It’s Yom Kippur and love is in the air.
Love? Isn’t this a day of fasting, and praying? Of admitting our guilt? Certainly so, and yet there is something more fundamental about this day. Yom Kippur is a day of recommitment to relationship with the Divine.
There is a striking Mishna at the end of Tractate Ta’anit, “R. Simeon ben Gamaliel said, ‘Never were more joyous festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the Women of Jerusalem used to go out dressed in white garments… and thus they went out and danced in the vineyards.’” The women would go out to the fields to find partners.
Thus, Tu B’av, the 15th day of Av, is known as the Jewish Valentine’s day – but what does this have to do with Yom Kippur?
Tu B’av follows closely on the heels of the 9th of Av, the day when we commemorate the destruction of the two Temples, among other tragedies, signifying the rendering of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Then, just six days later, we are asked to commit a remarkable act of faith. To stand up, shake off our ashes and our destruction, go into the fields and rebuild relationship. Our past does not dictate our future.
Interestingly, Yom Kippur has a similar theme of reconnection. It is the day when God forgives the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf, perhaps the greatest act of betrayal by the Jewish people. Moses is called to Mount Sinai on the first day of Elul, for another forty days of repenting and praying, and on Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei the second set of tablets are given, the ultimate symbol of reconciliation and restoration of relationship.
On both Yom Kippur and Tu B’av, we are asked to put the past in the past, and restore our relationship with God.
On Yom Kippur this is done through the very act of admitting our mistakes. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, 19th C, in his Siddur commentary, teaches us that the repentance process begins by admitting our guilt. “It is not God who needs an avowal or confession from us, for he knows us through and through; in fact much better than we know ourselves. But we are very much in need of honest and unreserved confession; it is to ourselves that we must admit that we have done wrong, for without such a confession to ourselves we can never become better.”
This act of confession allows us to delve deeper. We recognize our imperfections, we admit our humanity, and then we shake off our sins and our ashes, and restate our commitment to relationship.
This Yom Kippur, as we dress in white and confess our sins, we can let go of our perception of ourselves as sinners, and instead choose to see ourselves as lovers. We are again invited into direct relationship with the divine, and thus, into deeper relationship with ourselves.
This article was originally published in the Limmud publication A Taste of Limmud for the High Holy Days.