Letter & Spirit: The Meaning of a ‘Happy Birthday’

In this week’s edition of Letter & Spirit, we present a letter from the Rebbe to an individual who was about to celebrate his birthday. The letter was written through the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel, and was made available by the latter’s son-in-law, Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro.

On the occasion of the birthday of the corespondent, the Rebbe gives him the traditional blessing of “long and happy days and years,” and explains its meaning. In the letter as well are some timely teachings of the chapter of Tehillim corresponding to the number of his years.

This weekly feature is made possible by a collaboration between CrownHeights.info and Nissan Mindel Publications. Once a week we publish a unique letter of the Rebbe that was written originally in the English language, as dictated by the Rebbe to Rabbi Mindel.

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By the Grace of G-d

Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5733

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr.

Milano, Italy

 

Greeting and Blessing:

Pursuant to our conversation when you were here, and told me about the good news of your 60th birthday, I want to reiterate here in writing the blessing that I wished you also orally, namely that G-d should bless you –  Arichas Yomim V’ shonim Tovos

I would like to add that this time-honored traditional blessing is a very meaningful one, although at first glance it may seem redundant to mention also the days (“long and happy days and years”), since the “days” are already included in the “years”. The explanation is that this blessing in a double one, namely, to enjoy long and good years, and also that each and every day should be long and good in terms of content. That is to say, that each day should be completely filled with true Jewish content. Time is a relative thing, and the true measure of time, whether it is “short” or “long” is in terms of content in achievement. It is a matter of common experience that it is possible in a short while to have so much good content that it would normally fill days, weeks or even months.

And from the particular to the general. What is true of the individual in terms of personal achievement is true in a wider sense in application to the community. I have in mind such activity that stimulates a chain reaction, an activity that sets an example for others to emulate. In such a case, the person setting off this chain reaction has a share and zechus in all the good effects of which he has been the cause. A person like yourself, who has an influential and active role in the community, is thus in a very privileged and blessed position. Particularly when such activity includes, first and foremost, the area of chinuch. Here the chain reaction in even more in evidence, since the present pupils, who are now recipients, will eventually be benefactors, with pupils of their own, and so forth.

Apropos of the above, I wish to mention also the custom introduced by the Baal Shem Tov and transmitted to us through the Alter Rebbe. According to this custom, a special Psalm is recited daily corresponding to the person’s age in s particular year.  Thus, for a person entering the 61st year, Psalm 61 is the one recited daily that year. In this connection, of special relevance is the verse (61:8) Yeshev olom lifnei Elokim, chesed ve’emes man yintzeruhu.  

The Midrash  (Shemos Rabba31:15) makes the following  commentary on this verse: King David was wondering why there should be rich men and poor men in the world. Would it not be better if all were equal before G.d? Where upon G-d replied:  “Kindness and truth – who will practice it?” In other words, the poor and needy of the world are there so that there should be someone practicing the mitzvah of tzedoko and loving kindness. This provides an aditiöna1 insight into the Jewish concept of tzedoko in all its forms, including especially tzedoko for zechus horabim.

With prayerful wishes for “long and happy days and years” in all your affairs, both personal and general,

With blessing,

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The above letter is from a forthcoming volume of The Letter and the Spirit Series, two volumes of which have been published to date, with volume three coming out shortly, IYH. The letters are from the archives of Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, a personal secretary to the Previous Rebbe and The Rebbe, whose responsibilities included the Rebbe’s correspondence in English.

We thank Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro, director of Nissan Mindel Publications and the one entrusted by Rabbi Mindel, his father-in-law, with his archives, for making these letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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