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Death Tells a greater story than birth

12/18/2019 03:53:06 PM


Shalom Lewis, Rabbi Emeritus

This week I celebrate another birthday. Thankfully, I am still dodging the Grim Reaper. I have not become a Dressler stat and am successfully medicating my aging body into healthy submission.


The Bible is an incredibly rich compendium of all knowledge. Whatever tidbit we seek, it is found in our Tanach, yet there is only one mention of a birthday in the entire massive text. Only a single reference to a birthday observance and that is Pharaoh’s when he releases Joseph from prison. Not even a Jewish birthday. Why is that?


Why does our tradition attach no celebratory significance to the day we were born? Perhaps in the old days record keeping was not as meticulous, so minimal attention was paid to the day one entered the world. In keeping with the notion of imprecision, birth was often a descriptive scatter shot linked to an event. Moishe was born just after we found the afikomen on the second night seder. Esther Rachel breathed her first breath, just before the great Bialystok blizzard. Heschel Yitzchak was born while the accursed Cossacks destroyed our shtetl. The dismissive notion of birthdays in our tradition is in direct contrast with our exactitude when it comes to yahrzeits.


We know the day of death. We light candles. Put up plaques. Recite El Malei Rachamim. Carve it in stone. So why the Jewish emphasis on sunset, not on sunrise? Why a culture of bobka and mandel bread for shiva, but no such assigned pastry for a birth day?


I’d like to offer a thought. Brisim and baby naming’s are wonderful simchas, but they tell us nothing about the new entrant into the world. Nothing about their achievements. Their deeds. Their contributions. The quality of their soul. They are on the starting line and life’s race has barely begun. At the end of life, we know what a human being has done with their three score and ten. Was their time on earth noble or was it misspent ? Did they make a difference or were they wrapped up in self- interest?


Birth is nothing more than a biological juncture in time. The tears of death tell a greater story than the tears of a tuchas slap in a delivery room. Our biography is written at the end of our days not at the beginning.

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Thu, February 20 2020 25 Shevat 5780