Jet-lagged, travel-weary, and a little anxious, I caught myself smiling at my reflection in the mirror of the hotel bathroom in Jerusalem. I was serving as the rabbi for a group of 39 couples who were experiencing Israel together for the first time.
On this trip, designed specifically for couples, I found myself, ironically, without my husband for the longest stretch of time in recent memory. It bears mentioning that he and I do almost everything together; we wait to watch (most) of our favorite shows together, to eat at certain restaurants, and even try to do many of our day-to-day errands together. Being halfway across the globe, in one of my favorite places without him felt more than a bit sad.
The group had made it to our luxurious hotel with only an hour to spare before Shabbat, so I’d beelined for my room and a shower. I’d laughed as I’d walked into the beautiful room with the massive fruit plate and chocolates on both sides of the already-turned-down bed, slowly realizing that for the next 10 days, luxurious rooms like this would be… all mine!
As that reality made its way into my homesick heart, Lizzo’s “Soulmate,” came on my playlist. Its words – I’m my own soulmate, I know how to love me, I know that I’m always gonna hold it down – added punctuation to the gently forming thought that I might actually have a really awesome week of self-care ahead of me.
There’s nothing like a song to come hurtling out of the cosmos, smack you upside the head, and redirect your attention to what’s really happening. Rather than pining away for my husband or fighting anxiety about my first real “rabbi” moment of the trip, I smiled at my reflection and joined in on the chorus: “She’s the one, one, one, one, one, one, one!”
Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, often referred to as “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” celebrates love at the end of the summer – just as the days start to feel shorter and the nights stretch out a bit longer. In the days when the Temple stood, single young women would come to the Temple, dressed in white, as if to say, “Here I am, love! Come and find me!” and feast and fest with the young men in the hopes of finding a mate.
In typical Jewish fashion, this joyous day falls hot on the heels of one of the most somber days on the Jewish calendar: Tishah B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day upon which Jews the world-over mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as other calamities throughout Jewish history. Between the deep mourning we’re meant to experience on the 9th and the wild hope of the 15th lies a sustainable middle ground ripe for exploration: self-love and self-care.
Mourning is one of the hardest forms of self-care out there, forcing us to face our toughest emotions, give them voice, and work to let them go. By contrast, the exciting days of new love are, perhaps, the worst for self-care! We lose sleep, appetite, and all rational thought as we focus almost solely on catching or being caught by another.
What if the message of this month of Av is an invitation to find a balance between these two extremes?
In fact, a few years ago I was invited to play with the idea of creating a ritual for the month of Av. As in Jerusalem, I’d had a bathroom epiphany. (I guess that’s where I do my best thinking.) As I was completing my morning routine – face washing, teeth brushing, and moisturizing – all to promote physical wellness, I wondered what might happen if I were to apply a bit of intention – of love – to that routine? What if I took time to appreciate the image in the mirror instead of critiquing it? What if I offered a goofy smile to the tooth-brushing face in front of me and stretched out some sore neck muscles at the same time?
With those thoughts, came the epiphany: Routine plus intention equals ritual! And just like that, a ritual for the month of Av was born – a challenge to myself (and, indeed, to all of us) to apply extra TLC, in the form of self-love and self-care, at the same time I apply my daily SPF.
Yes, technically, Tu B’Av’s focus is all about romantic, fairy-tale love, but if you’re alienated by couples-driven experiences, you don’t want or need a mate, or you already have a great one, Tu B’Av can be a perfect reminder to love yourself! In a culture that still insists on telling young people (and not so young people) that having a partner is the ultimate expression of fulfillment and success, self-love is a radical act. This Tu B’Av, try turning around that gooey, romantic, hope-filled love and directing it at yourself.
To learn more about bringing self-care into your life, check out "5 Ways to Practice Radical Self-Care During the High Holidays."