We just celebrated Shavuos, which has the best things: learning, cheesecake, and lots of time with family and friends. Now, I feel a little bit of a letdown. I mean, the next big thing on the Jewish calendar (Tisha B’Av) is, frankly, a bit of a bummer — what with the fasting and recalling unpleasant events in our history. And this is not even happening soon! How do I remain on a path of Jewish connection during the doldrums of summer?
You are totally spot on. Let’s review the Jewish year. I mean, after the marathon of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos/Simchas Torah, we look forward to a little bit of a breather and then the miracle of Chanukah. Then it’s Tu B’Shevat, Purim, and of course, the mother of all holidays that we need to prep for: Pesach. For the seven weeks following, we literally count the days until Shavuos. I mean, what other holiday do we spiritually connect with for so long than Shavuos? And on Shavuos, we cram extra learning into that first night so that we really feel a connection.
In your question, you talked about Tisha B’Av. Now, to be fair, there is some counting there as well. The period leading up to Tisha B’Av (July 21-22 this year) begins with the fast of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz (July 1 this year), the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. After that, the three weeks begin, which mark the period leading up to Tisha B’Av and come with some restrictions (no music, no haircuts, no weddings). When we get closer to Tisha B’Av, within the nine days, we add no meat, no wine, no swimming, and no new clothing to that list. These prohibitions help us to remember the destruction of the temple and other calamities that befell the Jewish people. Chabad.org reminded me that, “Our sages tell us that those who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it rebuilt with the coming of Moshiach [the Messiah]. May that day come soon, and then all of the mournful dates on the calendar will be transformed into days of tremendous joy and happiness.” This is a great thing to remember when you get to this period in the summer.
This year, however, I challenge you to prepare for another holiday for an even longer time. Which holiday, Rivkie, you may ask? Rosh Hashanah, I will tell you. Bam! You can start to prepare for Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur while you’re at it), right after Tisha B’Av. Then you have seven entire weeks. During approximately six of these you aren’t working on making round challahs, making Yom Tov menus, and buying honey. Weeks when you are happily packing your kids off to camp and dreamily enjoying breezy summer evenings. When your mind is relaxed, you are more open to learning new things. Every year, as I get to shul erev Rosh Hashanah, I lament the fact that I haven’t done more. This year, you can feel really prepared. I mean, none of us will ever truly be prepared when we are standing in judgment before Hashem, but you can get into the proper frame of mind by getting your head straight early. Read some books, listen to shiurim (lectures), or surf Jewish websites. Heck, make those New Year’s resolutions.
Some suggestions to get you started: Torah Anytime podcasts, for Torah literally anytime, include a plethora of Rosh Hashanah (and all kinds of other) shiurim archived for your listening pleasure; Chabad.org for your surfing pleasure; and “60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays,” by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, which takes you all the way through Simchas Torah, for your reading pleasure.
However you decide to prepare, keep in mind that in life, we are continually striving to do better, be better, have a closer connection to Hashem and to each other. But the better prepared we are, the more likely we are to succeed. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
Wishing you all the luck for a relaxing yet meaningful summer.
All the best,