5 thoughts on “Tu B’Av

  1. Wendy Berk

    From Rishe Groner

    Posted on the Lilith Blog
    Why Tu B’Av Is Much More Than Just “Jewish Valentine’s Day”

    When I was in elementary school, our Australian Jewish private school had a strict uniform, down to accessories: only navy blue knee-high socks or tights, and navy or royal blue hair bows or scrunchies. (It was 1993). Once a year, though, I remember that my sister and I whipped out the white frou frou barrettes we’d worn at our aunt’s wedding, and donned the white knee-high socks we wore on weekends. We’d get to school and there’d be Israeli dancing in the assembly area, following the steps announced by a heavily accented teacher. It was Tu B’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar worth remembering and celebrating zestfully. With our white clothing and our dancing, we were almost, if not quite, imitating the traditions of our ancestors.
    Ancestors—aka the ladies of Shiloh. The maidens of ancient Israel and Judea who each year at the grape harvest would celebrate ecstatically with dances through the vineyards and onto the wine press. As they squeezed the grapes with their bare feet, they drew the glances of young men who came to the annual festival to find their chosen wives. And with it, the most unusual mating ritual until The Bachelorette. Maidens garbed themselves in white dresses, perhaps imagining themselves as Anne Shirley’s “heroine in a white muslin dress,” looking their best for their gentlemen suitors––but with a catch. No woman wore clothing that was her own. The poorest maiden wore elaborate dresses from her rich neighbors, while the daughter of the mayor borrowed a simple shift from an acquaintance. The maidens would call out across the fields at the gentlemen spectators, shouting out their traits as if in a cattle market.
    “Look not to riches, for a woman with pious deeds is worth more than rubies!” The daughter of the baker would shout.
    “Worry not about the beauty of your wife, for far more important is her family and illustrious ancestors!” The daughter of the Torah scholar who did not meet conventional beauty standards might announce.
    Each woman would find ways to showcase the value of her particular brand of beauty—while, the Talmud tells us, criticizing the conventional modes of beauty that might be priorities for others.
    Tu B’Av is the full-moon holiday, a moment when all is illuminated in the fullest expression of the divine feminine symbolized by the moon. On this day, historical events that commemorate triumph for the continuity of the Jewish people are celebrated, from the end of a ban against the tribal intermarriage which threatened the end of the tribe of Benjamin (punishment for a sanctioned gang-rape that had happened years earlier…) to the survival of the last remaining generation who wandered the wilderness following the Egyptian exodus, after a mandated annual death ritual that was miraculously cut short in the final year of desert wanderings. The dance, the full moon, the courtship, the grapes turning to wine and the white-clad maidens of Shiloh—each are essential symbols of redeeming the feminine and bringing her fullest expression, to ensure continuity not just of the Jewish people, but of humanity as a whole.
    This year, Tu B’Av takes place on Monday August 7th, the day of a partial lunar eclipse which is followed two weeks later by a complete solar eclipse. Eclipses bring change and transformation, and with the lunar eclipse we are able to reevaluate our relationship with the moon, and all that is represented by the feminine.
    According to legend, recounted in the Midrash and analyzed and extrapolated on in Kabbalistic literature, the moon was diminished following her creation on the fourth day in Genesis, bringing with it a world of hierarchy, linear expression and abstraction––and brought all that the feminine represented into second-class status. From the physical earth to emotions and intuition, all were maligned for their sacred essence and turned secondary in favor of a hierarchical, masculine presence. The sacred act of dancing, of transforming fruit into wine and using the human body as a tool for creation and connection are all celebrated on Tu B’Av, while taking secondary status most of the year.
    It’s in the act of dancing that we birth ourselves into completion. It’s by returning to the fields that we plug ourselves back into the essence of our being, feeling the sacred earth under our feet, as the dancing maidens crushed the grapes under their feet. It’s in wearing white that we come to terms with our own innate purity, letting go of that which doesn’t serve to be free, dancing in the fields with wild abandon. It’s under the full moon that we come into full expression of our femininity—not just for women, but for all beings who suffer from the trapped nature of the Shechinah, the embodied, Divine feminine presence. It’s through the sanctity of the grape, a fruit that represents potential as it evolves from vine to fruit to juice to wine, bringing with it the potential of internal growth and new perspectives through the hallucinogenic properties of the wine. And it’s in the dance that the integration takes place, embodying these new horizons with a physical act that is the harbinger of the new life to come.
    To embody the Divine nature of love, to truly prepare the body for connection with another being, the dance is necessary for becoming a complete container for the Divine. And it’s the women who lead the dance, the maidens who epitomize that freedom as they run through the vineyards, tossing their tresses and laughing off their wine-stained garments. It’s in removing hierarchy and stripping away the lines that divine us that the Divine feminine truly comes back into her fullest power of expression. And it’s in the dance of Tu B’Av that we finally begin to come back to ourselves in a state of ultimate Divine—and human—love.

