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Happy birthday! With more than 200,000 people born around the world each day, it's likely that at least a few of our readers are celebrating their birthdays today.
Conventionally, birthdays are for parties! When we're very young (and very old) we mark the day we were born with a celebration. Cake, ice cream, gifts, games, we gather family and friends to celebrate our birthdays.
Ostensibly, birthdays are quite secular affairs. Every person has one once a year. In fact, in the Torah, the only birthday singled out for any mention is that of Pharaoh! Yet, the Talmud teaches that one's birthday is the day on which one's "fortune rises."
Is there a special "Jewish" way to celebrate a birthday? And is there such a thing as a Jewish birthday? And once we find out when our Jewish birthday is, how do we go about celebrating it?
A birthday is a time for reflection, a time to review the year gone by and to think about those aspects of our lives that need improvement and correcting.
We can use the day to study a Jewish thought and share it with others, take (extra) time to pray, as well as making sure to give charity and do some other special mitzvot (commandments).
The birthday party is transformed into a joyous gathering of family and friends and the power of the birthday will guarantee that the good resolutions made in such a setting will be fulfilled in the future.
Ancient Jewish sources teach the value of celebrating a birthday. For example there is a Midrash that relates: Most people cherish the day on which they were born and make a party on that day.
In 1988 (5748), shortly after the passing of his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Lubavitcher Rebbe chose the anniversary of her birth as a time to launch a new campaign to reinvigorate the custom of celebrating Jewish birthdays.
The Rebbe asked that even the youngest children should be taught the spiritual importance of a birthday and that they should be encouraged to celebrate their birthdays with their friends in a way that they will increase Jewish observance and good resolutions.
For each of us, our birthday is a day to rejoice in the knowledge that on this day our soul descended to this world for a special, unique purpose that is only ours to fulfill.
On the anniversary of our birth, we embark on a new year, a new stage in our development, and a new chapter in the fulfillment of our life's mission.
There is no other you in the world and there is no other person who can accomplish the purpose for which you specifically were born.
Take advantage of this occasion. Be introspective, explore the state of your spiritual life, set your Jewish house even more in order. Start fulfilling some of the good resolutions on the spot and use your birthday as a time to increase goodness and holiness in the world!
This week we read two Torah portion - Vayakel and Pekudei. We also read an extra Torah reading, Parshat Hachodesh. In Parshat Hachodesh we read about the first mitzva (commandemnt) given to the Jewish people - to sanctify the new month on the testimony of two witnesses who saw the birth of the new moon.
The words in the Torah that teach us this mitzva are, "This month, for you, will be the first month." G-d showed Moses the sliver of the new moon and said "this" is how the moon should look.
At the same time, with the same words, we are taught: "This month" the month of Nissan, "for you" for the Jewish people, "will be the first month" or literally "the head of months."
Why is it so important for G-d to tell us, by the first mitzva, that Nissan be our "head month"?
In the month of Nissan we became a people, and in the month of Nissan we were redeemed. Asking us to consider Nissan as our head month tells us that there is something about this month that defines us as a people.
"This month" has several names. It is called Nissan, which comes from the word "nes" meaning "miracle." This teaches us that we are a miraculous nation, with miraculous abilities. We have the ability to change the world, to make the mundane holy by doing mitzvot. This is because though we have physical bodies we have been infused with a G-dly soul. This makes us a G-dly people, above nature, enabling us to take two opposites, holy and mundane and fuse them together - making the physical world G-dly.
It is called the "Month of Aviv," spring. Spring is the time that trees bud new growth. This teaches us that we cannot be comfortable with our past accomplishments, we must be constantly growing, adding in Torah, service, and good deeds.
It is also the "Month of Geula," redemption. This teaches us that we are a truly free people. We must never feel that we need to be like "them." We have our way, the Jewish way, which is by far superior, and by far more humane.
This is why it is told to us by the first mitzva, because as a Jew, first you need to know who you are. You are imbued with these incredible traits, specifically to do mitzvaot and infusing world with G-dliness.
This is who we are.
It is OK to be proud of who you are!
