You might not think of that question in connection to the Days of Awe, yet, that is the focus of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Instead of beating yourself up over needs for penitence and repentence, the Hebrew, Teshuva, is about response to mistakes, errors, missteps, shortcomings, goofs, exaggerations, lapses, indiscretions, offenses and any other instances when you were not at your best. The rabbis teach ”Meshaneh Makom, Meshaneh Mazal”; ”Change your Place, Change your Luck”. When you change your position, you change your point of view. You may change your attitude. Priorities may change.
Yom Kippur provides an overnight and day long context to allow you to become more of the person you aspire to be. The process is so rich and substantive that preparing for it begins two months earlier with a day of fasting, totally different from the fast of cleansing and transformation associated with Yom Kippur, a holy day grounded in optimism.
It begins in the darkness and despair of the fast day of Tisha B’av, a day on which both storied Temples of Jerusalem fell, the First, to Babylonia, in 586 BCE, the Second, to Rome in 70 CE. According to tradition, they fell because the people had stopped or failed to live by basic Torah tenets: kindness, caring, justice, compassion, goodness and all values associated with doing mitzva. The lamenting on Tisha B’av is as much over losing our vision and way to live, as it is the destruction of our people and the loss of sovereignty in our own land, the result of turning away from the Torah Covenant.
Tisha B’av is followed in the Sabbath cycle by weeks of comfort from Prophet Isaiah, assuring us that we will come out of this okay, if we turn to, or return to, the path of Mitzvah, i.e. doing what is right, because it is right, even if it isn’t convenient or popular.
Raising spirits, with Isaiah’s comfort, we are welcomed into the month of Elul, forty days before Yom Kippur, time enough for Moses to go back up Mount Sinai, bring the people’s Teshuva before God, and receive a second, make up, set of 10 Commandments to the people. Elul is the month of change of perspective on God’s place and function in your life. Each of its letters suggests intimacy: ”I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” Elul is time to draw nearer and dearer in relationships, noticing the good qualities; it is time to resonate with what and whom you hold most dear. God’s presence translates into how you see the people and moments as they unfold, and what you do to prepare for the Days of Awe.
They are awesome because of what they can do for you; you get to start over, at least with anything you have had to deal with, where you let yourself down. You can start over with others, as well, but at a steep price; you have to turn to them and own up to your shortcomings or those they saw in you, even when you didn’t agree. The Days of Awe are awesome, also, for those who do the work of change, in how they face the past to straighten up the future.
Do what you can to keep from taking these days lightly, albeit they bathe you in light. Attitude is everything. Opening to them, as God given opportunities to turn your life around, is more fruitful than bracing yourself for overwhelming days of Repentance and Penitence, or worse, tedious rituals from the past to endure as part of the fall season.
Tisha B’Av brings us the very words we take refuge in, at the core of Yom Kippur: Hashivenu Adonai…
“Return us, O God, to You…and we will Return….Renew Our Days as the Best of Old” For Tisha B’Av, they are words of hope that a better day will dawn. For Yom Kippur, they are the means by which we will return to wholeness with the Power of the Universe and, in so doing, build newer and better and stronger bridges and relationships with each other.
Join me for the launch point: Sunday, August 10 at 10 AM, as we wallow in all the failed opportunities to have made this world the Garden of Eden that God had laid out. We will pray and study from 10 to noon, as we cease from eating the Sunday diet and feast on thoughts, reflections and feeling shared in this intimate gathering. That will be our B’nai Israel observance of Tisha B’Av as it falls on that Saturday night and Sunday. May it be the start, from the bottom, of a journey upward into blessing and well being for the coming year, for you, your dear ones, our communities, and our fragile world.