the Jew’s life with invaluable inherent significance, the anniversary of the day on which one was endowed with the Neshamah is definitely cause for joyous celebration.

Adapted from a farbrengen heard from
Rabbi Yaakov Winner, shlita, of Melbourne, Australia.

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