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
The Strange Fellows
by Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman
Some 23 years ago I did a two year stint in South Africa, where I was studying and also acting as a student emissary in the local Jewish community. I was partnered up with a native, Yossi Pels, who fast became a dear friend, to do our "Tefillin route" in downtown Johannesburg.
There was a sweet fellow who had a tire alignment and hubcaps store there who we will call Mike. We visited Mike weekly. Our charm was irresistible and within a period of time he'd put on the Tefillin with us weekly. We grew fond of one another, even purchasing a prayer book for him as a gift.
Now, South African Jews are a funny bunch. Regardless of their level of observance they are very traditional. While leading a very secular non-yet-observant lifestyle, Mike regularly attended (and still does) the Sydenham Highlands North Shul, where Rabbi Yossi Goldman, a Chabadnik is the rabbi.
My time in South Africa was coming to an end. In a world before facebook and whatsapp, the relationship petered out for me. Yossi stayed in touch with Mike, though he too eventually married and moved to the United States.
To be totally candid, I basically forgot about Mike, that is, until very recently. I was at the wedding of my niece in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and one of the groom's uncles is Rabbi Yossi Goldman.
Rabbi Goldman and I schmoozed about the good old days when I was in South Africa. He then mentioned Mike and a special letter he had received from him nearly 20 years ago.
I've excerpted the letter below:
"Dear Rabbi Goldman,
"I have a story which I, as a member of your congregation, would like to relate to you... I was brought up in a less observant branch of Judaism... I later tried another Temple which felt closer to that of the orthodox service, but I didn't care much for that Shul either so I eventually took the step of attending services at Sydenham Highlands North.
"It took a bit of time but I managed to get the hang of it and even enjoy it...and now the story I want to relate to you...
"About two years ago, on a Friday (ed.'s note, 23 years ago), some 'strange fellows' walked into my business which is situated in the middle of Johannesburg and asked if anyone was Jewish. I answered in the affirmative.
"They asked me if I had put on Tefillin that day and I answered that I had not.
"At this stage I must tell you, Rabbi, that I had never ever put on Tefillin in my life and that the only time I had seen it was in the army when I, together with all the other non-Jewish soldiers watched,, which I considered to be a very strange performance.
"To get back to the story, I was embarrassed at the question, not because of the question itself, but because of the fact that I had never put on Tefillin before and would therefore make a fool out of myself by asking any further questions.
"The gentlemen then asked me if I would like to put on Tefillin there and then and for reasons that I have already mentioned, I refused and they then left.
"But they persisted and visited me again the next Friday, asked me the same question, whereupon I confided with them of my history. I led them upstairs where they 'fitted' the Tefillin on my arm and asked me to read the relevant portion.
"I will never forget the feeling that I experienced the first time that the Tefillin was put on my arm. In fact, that feeling came upon me for the first three times that I put on Tefillin. It was almost as if I was suddenly wrapped up in a special cocoon. I have never ever felt such a special feeling in my life before this. I was also surprised to find out that I actually knew the portion that was related to the Tefillin.
"At the time of all of this, my business was going through a rather bad patch. The bank had pulled the carpet and I was in rather deep trouble, not knowing which way to turn or where to get help.
"After a few Friday's of the yeshiva students' visits, I decided to order my very own Tefillin from them of which they duly obliged. I have been putting on Tefillin every day that it is allowed and believe that it changed my life completely.
"I became calm and seemed to have a more clear head in business. Although my business was running very heavily on overdraft, I felt sure of myself and even managed to scrape a few Rand to invest in the stock market.
"A few weeks ago, everything came to fruition! After opening my business for the day, I suddenly called my stock broker and instructed him to sell the complete share portfolio that I had built up over the past few years. The broker asked me what type of strategy I was pursuing, and that it was not the right thing to do. But, I had other ideas and told him to sell out. (Soon after that the stock market crashed.)
"I then phoned my bank manager, made an appointment to see him, and took my business out of an overdraft that exceeded R$500,000!!
"Rabbi, this is not a letter which is intended to boast of the fact that I did so well, and managed to sell at the right time on the stock market. It is a letter in which I wish to inform everyone who wishes to listen, that I firmly believe that it was the yeshiva students' visits, which introduced me to Tefillin, that helped me to get totally out of dept to my bank."
