days of repentance: 3 Elul

28 Iyyar 5664

28 Iyyar 5679

3 Elul 5695

today was 3 Elul, 77th anniversary of the death of Rav Kook z”l, on whose gravestone are found the 3 dates recorded herein. surely 77 is a significant number upon which to reflect. 77 is the simple gematria for ‘mazal’ (“luck”if you will), and certainly starting Elul with good fortune in the cards isn’t all bad, right?  but we can do better if we think back to the 3rd haftarah of comfort, which we read/heard on Rosh Chodesh Elul just passed, and remember Proverbs 18:10:

“migdal-oz, shem haShem”

(a tower of strength is the Name of G’d)

the Name is a tower (gematria=77) of strength (gematria=77). and the haftarah teaches us that all the children will learn of G’d, ie, come to know the Name. and we will not need to fear the oppression of our wrongs in the past  or the devastation of falling back into bad ways, for it will not come near (Isaiah 54:14).  let’s expand the 77-77 further in Psalm 61:4:

“for you have been a refuge for me

a tower of strength in the face of the enemy

and back to our haftarah, in which we learn further (54:17) the power inherent in the Name:

“any weapon sharpened against you will not succeed;

any tongue that will rise against you in judgment

YOU will condemn”

“you will condemn” any accusing sharpened tongue” for that is the heritage of the servants of G’d; THAT is part and parcel their righteousness from G’d. the deeds of the baal t’shuvah will defeat the naysayers and the evil report and the cynical doubt and the tongue of any accuser. what you do now defends you from what you may have done in the past. now defeats then. NOW is “the heritage of those in awe of the Name” (Psalm 61:6). turn to haShem truly with full heart–real t’shuvah– and you gain the tools to defeat even your worst enemies, the great oppressors of your past. YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS, nonetheless:

azamra shimcha la’ad

(i will sing praise to Your Name forever)

t’shuvah is to open to  channeling of the tower of strength from G’d the Source to you yourself  and through you to the world. and starting tomorrow, we will not begin to examine practices of t’shuvah, the way of the soul warrior.

oh, hey, what about those dates on Rav Kook’s stone? isn’t it usually just birthdate and deathdate? well, they reflect his own emulation of the walk of Avraham avinu with haShem.  do we know much about Avraham’s birth and birthdate? nope. but we know that he was called by G’d to GO himself, for himself, to himself, leaving behind your birthplace,  your land , and your parents home. 3 leavings for Avraham avinu represented 3 ascents that are paralleled in Rav Kook’s life: the parental home represents the pull of the familiar and comfortable origin, which R’ Kook put behind him when he left europe and  ascended to the Land of Israel on 28 Iyyar 5664; your land represents peer pressure for the ways of galut, which R’ Kook put away when he ascended to Jerusalem to live while founding a new religious way that merged rich zionism (and association with the secular) with traditional teachings and practices on 28 Iyyar 5679; and last, but not least, your birthplace represents the pull of the place into which your soul is born–your body, which R’ Kook put behind him when he died and ascended to the wholly spiritual realm on 3 Elul 5695.

birthdate is past–aveirah in aver–but each ascent as you walk Torah is a moment of vividly living in a moment. not a record of history, but a piling of milestones. so it is for everyone doing t’shuvah…you ascend from strength to strength, leaving behind the pulls of what was, adding your own milestones to the walls of the Tower  of Strength.

days of repentance: haftarah of comfort 3

“and all your children shall be taught of haShem; great shall be the peace of your children”

there’s comfort for us all herein. the promise of the future in the wholeness/peace of our children. not surprising, is it? as we’ve already discussed, these first 3 weeks of comfort have a parallel in the steps of the prayers said at graveside, and the third step of mourning corresponds to the movement from acceptance of loss to the reunderstanding of the goodness of G’d in the saying of kaddish. it is the first kaddish, to be followed thereafter by the daily kaddish yatom, the kaddish of the orphan.  all of us are orphaned since the destruction of the easy access to G’d’s Presence that was in Jerusalem.

a parent lost is like a parent hidden, yes? not absent exactly, for still held in memory, still alive in the learning we have been given by that father or mother. but not as visible. hidden, like the Presence of haShem….but that we are still aware of haShem in the dark times is the beauty of kaddish.

exalted and sanctified be the Great Name

so we say. we know You. you are not wholly gone. and in this 3rd haftarah of comfort Isaiah points out that all the orphans will learn of the Great Name and that will itself be the beginning of the beginnings of wholeness.

this brief haftarah, on shabbat just passed, culminates the week that leads up to Rosh Chodesh Elul. comfort for the “storm tossed” Israel, and wholeness to come, by way of the knowledge of G’d–“all your children shall be taught of haShem”–all of your newborns. and who are the newborns of Elul, which is aramaic for “searching”?

the newborns are the reborns. each of us who does t’shuvah is reborn in tzedek, in righteousness.

