Solitude for the renewal of spirit

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The other day I was lying on my float on a private lake at our vacation house in the Poconos.  It was a sunny day, the water was calm and there was no one else in sight.  With my eyes closed, all I heard was the chirping of birds and the occasional hum of a dragon fly. My mind began to wander and my heart filled with gratitude. I thanked God for the blessings of being rabbi and spiritual leader at Temple Sholom for 40 years – a whole generation of connections and memories and love!.  I smiled to myself as images of treasured moments with our daughter Keren and her husband Aryeh and their amazing children Caleb and Mimi flashed across my mind.  And then my thoughts turned to Chicago  and the magical wedding of our son Zach to his beautiful bride Courtney.

And I smiled with delight at the renewal of spirit that my solitude also brought.  I began to anticipate the amazing new opportunities that await me — combining my musical and pastoral skills as musical therapist at the Stein Hospice — returning to Cape May in less than a month for Shabbat on the Sand (a magical, mystical, musical Kabbalat Shabbat celebration) — enlivening the High Holidays with new approaches as Rabbi and Cantor at Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood (and possibly beyond) — and taking Farmer Kobi on the road throughout the Fall with musical Hanukkah family shows with my close friend and co-author the amazingly talented Karen Rostoker Gruber.  (Be sure to check out our new book Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match).  So much to look forward to and for which to be grateful.

And so my mind wandered to a relatively unknown upcoming opportunity on the Jewish calendar for reflection  and gratitude.

On July 30th at nightful we will begin to celebrate the 15th of Av (in Hebrew, Tu b’Av), one of the most mysterious days in the Jewish calendar. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said that there are no greater festivals for the Jewish people than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. Imagine that Yom Kippur is a close second to Tu B’Av!  The Talmud (Taanit 26b) tells us that in ancient times the unmarried people of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards on the evening of Tu B’Av — and so Tu B’Av became the Jewish lovers’ festival.  We are also told to take advantage of the longer nights to increase our study of Torah, since nighttime was created for study and contemplation. And finally,since Tu B’Av comes on the “full moon” of the tragic month of Av, it is a festival of new beginnings and future redemption.

That is why there is a custom of beginning to greet people by saying ketivah vechatimah tovah — may you be written and sealed for good — the same blessing we use to greet people on Rosh Hashanah. The mystics noted that the gematriah  (Jewish numerology in which each Hebrew letter has a number value) of the Hebrew phrase ketivah vechatimah tovah adds up to 928, as do the words for the “15th of Av.”

I invite you to find a place of solitude for yourself in the coming days as we count down to Tu B’Av.  Close your eyes.  Think about the things for which you are grateful — and anticipate the blessings that await you.  Think about commitment and love — two of the most basic components of all human relationships as well as the foundation for our relationship with God.

Beginning with the 15th of Av, I like to start preparing myself spiritually for the month of Elul, the overture to the coming Days of Awe. The days begin to get shorter and the nights longer. And before you know it, a new Jewish year will be upon us.

Wishing you all a Happy Tu b’Av, and since it falls on Friday let me also wish you all a Shabbat Shalom–a Shabbat of peace and renewal.

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