Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“I hate my birthday,” my friend said to me. She has hated her birthday for as long as I can remember. When her 21st birthday was approaching, instead of feeling excited and looking forward to celebrating, she was depressed. She just doesn’t like getting older. We are now way past 21. Birthdays have come and gone and every year, as the dreaded day approaches, she feels sad thinking about what she wished she had accomplished in the year past and how she has fallen short of her goals. I love my friend and wish she would see the beauty within herself and celebrate her accomplishments and the gift of life.
I am 45 years old. I love my birthday. Each birthday is a reminder to me to pause and acknowledge my blessings. Each person has something about which to rejoice. Friends, family, career, a marvelous vacation, that one time you connected with a stranger while standing in the line at Starbucks or accepted the kindness of someone who made your day a little bit brighter. Whether there are constant blessings in your life or snapshots in time, birthdays are opportunities to reflect on the good and be grateful for another year of life.
Judaism values the sanctity of life above all else. While all mitzvot (commandments) are important in Judaism, there is one that the rabbis teach may supersede the others. Pikuach Nefesh, saving a life, is so revered that if you have to violate another mitzvah in order to fulfill this one, you are obligated to do so. Life is so sacred, a gift, that it should fill us with love and light and joy.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes feel depressed or sad. But, these moments, too, help us accentuate and value the times of joy. The challenge is not reveling in the moments of sorrow.
Our sages taught, “Repent one day before your death (Pirke Avot 2:10).” While this may appear morbid, it is a very wise statement. The rabbis understood that because we can’t predict when we will die, we should cherish each day. Save nothing of importance for the future, if you can do it now. Don’t procrastinate. If there are things you want to say, sights you want to see, activities you want to try, do it. Do it now. Embrace the moment. Recognize the blessings that each day holds. We are here to enjoy the journey.