“establish yourself through righteousness;

distance yourself from oppression”

so says the prophet on behalf of G’d in our haftarah (Isaiah 54:14). REmake yourself in righteousness, putting distance between yourself and the wrongs of your past. in righteousness make yourself whole, give yourself peace by distancing yourself from the MAlingering past….in which you have oppressed others, knowingly or not. the past in which you have oppressed yourself  in the wrongs you have done. ”aveirah”, a key word for sin shares its root with “avar”, a word meaning past. t’shuvah is never about the past, chevrei, but only about what is to be now.

in this new month of Elul, we are all of us children again….if only we will learn of haShem….and everything we do from this point  to Yom Kippur is designed to teach us of nothing else.

days of repentance: haftarah of comfort 2

“Zion says…haShem has forsaken me

haShem has forgotten me”

the curious thing about the first haftarah of comfort (consolation), called ‘nachamu’ (after the meaning of the repeated first word, ie, “comfort my people, comfort them, says your G’d”) is that after the first verse it is anything but comforting. it goes on to say that the People is but as grass blown about and withered by the wind and the sun….in the face of G’d’s displeasure, the withered blades of grass are carried away as stubble. the first haftarah is comforting ONLY in that it asserts strongly that G’d is, in fact, in charge–in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

small comfort when one is feeling freshly dead in the destruction of the Temple…when one has died at tisha b’av  with the departure of the Shechina from out of Israel’s midst….forsaken, forgotten, with no Presence to which to turn…

sometimes i feel like a motherless child…a long ways from home

but in the second week, Isaiah (49:14-51:3) answers with G’d’s pointed reply…

“can a woman forget her baby…..

or not feel compassion for the child of her womb?”

well, you mothers out there? in spite of the sometimes mindnumbing, backbreaking routines of parenting, can you not still feel compassion for the child of your womb?  is that not about as good a surety—in the face of all the effort, the exasperation, the worry, the discipline, the sometime rejection and insolence of adolescent children, the fear of being ignored as you age—as great a certainty as any love we know on earth?  is there any better certainty then a mother’s love? even among the most secular, the “miracle of birth” is treasured, and is nearly never relinquished. severing the umbilicus severs only the physical.

but we are in a series of 7 haftarot of comforting us, comforting those who mourn loss of Shechina in the Temple. we are not yet comforted…..

the grief of a mourner has 3 prominent steps at internment: 1) the e’l-mole rachamim corresponds to acknowledgment of death and the request for protection of the deceased,  2) the tziduk hadin corresponds to the  accepting of truth in G’d’s judgment (verses proclaim G’d’s greatness and the “wisplike” existence of humankind, and 3) the graveside kaddish corresponds to turning of acceptance of death into the “magnification” that comes with comprehension of the greater good in the power of G’d.  this structure of the internment service corresponds to instruction from Talmud (Mo’ed Katan 27b): “3 days for weeping, in 7 for lamenting, and 30 [to not] cut the hair and [wear] pressed clothing.”

from tisha b’av to the 1st shabbat is step 1 (reflected in haftarah 1 of comfort); from that to the 2nd shabbat is the acceptance of the judgment and of the truth of G’d’s promise (reflected in haftarah 2 of comfort); from that to the 3rd shabbat, and rosh chodesh elul, is the beginning of kaddish, the eye toward the future promise through t’shuvah (repentance), leading through the remaining 4 of the 7 weeks to the Birthday of the World, the day of the greatness of haShem, Rosh Hashanah.

so the 2nd shabbat of comfort begins with the cry of the forsaken, but then pivots through the realization that the Promise to the People is as rock solid as the love of a mother for her child. and at the very end of the haftarah, there is mention of Avraham and Sarah, the first parents of the People Israel, to whom was given the promise not to be fulfilled in their own day, but in days to come–even after dark days of exile from the Land and slavery.

“look to Avraham your forefather and Sarah who birthed you”

and  the haftarah closes with the assurance that haShem will comfort, comforting even the very ruins, the persistence of memories of the destruction, the evil, the despondency. we are all of us spiritual ruins to one degree or another after another year of selling our spirits short, yes? our failures to live up to our best hopes, our strongest intentions, our responsibilities to each other and to G’d pile up into ruined heaps about this time of year. but right here. at THIS point in time the promise is that G’d will comfort our ruins, making Eden of our wastelands, we have the Promise of the other side of t’shuvah.  for on the other side of the Days of Awe, we are promised, if we do the work:

“joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving, and the sound of music”

this as we enter the third week, so start to look to the mountain of G’d in Jerusalem, and know that you will hear what you’ve heard before…your heart will be blessed with the sound of music, and you’ll sing once more.

PS-don’t forget, richard rodgers real family name was abrahams………now there’s the Promise in exile, eh?)

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.