When we observe Tisha B’av, the 9th of Av, we remember the destruction of the Temples. For three weeks prior, we prepared ourselves to be in this state of mourning.
But just as we leave the shiva house and walk around the block once, it’s time for us to walk around the block and enter back into life.
It is then followed by Tu B’Av – the 15th of Av. It’s the Jewish Valentines day – the Jewish love day, the Jewish, let’s show compassion and respect day. It’s not a hallmark kind of day, but I’m sure they’ve cornered that market too. Tu B’Av is a real holiday to mark the time ending our mourning from Tisha B’Av. It’s our chance to walk around the block and let everyone know that we’ve removed our sack cloths and ashes and are ready to enter back into life.
The Torah portion and Haftarah portion for this week both speak of love and compassion. The Torah portion, Va’etchanan, includes the most important words to the Jewish people – Shema Yisrael….And you shall Love God with all our hearts, with all our soul and with all our strength.
The Haftarah states, nachamu, nachamu ami – comfort, oh comfort My people, says Your God. Isaiah reminds the people that we are allowed to get up from our mourning knowing that our sins have been forgiven. For it was told to us that the Temples were destroyed for baseless hatred – that we were unkind to one another, that we didn’t show compassion, that we were divided and hence not worthy of having the Temples and the direct connection to God in this one holy space. But now that they are gone and we have wept in our dispersion from the holy land of Jerusalem, God lifts us up and tells us to take that walk around the block and bring back compassion, bring back love, bring back respect for one another.
The Talmud teaches that there never were in Israel greater days of joy than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur. It is taught that on these days the daughters of Jerusalem used to walk out in white garments which they borrowed in order not to put to shame anyone who had no white of their own to wear…
The daughters of Jerusalem came out and danced in the vineyards exclaiming at the same time, “Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty but set your eyes on [good] family.” As it says, “Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that fears God, she shall be praised.” (Ta’anit 26b)
This is the story of unwed girls going out to the fields hoping that they will find a husband. Why then do the rabbis connect Tu B’Av to Yom Kippur?
From the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av we mark seven Shabbatot until Rosh Hashanah. We are first healing from the pain and loss of Tisha B’Av and what better way to heal than with love.
Next, rather than reading the literal of the girls dressed in white, we are the ones who are dressed in white going out before God and saying, “See O God what you choose for yourself.” God chose us; to take us out of Egypt and lead us to the land of Israel, the fulfillment of a promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God chose to give us Torah and the mitzvot. We ask God, don’t set your eyes on beauty, rather look deeper at us. Examine us and see who we truly are. We are not perfect creatures, nor do we pretend to be, but we have a deep faith in you and we hope you have the same in us.
Rabbi Sharon Brouse teaches: love starts from a place of deep honesty and vulnerability. Yom Kippur love says: I’m giving you access to my fears, my hopes, to me. I will let you see the best and also the worst of me. I will let you see my soul – and I want to see yours. Show me your scars – I promise not to run.
We are all flawed. None of us are perfect. And sometimes were are terrified to show that imperfection for fear that we will be judged as not being worthy to be a friend, a colleague, someone to be trusted and someone to be loved. But love requires that we show all of our flaws, all of our cracks, and the one who loves us, be it God or any one, will love us completely, cracks and inner beauty.
Dan Nichols sings in his blessing, asher yatzar, thanking God for creating us: “I thank You for my life, body, and soul. Help me realize I am beautiful and whole. I’m perfect the way I am and a little broken too, I will live each day as a gift I give to You.”
Nachamu Nachamu Ami – comfort us, comfort your people God, help us to realize that as we begin this seven week journey toward the High Holy Days that we are not perfect, but we’re going to keep trying. Help us to know that you are always there and you won’t abandon us at moments when we need you the most. Help guide those who can’t see the potential and beauty in each person because they have their own idea of what each person should be and judges with harshness and cruelty. Help open all of our eyes and look not at that which is on the surface but at the heart and soul of each person. That each of us should love, respect and strengthen one another, not try to tear another down in hopes of building them back up into the image that they feel fits what they believe to be right. Help us to see the love and compassion of those around us who love us, even our cracks and bumps, but love us for who we are. Then, then we are comforted as we walk around the block and into this time of preparing for the beauty of a new year.
Rabbi Heidi M. Cohen