I've since been reconnected with Mike via WhatsApp and via my old South African buddy, Yossi Pels who has maintained connection with Mike and visits when he is in South Africa.
I have further found out that Mike now puts on Tefillin daily, and has done so for the past 20 plus years or so. Furthermore, Mike is now a lamplighter himself. As folks pull into his shop to get the new tires, or an alignment, he reminds them that they need a "spiritual alignment" as well. He then offers them the opportunity and gift to put on Tefillin.
This story, one of millions certainly, is still unfolding, but it is certainly the fulfillment of a vision that the Rebbe had when he launched the Tefillin Campaign in 1967. To expose another to the raw, naked truth of Judaism, is guaranteed to light, or fuel an existential fire which can only lead to better results not only spiritually, but physically as well, as conveyed in the story above.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman and his wife Raizel run the Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center. Rabbi Schusterman is a proud father of 7 who enjoys many hobbies, including exercise, skiiing and writing. He is a certified mohel and loves to write on a wide variety of topics. Read more of his writings at RabbiSchusterman.com
I Have a Jewish Name
I Have a Jewish Name is a colorful, joyful celebration of every child's beautiful Jewish name! Within the artwork and the inside covers, over 170 different names are featured, and there's bookplate with space for a child to write his or her own. Some names are long; some are short. Some are in Hebrew; others in Yiddish. Some children are named for Jewish heroes and heroines of long ago, while others are named for beloved grandparents, great Jewish leaders and scholars, or important positive traits. This sweet picture book explains how every Jewish name is connected to the deepest part of a person... the neshama. With eye-catching illustrations and lovely rhymes, I Have a Jewish Name will encourage young children to learn more about the meaning and importance of their Jewish names. Written by Rochel Vorst, illustrated by Dena Ackerman and published by HaChai Publications.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5739 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive your regards through our mutual friend, together with the reprints of your scientific papers in The American Journal of Cardiology.
Inasmuch as everything is by Divine Providence, and your valuable research work has come to my attention, though entirely out of my field, I am impelled to make a general remark, being confident that you will not take it amiss.
It is human nature to be highly impressed by persons achieving distinction in various fields, particularly in medical science, and especially in cardiology, since physical health is everybody's primary concern. Thus people tend to be influenced by the personal life and views of the people they admire or feel indebted to, far beyond the immediate area in which they excel. This imposes a moral obligation on the latter to use their influence for the benefit of the many, in terms of promoting the higher values in life for a better and nobler society.
All the more so in the case of Jews and the Jewish people. Being a tiny minority in a hostile world, Jews have always had to work for their very survival, and this task has become even more urgent after the Holocaust, which has decimated our people both physically and spiritually. Unfortunately, the attitude of the world towards us has not changed much, if at all, for the heirs and followers of the Nazis and their ilk are still rampant.
Hence the greater obligation and urgency for every Jew, particularly Jews of prominence, to do all one can for the preservation of our people through fostering Jewish identity and commitment, in an active form, in the everyday life; for, as our Sages emphasize, "the essential thing is the deed," or, to put it in another way, the test of a theory is in its practical application - a principle which is not foreign to a scientist.
I therefore wish to express my confident hope that you are endeavoring to be a source of ever-growing inspiration to your fellow-Jews by example and precept, and may G-d bless you with hatzlacha [success] in this and in all your endeavors.
With esteem and blessing and best wishes for a kosher and inspiring Pesach,
16 Adar, 5712 
. . . I have duly received your letter of the 8th of Shevat, but this is the first opportunity to answer it. Should there be any good news in the meantime, you will no doubt let me know.
You seem to be disturbed because you feel that you have not attained the proper level in Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] and cannot see the tachles [purpose] etc., which makes you downhearted.
Leaving the details of your complaints aside, I wish to make several observations:
1. A feeling of dissatisfaction with one's self is a good sign, for it indicates vitality and an urge to rise and improve one's self, which is accomplished in a two-way method: withdrawal from the present state, and turning to a higher level (see Sichah [talk] of my father-in-law of sainted memory, Pesach 5694).
2. If the urge to improve one's self leads to downheartedness and inertia, then it is the work of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination], whose job it is to use every means to prevent the Jew from carrying out good intentions connected with Torah and Mitzvos.
