The Birthday Blues

“Happy Birthday!”

This greeting that comes from the sweetest place in our hearts when we extend birthday salutations to a loved one… I asked myself last week when I was on the receiving end of these kindnessess… what does it actually mean?

My husband said pithily, when I asked him; “it means, thank you for existing.”

Yes, a birthday is a day that we reflect on just that – existing.

Of course, being on this planet is nothing of our own doing and is most simply a supreme expression of G-d’s love.

Why then the birthday wishes?


My teacher, Miriam Millhauser Castle taught me that the gap between expectations and reality is what we define as disappointment (in other words, when a ho-hum reality doesn’t match the impossibly high standards of our expectations).  

I sometimes wonder if birthdays aren’t a breeding ground for this sort of disappointment.

The truth is sometimes, (well, pretty much, always) surprising.


The truth is that the only one to celebrate a birthday in the Torah was Paroah.

“ויהי ביום השלישי יום הלדת של פרעה…” (Breishis 40:20)

No-where else is it mentioned as such.

The Torah always lays the foundations of psychologically healthy practices and rituals and this makes me wonder about the birthday one.

Not to say that birthdays are bad and we should do anything different. (read to the end)

Generally, our job is to shower and lavish those around us with as much love, appreciation, validation and adoration as we can muster.

That doesn’t mean, from the view from the inside , i.e. our personal way of handling ourselves, that we should become people that are needy of those things.

There-in lies the irony – we give the very thing to others that we personally try to inhibit for ourselves as sources of our intrinsic  worth.


I think the essence of the birthday question that I am raising is a question about giving.

Rav Dessler, in his classic Kutrus HaChessed; tells us that only one who feels full and satiated can be a giver. [Put in modern jargon; people who are not suffering from the mentality of lack and scarcity can be givers.] Of course, were our emuna and faith in Hashem complete we would always feel full and satisfied; regardless of how others may perceive our circumstances.

פותח את ידיך ומשביעה לכל חי רצון – “You open Your Hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing”

נער הייתי גם זקנתי ולא ראיתי צדיק נעזב – “When I was both young and old I have never seen a righteous man abandoned by G-d and his children begging for bread”


Rav Dessler, in that same essay about loving-kindness, tells us than giving is what creates love, and not love that brings forth giving as we would want to believe.

Therefore, satisfaction with one’s life, feeling totally and already full and living your life as a giver are one and the same concept.


To simplify: Giving equals Joy.


Let’s compare that with the birthday concept.

“It’s my party I can cry if I want to.”

Why are people allowed to cry at their birthday parties??

Because they are designated as the recipients of everyone else’s giving!

Everyone else is happy – they are giving to the birthday girl or boy.

They have no expectations.

But the birthday girl or boy?

Of course they want to cry!


The Jewish concept of a birthday is far deeper.  It is a day when one’s “Mazal” – spiritual essence and vitality – is strong.   

Not surprisingly, it is also a day of prayer – as the anniversary of the day their soul came into the world in order to fulfill its unique mission.

These two concepts together make it an auspicious time to give blessings and indeed you should seek out the brochos of those on their birthday.

But the best part of this is – giving brochos also turns the birthday into a day of giving!

There is no more a need to cry.


Let us give….

…nachas to our creator who magnanimously created us.

….brochos to those who fill our lives with joy and meaning.

And more importantly… our expectations a break.

Let us know that we are already totally complete and full – and any birthday wish or present that comes our way simply adds to a state of internal satiation.

Let the locus of control remains where it is supposed to be – within – and may we not be dependent on that which comes from with-out.  May all birthday celebrations only enhance an intact self-esteem and healthy psyche unfettered by unrealistic expectations.

And when the gifts and wishes come, how great it is, to be so blessed.

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