The Gemara tells a story of Rav Yosi who once went to daven in a ruin in Jerusalem as he was travelling. He met Eliyahu HaNavi who, amongst other things, told him off. From this he learned that one should not daven in a ruin, and if one is travelling and needs to daven he should say an abridged Tefila.
What is interesting here is that there is a general rule that the Torah is “לא בשמים היא”, It is not in the heavens (See Shabbos 108a in Rashi). We do not make halachos based on what we hear from heavenly voices or angels or other mystical characters such as Eliyahu Hanavi. So, why did Rav Yosi institute these Halachos after his discussion with Eliyahu?
Rav Elyashiv Zt’l explained that there is a difference as to how Eliyahu appeared; if he came and appeared as an angel, we do not learn from him. However, if he came and appeared as a human, he is like any other Talmid Chacham and we may learn from him.
ויהי ביום השלישי יום הלדת את פרעה ויעש משתה לכל עבדיו וישא את ראש שר המשקים ואת ראש שר האפים בתוך עבדיו
The sole reference to a celebration of one’s birthday in the Torah is found in Parshas VaYeshev1 . I would like to analyze the tradition of this celebration in Jewish thought and how it applies in both law and custom.
There are many events that we mark with special occasions: The creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah; the judgment of trees and plants on Tu B’Shvat; the dedication of the Beis HaMikdash on Chanukah, the creation of fire on Motzei Shabbos, and the anniversary of one’s birth.
We see many sources for the birthday celebration throughout Chazal.
Rav Chaim Dovid Halevy2 explains that the original Torah source for the celebration of one’s birthday is from Pharaoh, however, it originated as a custom of kings to celebrate their birthdays in public festivities3. and eventually individuals also began to have private birthday festivities in their homes4.