The false and misleading voice of the Yetzer Hora should be stifled and ignored. Besides, as the Baal Hatanya [author of the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman - founder of Chabad Chasidism] states (Ch. 25), even one single good deed creates an everlasting bond and communion with G-d (ibid., at length). Thus, a feeling of despondency is not only out of place, but is a stumbling block in the worship of G-d, as is more fully explained in the above and subsequent chapters of Tanya.
3. With regard to understanding, or lack of understanding, of the tachles, the important thing required of the Jew is contained in the words of the Torah: "For the thing is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart (and the tachles is) to do it." Understanding is, generally, the second step. The first step is the practice of the Mitzvos. (See enclosed copy of my message to a study group).
My prayerful wish to you, as you conclude your letter, is that the next one coming from you will be more cheerful.
BERURYA - Berurya lived during the turbulent second century, c.e. She was the daughter of the martyr Chanania ben Teradyon and the wife of the great Rabbi Meir. She excelled in knowledge of Jewish Law and her opinion is quoted a number of times in the Talmud. She is also known for her great moral stature and her sharp, biting wit. There are a number of famous stories quoted about her. When her two sons died on the Shabbat, she kept the knowledge from her husband in order to spare him grief on the holy day.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim, the Shabbat before the new month. Literally translated, it means a Shabbat in which we bless the upcoming month. This Shabbat Mevarchim is special because it is the Shabbat before the month of Nisan, which is often referred to as "the month of Redemption."
On the surface, calling Nisan the month of Redemption is explained by the fact that Nisan is the month in which we celebrate Passover, the holiday which commemorates the Jews' redemption from Egyptian slavery. But the month of Nisan is also connected to the Final Redemption, as our Sages say, "In Nisan, our people were redeemed, and in Nisan, they will be redeemed in the future."
This Shabbat represents the transition from the month of Adar to the month of Nisan. Both months contain within them commemorations of miraculous events. In Adar we celebrate the downfall of Haman and the victory of the Jewish people, and in Nisan we celebrate our freedom from slavery. The difference between the events is that the miracles of Purim occurred within the natural order of the world, while the miracles of Passover transcended the natural order. The story of Purim can be traced through a natural sequence of events. But by cloaking miracles in the natural order of the world, we are actually elevating the natural order.
That is our true purpose on this earth, to elevate the physical to the spiritual and have G-dliness revealed on this plane.
Another concept that the two months have in common is redemption. Adar celebrates redemption from Haman's wicked decree, and Nisan celebrates the redemption from Egypt. Shabbat is also a kind of redemption, a weekly redemption from mundane cares and worries to a place of light, joy, song and Torah-study. May all of these redemptions be stepping-stones to our complete, final, and ultimate Redemption, the coming of Moshiach.
Moses gathered all the congregation...and said to them: These are the words which the L-rd has commanded, that you should do them (Ex. 35:1)
As Rashi notes, this gathering took place on the day after Yom Kippur. On the holy day of Yom Kippur, everyone is in awe of G-d, suffused with a sense of peace and brotherly love for his fellow man. Moses gathered the Jews together immediately afterward to teach them that Jewish unity should not be limited to Yom Kippur, but should be felt throughout the year.
This is the thing which the L-rd has commanded to say...whoever is of willing heart, let him bring an offering...gold and silver and bronze (Ex. 35:4-5)
In his Responsa, Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the Rashba) writes that "it is a mitzva to publicize and make known those who do a mitzva." It is therefore incumbent upon us to "say" - announce publicly - the names of whoever donates money for "the thing, which the L-rd has commanded."
Moses called Betzalel and Oholiav, and every wise-hearted man (Ex. 36:2)
Why didn't the "wise-hearted men" come on their own to Moses, and waited until he approached each of them individually? Because a person who is truly wise-hearted doesn't consider himself wise; when Moses issued his call, none of them thought he was talking to them.
Of the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the Sanctuary (Ex. 38:27)
The Hebrew root of the word for socket, "eden," has two meanings: 1) a base or doorsill, and 2) lord and master. Both meanings, however, are interconnected. This is alluded to in Rabbi Meir's statement in the Zohar: "He who is small is great; he who is great is small." A person who is as humble as a "doorsill" is truly noble, while one who lords himself over others and feels superior is truly lowly.
