Repentance, redemption and love

15 Av 5773/July 21-22, 2013

Tonight is Tu b’Av, one of the matchmaking dates in Jewish tradition.  Today it’s an Israeli version of Valentine’s Day, and I’ve heard that starting from today, we can extend New Year’s wishes.

I think it’s significant that the season of teshuva/repentance starts with love.  Maimonides (Mishna Torah, Laws of Teshuva ch. 7:3) writes that we must repent not only for evil deeds but also for evil character traits.  In this spirit, humanity needs to repent for the sins of bigotry and senseless hatred between human beings.  Jews and the Jewish community share in this need.

Many Jews have lamented the lack of respect and understanding between Jews, and I share this concern.  But it’s pointless, and not even desirable, to expect this to improve if we tolerate prejudice toward others.  A fortress mentality does not foster open and loving character traits.  Further,if you share the conviction that God intends people to respect each other and accept obligations to each other, it follows that prejudice draws the same consequence as any sin.  If someone wants to sin, Heaven permits him (Yoma 38b).  If we persist in hating the “other”, Heaven will permit us to become unable to love “our own”.

But if someone wants to improve, Heaven will not only permit but will encourage her (Yoma 38b).  Let us cultivate the state of mind described in the Haftara for Yom Kippur morning:

“Share your bread with the hungry, bring the poor to your house, when you see the naked, cover him, and do not hide from your own flesh….If you remove from yourself the yoke, finger-pointing and evil speech, and draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul… then God shall lead you always… and you shall be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:7-11).

The weeks leading up to Rosh haShana also feature the prophecies of redemption.  If we dedicate ourselves to a vision of a just and cooperative world, we may achieve more than we thought possible.



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