days of repentance: begin with love and comfort

no better days…than tu b’av and yom kippur

it was Rabban Gamliel who let us know that 6 days after the black fast of tisha b’av,  coinciding with the full moon, was a very, very important day. in the  Mishnah, Ta’anit 4, he is quoted, saying:

“there were no better (happier) days for the People of Israel than the 15th day of Av (tu b’av) and yom kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalm go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards….”

borrowed white dresses, by the way. just add a little something blue and you get the idea. the best day of the year to get married, they say, and the only day on which to get married without having to fast. that’s right, no fasting for bride and groom should they marry on to b’av….yom kippur doesn’t let us off so lightly, of course. but tu b’av comes with a full moon, mid month, and is as far away from the yom kippur katan that is every new moon for the People….a time of  fullness of promise rather than the narrow sliver of rosh chodesh.

but look at that apposition: tu b’av and yom kippur.  love and atonement to bookend the penitential season….indeed, it was custom to start preparing for the month of elul on tu b’av, the gematria for which totes up to that for:

ketiva vachatima tova

‘may your inscription and seal be for good’

sounds like the Days of Awe to me. but here’s the other thing: tu b’av was the beginning of the grape harvest in the Land. so those gals in the white dresses were dancing out in the vineyards harvesting those grapes with the boys….don’t bruise the fruit, now.

whence this idea of beginning atonement in love? well, the 7 weeks of consolation begin the shabbat after the black fast–in 2012 the first shabbat of consolation is cheek to jowl with tu b’av–and that set of 7 takes us right through the month of elul to the gate of tishrei (which begins the count up to the birthday of the world…Rosh haShanah). but what is the consolation for? well, for coming back from the great sins…the golden calf, the spies, the baseless hatred between brothers, etc, etc. tu b’av brings the consolation for the sin of the spies. consider the legend of how the People came to know that the 40-year time of wandering the desert til the generation of the sin of the spies had died out:

 every year for 40 years of wandering, on tisha b’av night, the Israelites dug themselves graves, in which they would sleep for tisha b’av. by morning some 15, 000 of them would not wake up, and tisha became the black funereal fast. year after year after year. in the 40th year, all slept in the graves they had dug, but in the morning, none had died

it is taught that the People thought maybe they had the date wrong, so they kept sleeping in their graves until tu b’av, the middle of the month and the time of the full moon. at that point they knew that the sin of the spies, the sin that led to the wandering, was atoned for. and those giant grapes that the spies brought back from the Land–“now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes” (Numbers 13:20)–were not an omen of ill, but of joy. Rabbi Chanan said (Sanhedrin 70a):

wine was created to comfort mourners….

well, at least that first tu b’av must have made it seem so….so a day of wine and happy human hearts….a day of love between people born of G’d’s love for people, that they are given the chance to emerge from the wrongdoings and misunderstandings that lead them to wander in the desert. comfort ye, comfort ye, my people…..for every year the road of t’shuvah begins with love and comfort.

the mighty r’ Akiva truly understood tu b’av and yom kippur, for he centralized the concept of belovedness between people and between people and G’d by insisting on including the Song of Songs in the canon…..and then by making “love your neighbor as yourself” the central teaching of the jewish way. on tu b’av we crawl out of our self-dug graves for a day of wine and love….white dresses, white kittels…under the chuppah, whether on tu or on yom kippur. a day of wine on tu….and ultimately of roses on yom kippur. how so?

368 maneh of ketoret

1 measure for each day, plus 3 extra for yom kippur

for only on yom kippur, and only in the joyful fragrance of a ketoret cloud could the high priest enter the Holy of Holies and atone for the People. yom kippur, the day of love and roses. “marei kohen” is the piyyut we say in the avodah section of the yom kippur musaf prayers; it is a series of descriptions of the kohen gadol’s appearance upon emerging from the Holy of the Holies “in peace, without injury”:

like the garden’s rose among the thorns

was the appearance of the Kohen

and so we begin the season of t’shuvah, of return to G’d and to our best selves with love….comfort ye, comfort ye, my People…..with days of wine and roses.

so, what do you think?

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