va’etchanan 5779

Tu b’Av

Destruction, lamentation and exile — the major (in minor mode) motifs of Tish’a b’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av. Both of the ancient Holy Temples were destroyed on that day, and many other calamities in Jewish history are pegged to 9 Av.

But come the full moon in the middle of the Jewish calendar month and there’s another kind of commemoration: Tu b’Av, the 15th of Av!

Here’s a bit about 15 Av from the Talmud (c. 500 CE):

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: “There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur.” The [anonymous editor] asks: “Granted, Yom Kippur is a day of joy because of pardon and forgiveness, and…it is the day on which the [second] pair of tablets were given [to Moses]. However, what’s with the fifteenth of Av?” (B Taanit 30b)

Then the sages go to town, attaching to 15 Av everything from Biblical-era permission to marry someone of a different tribe to a miracle related to those killed in the 132 CE Bar Kochba rebellion; from the seasonal changing angle and duration of sunlight to love.

Love? Love! The Mishna (edited c. 200 CE) explains:

[As on Yom Kippur afternoon, on 15 Av] the [unmarried] daughters of Jerusalem would go out in [borrowed] white clothes…so as not to embarrass one who did not have her own white garments.…[The women] would dance in the vineyards [where young men looking for a mate would congregate.]  And what would the women say? “Young man, please lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself for a wife. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family…]

Or, “pick me!”

The origin of 15 Av is obscure, but its timing is genius. We’ve just spent three weeks descending into Tish’a b’Av — a day of mourning and lamentation — through deprivation, penitential texts, biblical readings and fasting. And less than a week later, on the full moon (with all its portents), we seek to build the future of our people. 

In modern Israel, 15 Av has become something of a Day of Romance, likened to Valentine’s Day. Isn’t it sweet that a focus on romance, love and marriage is a bridge from the agony of exile to the promise of a new year just six weeks later?

15 Av begins tonight and ends at Shabbat. Need I say more?