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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 5 May 2017 05:10 PM and ends Sat 29 Apr 2017 06:16 PM

Birthdays

בס׳ד
י"ט כסלו ה' אלפים תשע"ב

Another year squandered; more time consigned to the dustbin of wasted hopes and missed opportunities. The sands of time are fizzing through my fingers and I look back and wonder what have I accomplished over the course of this tour of duty.

It's my birthday.
A time to celebrate and give thanks for the gift of life and the gift that is my life. A beautiful family and a wonderful job. Opportunities abound and endless chances for advancement beckon. I am finally old enough to appreciate this G-d given chance to find my fortune, with sufficient self-awareness to understand my role and purpose, but still young enough to have a credible hope of eventual fulfilment.

It's my birthday.
It's just a regular 24-hour day, with the same disappointments in the background and the same opportunities that lie ahead, but my future successes depend solely on my perspective. Either today is the first day of the rest of my life and the last day of my previous life or this is just one more missed opportunity in my inexorable decline towards irrelevancy.

It's my birthday, so what?
It's the anniversary of my birth, so what? What practical difference does a day make? The mistakes in my past were just as real yesterday as today and the promise of a better future would probably be just as realisable tomorrow. Now is the time to change my life for the better, but then again, there's never a bad time to change.

I could go all kabbalistic on you; could explain how your birthday is an especially fortunate time, when the constellations line up in your favour and you have an ability to tap into extra reserves of luck and courage. I could go metaphorical; explaining how the kick up the pants that one gets from seeing a new number click over on the great tracking-board of life gives you the jolt you needed to get on with things and get serious, while in economic terms a birthday is a time for reflection; the great stocktaking that allows you to sign off on last's year's balance sheet and open a new account for the year ahead.

Whichever way you look at it, a birthday is about renewal. There is an old adage in management-speak "every so often, think about how you would do things differently if you were starting from the beginning, then do that now." At every stage it is possible to clear the decks and start again.

However, even when you're clearing the decks, don't throw out all the furniture. Many people mistakenly believe that if you want to change you've got to start completely fresh, cutting off all ties with the past. But that's denial, not renewal. Don't disown the past; use it. Don't be ashamed of the mistakes you've made, they were integral to the creation of the new you, rather embrace the lessons you've learned. You are all the tougher now for the scar tissue that has built up on the site of old wounds.

An integral part of the Chanukah story is the description of the victorious Jewish soldiers recapturing the Temple and being confronted by the desecration and desolation of the once beautiful Sanctuary. The Talmud relates that they salvaged whatever they could, cleaned and purified the Altar and began to offer sacrifices there again.

Rather than completely rip out the stones of the past, they chose to repair. They did not pretend that this was a completely new Temple with no prior history of conflict, but they renovated and regenerated. A new festival arose from the ruins of the past losses and this holiday will remain a Holy day forevermore.

So too, a birthday is an opportunity to regroup and renew; to build upon the ruins of past failures and re-energise yourself for the struggle that lies ahead. We cannot deny the past, nor should we; rather we use the pangs of old losses as a spur that drives us to better ourselves in the holy days that will become the future.


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