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Hazzan Steve's Message

When Is Your Jewish Birthday?

Does That Matter?


Thanks to a firm but friendly shove from my mashpiah, my spiritual director, I find myself open to clues or hints or messages from malachim (messengers) I encounter.  About what?  I am not sure, which is good, but perhaps about where I am, how I got here, and how I am to evolve beyond this moment.


My birthday was coming up, so I decided to explore my Jewish birthday, that is, the date on the Jewish or Hebrew calendar that corresponds to the date of my birth on the Gregorian calendar.  A date converter is here: https://www.hebcal.com/converter.  On the left side of the page I entered the Gregorian calendar day and month and year of my birth, then clicked on the “Convert to Hebrew” button.  Up popped the birthday information on the Hebrew calendar.


Before diving into some of the interesting stuff I found I need to make an important point.  This is not astrology (although Judaism and astrology are not strangers).  I do not believe that anything calendrical about my birth is my destiny.  Or that things I may find are a roadmap I must follow.  As I said, I am open to hints or clues or messages, or really just food for thought.


So what did I find?  I was born on the 27th of Iyyar, which is the month we are in now.  (This year my Gregorian birthday was on the 11th of Iyyar.) Hebcal conveniently showed me that the 27th of Iyyar was Yom Kippur Katan Sivan, meaning that Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the new moon of the month of Sivan, was coming up.  Hebcal also shows that the Torah portion that week was Parashat Bamidbar, and that my birthday was on the 42nd day of the Omer, very close to Shavuot that year.  One datum Hebcal did not provide, but which interested me, is what the day of the week was, so I googled that and found that I was born on a Thursday.


I do not know what to make of my birthday having been Yom Kippur Katan.  Some people use the day before Rosh Chodesh (or a few days before to avoid the observance falling on Friday or Saturday) at the end of each month as an opportunity for a moral/spiritual check in about the month that is ending, or about the year to date.  So finding out that I was born on a Yom Kippur Katan is interesting, but I am not sure why.


That I was born during the week of Parashat Bamidbar is much more useful to know.  Bamidbar is the first parasha of Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible.  The English name of the Book comes from the subject matter with which the Book begins - the taking of a census.  The Hebrew name, Bamidbar, is used because the folks who gave the Books and the Torah portions names in Hebrew chose the first significant word, rather than the general subject.  Bamidbar means something like “in the wilderness”.  Midbar is related to the word davar, which has to do with words and speech and speaking, but also with thinginess.  For the Rabbis, a midbar, a wilderness, was hefker, a place with no legal ownership.  This is where things get really interesting, especially because the concept of becoming spiritually or personally hefker bamidbar is a subject to which my mashpiah and I keep returning.


Here is how Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l explains this:


The Midrash makes a psychological spiritual point: Anyone who does not make himself open to all [hefker, literally ownerless] like a wilderness cannot acquire wisdom and Torah. (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:7) The desert is neither public nor private space. It belongs to no one. It is completely exposed to the sun and the elements. So must we be – imply the Sages – if we are to become the recipients of Torah. To hear its commanding voice we must listen with total openness, absolute humility. Torah speaks to the soul that has learnt the art of silence. (From “Wilderness and Revelation | Bamidbar | Covenant & Conversation | The Rabbi Sacks Legacy”)


I am not sure what to make of this convergence of calendar and concept.  Yet.  Perhaps this has to do with no longer seeing only what I expect to see, or no longer believing the story of my life that I have been telling myself for way too long.


Now for the Omer, the counting of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.  The 42nd day of the Omer is in a kabbalistic view the day of Malkhut shebiYesod, Majesty within Foundation.  Or, maybe, the way in which that which is foundational (steady, reliable, firmly placed) comes down into the “real” world of our consensual reality.  Lots of food for thought here.


What to make of Thursday?  


One obvious place to look is Psalms.  (Okay, it was obvious to me).  Every day of the week is assigned a Psalm of the Day.  Why and how could be a subject for another day.  For now, all you need to know is that the psalm for Thursday is Psalm 81.  It begins, after the incipit of verse 1, “Sing gladly to God our strength, shout out to the God of Jacob.  Lift your voices in song and beat the drum, the lyre is sweet with the lute.  Blast the ram’s horn on the new moon, when the moon starts to wax, for our festival day.”  Huh? The Psalm of the Day on my birthday is about musicians, and about blowing the shofar?  I have been a musician for most of my 69 years, and I blow the shofar.  A few verses later we read “From the straits you called and I set you free.  I answered You from thunder’s hiding place.”  And then “Open your mouth wide, that I may fill it.”  So the Psalm also is about yearning or seeking, and about the possibility of satisfaction.  Wow!  (All the quotations are from Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.)


Each day of the week also is associated with an aspect of Bereishit, creation.  Thursday is the fifth day of the week.  Plants appeared on the third day and also the notion of species, that apple seeds bring forth apples rather than figs or frogs, which is essential to adaptive evolution.  The fourth day is devoted to astronomy - the sun, moon, and stars.  HaShem gets to terrestrial animals on the sixth day, from creepy-crawlies to wild animals to domesticated animals to humans.  What was the Holy One up to on the fifth day?  


And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.


And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.


And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.


And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.


Genesis 1:20-23.  This is the King James translation (from blueletterbible.com), which I chose mostly because I love the phrase “And God created great whales”.  Between terrestrial plants and land animals on days three and six, HaShem deals with the two realms in which we are aliens, the waters and the skies.  Some people like to fish or snorkel or dive or swim, none of which appeal to me, but I am passionate about birds.  I always have been.  And birds come on Day Five, Thursday, the day of my birth.  Interesting!


When is your Hebrew birthday?  Does it matter?


With blessings for a week of peace and wholeness and discovery,


Hazzan Steve


 החזן שלמה זלמן עיט בן מרדכי מרגלן

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