The Only Birthday Celebrated in the Torah

In Parshat Vayeshev we see that the day that the chief butler was restored to his position was “Yom Huledet et Pharaoh” (Breisheet 40:20), the day that Pharaoh made a feast for all of his servants.

Rashi explains that Yom Huledet et Pharaoh was Pharaoh’s birthday, called Ginusia Day in Greek. 

Radak says that it could be either the day that a son was born to Pharaoh or the date that Pharaoh was born which was celebrated every year with a party.

Rabbi Y.L Maimon tells the story of how Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, the Rabbi of Biyalistok and one of the leaders of the Chovevei Tzion (Lovers of Zion) organization was asked by the members of the organization if they could make him a 70th birthday party. Rabbi Shmuel refused saying: “We do not find anywhere, not in the Written Torah and not in the Oral Torah that the Jewish people make birthday parties for each other. We only find this custom in the Torah in reference to a non-Jew, Pharaoh.” Rabbi Shmuel added: “This is the difference between the Jewish people and the other nations. When a Jewish person has a birthday, they make a cheshbon nefesh- soul search of their own souls. When Pharaoh had his birthday, he did soul searching for others and decided to give the chief butler back his job and to kill and hang the baker.”

 The Jewish way to celebrate a birthday is to take stock of our own lives and celebrate how far we have come over the past year and take pride in our accomplishments as well as keep an eye out as to where we are heading and where we still need to make improvements.  

When birthday parties are celebrated in Israeli kindergartens, the teachers go around the room and ask each child to give the birthday child a blessing. Last year, when my son Moshe had his party he received blessings such as: “I wish you luck in first grade” and “I hope that the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) will be built speedily in our day”. We have come a long way from the days of “I hope that you get a lot of presents!” These Israeli children, who indeed do get a lot of presents, have not lost sight of what the real celebration of a birthday should be.