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Happy Birthday, Man

Happy Birthday, Man

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In the course of conversation at a recent birthday celebration I attended, some concepts came up. The High Holiday season was fast approaching, and I thought that the ideas discussed were very relevant at that time of the year, when we all celebrate the birthday of mankind.

You generally think of a birthday as the anniversary of the day you were born. There is a very different way of looking at it, however. A birthday commemorates the day G‑d created you.

What is the difference between the two perspectives?

We generally think of a birthday as the day we were born. There is a very different way of looking at it, however...When I refer to the day that I was born, I am referring simply to my existence, ignoring to what or to whom I owe my existence. I celebrate the years of my existence, my accomplishments, my happiness. When I speak about my birthday as the day that G‑d created me, I imply that my existence is tied in with a purpose and I have the responsibility to realize that purpose.

The same is true regarding Rosh Hashanah, anniversary of the creation of mankind. Rosh Hashanah reaffirms the fact that we did not simply appear or evolve; we were created.

What is the purpose for which we were created?

First and foremost, the responsibility of man is to become aware that existence and life have a purpose.

The following incident illustrates this idea:

One Saturday afternoon I was walking in the street with a friend who lives in Argentina.

All of a sudden a 10 year old boy approaches us and asks us:

"Where are you from?"

"I am from Montevideo and my friend here is from Buenos Aires," I replied.

"Come on; seriously. Where are you guys from?" he insisted.

"Seriously. I live in Montevideo and my friend lives in Argentina."

"Why, then, are you wearing those strange caps?" he asked.

"This cap is called a 'Kippah.' We wear it at all times in order to remind ourselves that G‑d is always watching over us," I explained.

"You know something? I don't believe in G‑d," the child retorted.

"You want to know something?" I replied, "G‑d believes in you!"

"In me?" the child asked in wonder.

"Of course. Otherwise He wouldn't have created you. There is something that only you can accomplish and no one else."

"Really? There is something that only I can accomplish? How do you know that?"

"Because if someone else could do whatever you can do, why would G‑d have created you?"

"Wow. And what is it that only I can accomplish?"

Doesn't every passing year imply that we have less time left to live? Why celebrate?"I do not have the answer to that question. It is up to you to find it…" I answered, as the boy scampered away.

It is possible that because of this short exchange between two strangers, the life of this child will never be the same. Instead of thinking that his life has no special purpose, he now knows that he has a special purpose and it is up to him to discover what that special life-mission is.


Another topic that came up was the following:

Why do people celebrate their birthdays? Since we all have a limited amount of time to live, doesn't every passing year imply that we have less time left to live? Why celebrate?

The answer is that it depends. It is up to the individual to determine if each year that passes will be a year less or a year more.

How so?

There are two different objectives that one may have in life. If what one looks for is physical, personal pleasure, then every day that passes implies another day spent, a day less left to enjoy. The enjoyment that you had yesterday does not satisfy you today. If, however, what you are looking for is spiritual accomplishment, then every day that passes means another day added, because the value of spiritual accomplishments does not expire.

A simple example: The bottle of water that helped me quench my thirst yesterday does absolutely nothing for my thirst today. The bottle of water that I gave to someone dying of thirst, however, thereby saving his life, generates a value that still satisfies me today.

The same is true with Rosh Hashanah. As we start a new year, we must take stock of our actions during the outgoing year in order to determine if we managed to turn it into a year more or a year less, and make the necessary decisions to assure that the new year will be even better.

Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov is the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Montevideo, Uruguay, and a contributor to Chabad.org.
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josh long island, NY August 29, 2009

cool! cool, i love the story. very inspirational!! Reply

josh January 21, 2008

nice! nice article. sometimes we need to hear the 'basic' rules of the game...
thank you! Reply

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