The First Birthday
The first individual to celebrate a birthday was Adam. Well, considering that he wasn't "born," the stickler will argue that he didn't really have a "birthday"; but nonetheless, his first day on earth was quite eventful.
Adam was created on the first Friday, the sixth day of creation, after G‑d finished setting the cosmic birthday table with the heavens and earth; sun and moon; plants and trees; beasts, foul and fish. Shortly after Adam's creation, still on the same Friday, G‑d formed and breathed life into Eve.
The results were considerably worse than a bad stomach acheThough there is no record of them partaking of a birthday cake, they celebrated by partaking of another delicacy—the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The results were considerably worse than a bad stomach ache.
We celebrate the birthdays of Adam and Eve every year. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, isn't observed on the day when the world was created, but six days later, on the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. That is the day when everything truly began; the day when the Creator's vision of dwelling in a human-crafted home went into motion.
An Intimidating Guest
"And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned" (Genesis 21:8).
According to one opinion expressed in the Midrash, this feast celebrated Isaac's thirteenth birthday; the day when he was "weaned" from childhood and assumed the responsibilities of a Jewish adult. According to another opinion, this feast occurred on his second birthday. Either way, it was a birthday celebration.
According to tradition, Isaac was born on Passover. As such, the "great feast" must have featured matzah and kosher for Passover cuisine. But the cuisine wasn't the main attraction—it was the distinguished guest list that included all the who's who of the time.
One of the VIPs was Og, the king of Bashan, a gargantuan man with superhuman strength. He condescendingly commented: "Why is everyone fussing over this child? With my pinky I can end his life!"
G‑d wasn't too pleased with this hubris. "Just wait. You will live to see hundreds of thousands of this boy's descendants. In fact, your end will be at their hands..."
The first scriptural reference to a birthday party is in the Book of GenesisAnd that's precisely what happened—years later when he was vanquished by the Moses-led Israelite armies.
A "Memorable" Birthday Party
The first scriptural reference to a birthday party is in the Book of Genesis. Pharaoh hosted a grand birthday party for all his ministers. During the course of the party he remembered two of his chamberlains, his chief butler and baker, whom he had incarcerated because of their negligence while on duty. Exactly as a Hebrew youth, Joseph, had foretold three days earlier, Pharaoh pardoned the butler and restored him to his post. The baker, on the other hand, was sent to the gallows.
Until 120 Years Old... Really!
A common Jewish birthday wish is, "May you live until 120." In the Torah we find a personality who lived until 120—on the nose. We're talking about Moses, the greatest prophet of all time, who was born and passed away on the same date—the 7th of Adar.
Centuries later, when Haman wished to exterminate the Jews, he threw a lottery to determine the most propitious month to implement his nefarious plan. Haman was elated when the lottery chose the month of Adar, "this is the month when Moses, the Jews' savior, died!"
But Haman didn't know that Adar is also the month when Moses was born. And the auspiciousness of a birthday offsets any negative qualities associated with death. The rest is history...
A Mournful but Ultimately Joyous Birthday
The redeemer was born the moment after the destructionThe saddest day on the Jewish calendar is the 9th of Av, the date when – among other tragedies – both holy temples were destroyed, leading to our nation's exile from the Holy Land. Nevertheless, our sages tell us that despite the sadness and pain, this is the birthday of Moshiach, our future redeemer:
"On the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, a Jew was plowing his field when his cow suddenly called out. An Arab was passing by and heard the low of the cow. Said the Arab: 'Jew, Jew! Unyoke your cow, free the stake of your plow, for your Holy Temple has now been destroyed.' The cow then lowed a second time. Said the Arab: 'Jew, Jew! Yoke your cow, reset the stake of your plow, for the Redeemer has now been born...'"
The redeemer, and with him the potential for redemption, was born the moment after the destruction.