It’s that time of year again…the solar calendar has rolled around to September 28, which is my birthday on the civil (solar) calendar.
But my Hebrew birthday falls out on the evening of October 19, and lasts until sundown on October 20.
That’s why I call it Birthday Season! Almost a month of continuous birthday!! Presents welcome, if they’re good ones…😄
So far, my mother has called to remind me that I have somehow failed in…everything, and my son sent me a text asking for a loan. Sigh.
I used to love Birthday Season. My Hebrew birthday falls in the middle of the joyous holiday of Sukkot, where we live outside in temporary dwellings, to remind ourselves of the tenuous nature of life. Sukkot is a huge roving party. The dwellings are called, well, sukkot, which is the plural of sukkah, which is one of them. One dwelling, I mean. A sukkah can be so small as to admit only the head and upper half of the body of a man, or it can be huge. But it can only go up the night after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And it has to come down, or at least be ritually invalidated by removing one of the parts that make it a legal sukkah, after the eight day holiday is over. It is, by definition, a temporary dwelling, just as our bodies are temporary dwelling places for our souls.
In Israel, pretty much everyone has a sukkah, even Christians, who call it the Feast of Tabernacles. In fact, Christians the whole world over flock to Israel to take part in the Gathering of the Nations. A huge sukkah colony inhabited by Christians goes up in one part of Jerusalem. There’s a miles-long parade that goes right by my former house. How wonderful to see people from every single corner of the globe coming out to celebrate and support the one and only Jewish State!
The Hebrew calendar is mostly lunar, but there is a caveat that Passover must fall in the Spring; so when it gets to the point where Passover is getting so early in the year that it’s in danger of being in the winter, we have a leap year. Rather than add one day every four years like the civil calendar, we add a whole month every three to four years.
All this is to say that Hebrew dates usually don’t match up with civil ones. Therefore, Birthday Season could last as long as a whole month, or only a few days.
At home in Israel, my birthday parties were epic! At first, I had my own sukkah, large enough to hold at least twelve people going and coming, plus food, drinks, and musical instruments (and my street cats). I ended up lending my sukkah to friends who didn’t have one, so then my sukkah party was on the rooftop of their building, with a beautiful view of the Judean Hills, even the Dead Sea when the dust from Egypt wasn’t blowing.
Something very special about Hebrew birthdays: we are given a tiny bit of the gift of prophesy on that day. We use this gift to give blessings to other people, even people we don’t know. In fact, if someone knows it’s your birthday, they will come to you and request a blessing.
These are not the garden variety blessings that we give each other many times each day (we bless each other many times a day, in the Holy Land. Complete strangers will come up to you and give you long, complex, and specific blessings, asking your special name, your parents’ names, your children, what you need, they bless you with that and more.) Birthday blessings are different. They come from a different place. You meditate, the two of you enter trance state together, and you wait for the blessing to come. When it does, you look into the soul of the blessee, and the blessing comes out of your soul through your mouth, the blessee listens intently, taking it in. Often, the blessing is so deep, so powerful, that the blessee bursts into tears and, if the same gender as the blesser, a long, fervent hug. We don’t have any physical contact whatsoever with members of the opposite gender who are not related. But we still bless!
We who observe Birthday Season have adopted the custom of blessing others during the whole of Birthday Season. Why not? Maybe the full power of prophesy doesn’t kick in until the Hebrew birthday, but still, the solar calendar counts in its own way.
So to kick off Birthday Season, here’s my Solar Birthday Blessing for you:
May the Blessed Holy One grant you a year of peace, harmony, happiness, enough money for your needs, satisfying endeavors, good relationships, complete healing of body and spirit. May you be enabled to understand the value of the ephemeral nature of life, and of all living things, and of this planet, the solar system, and the mystery of the ever-expanding universe.
Amen, selah, netzakh, va’ed. (So may it be, forever and ever, from On High.)