Reb Zusha of Hanipoli sat in his home immersed in his Torah learning, when the sounds wafting caused him to glance out the open window. Passing in front of his house was a wedding procession leading the bride and groom on their way. Reb Zusha immediately stood up and went out into the street where abandoning constraint he danced with unbounded joy. He circled the young couple and the other celebrants for a few minutes of great joy and then returned to his home and his study.
His family members watched his actions with great interest. They suggested to him that his dancing before a wedding procession was not befitting a person of his stature in the community.
To their comment he replied, "Let me tell you a story. When I was young I studied under the famous Maggid of Zlotchov, Reb Yechiel Michel. One day I did something against his wishes and he rebuked me severely. I was terribly hurt by his reaction, and he, sensing anguish, soon came over to me and apologized for the harshness of his response, saying, 'Reb Zusha, please forgive me for my angry words.'
"I was very comforted by his apology and replied, 'Of course, I forgive you, Rebbe.'"
"The same night before I went to sleep, he again came to me and asked my forgiveness. I was surprised, and repeated that I forgave him totally.
"I lay in bed for a while thinking about the incident, when the father of my Rebbe, Reb Yitzchak of Drohovitch, appeared to me from the Next World. He said to me, 'I had the merit to leave behind me in the world below my only son, and you want to destroy him because he insulted you?'
"'Please, Rebbe, don't say such a thing! I don't want to hurt him and I have certainly forgiven him completely and wholeheartedly! What more can I do than I have already done?'
"'What you have done is still not complete forgiveness. Follow me and I will show you the real meaning of complete forgiveness.'
"So, I got out of my bed and followed him until we reached the local mikva. Reb Yitzchak told me to immerse myself 3 times, each time saying and feeling that I forgave his son. I obeyed his wishes and immersed 3 times, each time with the intention of forgiving my Rebbe.
"When I emerged from the mikva I looked at Reb Yitzchak and saw that his face was so radiant that I was unable to gaze upon it. I asked him where that light came from and he replied: 'All my life I have carefully observed three things to which the Sage Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKana attributed his long life: he never sought honor at the expense of the degradation of his fellow; he never went to sleep without forgiving anyone who might have offended or injured him that day; he was always generous with his money. Reb Yitzchak then told me that the very same level which can be achieved through these things can also be reached through joy.
"And that is why when I saw the wedding procession passing in front of our house, I ran outside to partake of the festivities and to add to the simcha of the bride and groom."
Once Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg came to his Rebbe, Reb Dov Ber of Mezerich, with an inquiry: "How is it possible to fulfill the teaching of our rabbis that one is obligated to say a blessing on bad news just as one would on good news?"
The Maggid answered him by instructing him to go to the shul. "When you get there ask for Reb Zusha of Hanipoli and ask him to explain that dictum to you."
Reb Shmelke did as his Rebbe told him, and when he found Reb Zusha he asked him the question. Reb Zusha was a man who had endured great hardship throughout his entire life. He replied to Reb Shmelke as follows: "I am very surprised that my rebbe sent you to me, of all people. A question like yours should be addressed to a person who has, G-d-forbid actually experienced something terrible in life. Whereas I, thank G-d, know nothing about those frightful things. You see, I have experienced nothing but good all my life. I'm sorry, but I cannot answer your question since I know nothing about evil occurrences."
Reb Shmelke returned to the Maggid with his question answered. He now understood the meaning of the teaching that one is obliged to bless the evil that occurs in life as well as the good, for when man accepts a Divine edict with complete faith and trust, there is no longer a perception of evil inherent in the experiences.
The future redemption will burst forth from the midst of darkness. At the very moment when every heart trembles at the point of despair, the glory of G-d will shine forth. And when will that moment be? In the month of Nisan, for G-d has appointed it as a time of redemption. Every misfortune which befalls Israel during this month is nothing else but an assurance that the deliverance is about to begin."When G-d chose the Jewish people as His nation He established for them a month of redemption, a month in which the Jewish people would be redeemed from Egypt, a month in which they are destined to be redeemed in the future."
(Book of Our Heritage by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov)