There's a Hasidic custom of spending one's birthday studying the chapter of psalms for one's new year. (Since I am turning 32, thus entering the 33rd year of life, I begin studying Psalm 33 today.) I believe this custom was given over by the most recent Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who also suggested birthday traditions of giving tzedakah, making an internal accounting and choosing places to focus one's self-improvement in the coming year, and eating a new fruit so one can say the shehecheyanu.
There's a lot that's cool about this date. For one thing, it's tefukat Nissan, the vernal equinox, the day when everywhere in the world ostensibly experiences the same 12 hours of light. (What a metaphor for the equanimity I so prize!) Wikipedia tells me, first, that the balance of light isn't precise (because the sun radiates light even before it has risen over the horizon) and secondly that the equinox technically falls "sometime around March 20" of every year, but I persist in thinking of the 21st of September and March as the perfect balance-points. (This year, the official equinox really does fall today.) Today is also Norouz, so happy new year to my Persian, Parsi, Isma'ili, Sufi, and Ba'ha'i friends!
On a more serious note, today is also, as this Jewschool post reminds us, the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, and hence now International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (Having just seen the 1995 remake of Cry, the Beloved Country, I raise my glass with renewed vigor to the dream of ending racial discrimination speedily and in our days.)
The same Rebbe who suggested giving tzedakah, introspection, and eating new fruits on one's birthday also had this to say about the importance of birthdays:
Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that G-d invested in you at birth is present once again. It is our duty to be receptive to that force...
A birthday can also teach us the concept of rebirth. To recall our birth is to recall a new beginning. No matter how things went yesterday, or last year, we always have the capacity to try again. Your birthday is a refresher, a chance for regeneration--not just materially, but spiritually.
Following his advice, I began today by giving a small donation -- I chose to donate to the Women's Torah Project, the first-ever sefer Torah to be scribed by female sofrot. I spent an hour studing the psalm of my new year with my Wednesday morning hevruta partner. And as for introspection -- well, I'd be doing that anyway!
The number 32 is designated in Hebrew by the letters lamed-bet, which spell lev, "heart." May this year be a year filled with emotion, a year when I'm truly able to open my heart to all the realities of my world, and a year of heart health (on every level!) Thanks for celebrating with me, gang.