  2. Wendy

    From My Jewish Learning

    Baseless Love
    How Tu B’Av, the “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” can prepare us for Yom Kippur.


    While I did not know the term “earworm” at the time, certain songs from my mixtape era replay in my head at certain moments. Most recently, following a discussion about an upcoming “Summer of Love” Shabbat service, I can’t get these Victoria Williams lyrics out of my head; from an unfortunately named song, they seem appropriate for this 50th anniversary of the summer of love … from someone who wasn’t there. In the mid-1990s, she sang, “We were too late to be hippies, missed out on the love…”

    As those words were hanging out there, up popped an alert on my phone, a story and photo essay about the riots in Newark, N.J. — 50 years ago this summer. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Israel’s Six-Day War, a time of serious reflection in the Israeli and American Jewish Diaspora community. For reasons geographic and systemic, it’s fair to say that plenty of people around back then missed out on the love, too.

    The good news? It’s not too late to get in on the Summer of Love, 2017 style. Each year, in the dog days of summer, our text and our tradition point us towards love. Coming out of the intense mourning of Tisha B’Av, we find ourselves poised at the nexus of Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort and Shabbat Vaetchanan, this Shabbat on which we read the Torah’s commandment to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength. And just days from now, largely unnoticed outside of Israel, we’ll celebrate Tu B’Av—the “Jewish Valentine’s Day.” And, while the modern celebrations mirror our Hallmark holiday, Tu B’Av appears in rabbinic literature and beyond as a day of comfort and healing, a return to love after the pain and grief of Tisha B’Av — commemorating tragedies in Jewish history and considered to be the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.

    The most well-known text about Tu B’Av appears in the Talmud, which boldly states that:

    There never were in Israel greater days of joy than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur . On these days the daughters of Jerusalem used to walk out in white garments which they borrowed in order not to put to shame any one who had none …

    The daughters of Jerusalem came out and danced in the vineyards exclaiming at the same time, “Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty but set your eyes on [good] family.” As it says, “Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that fears the lord, she shall be praised.” (Ta’anit 26b)
    At first glance, it seems strange to put Tu B’Av, a seemingly frivolous day, with Yom Kippur, the holy of holy days. For the rabbis, though, the connection was clear, and even today, Tisha B’Av marks the beginning of the counting towards the High Holy Days; this Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu, is the first of the 7 Shabbatot of consolation, that lead us to Rosh Hashanah.

    My colleague, Rabbi Sharon Brous, spoke several years ago about what she called “Yom Kippur Love,” which she described as:

    love that starts from a place of deep honesty and vulnerability. Yom Kippur love says: I’m giving you access to my fears, my hopes, to me. I will let you see the best and also the worst of me. I will let you see my soul – and I want to see yours. Show me your scars – I promise not to run.
    And so, the question for us — the question of these days of consolation —i s how do we get to that sort of love? How do we create it, cultivate it, and offer it?

    The days leading up to Tisha B’Av are meant to be days of vulnerability, of uncertainty, of tension and of anxiety. We know that, and our tradition teaches, it takes a while to move out of that space; we do not wake up the next day suddenly feeling grounded and ready to move forward. Tu B’Av, according to another Midrash, is the day we say that we are ready to move forward, that we are ready to begin healing, that we are ready to begin growing. Maybe we are also ready to love. And that, I think, is how we inch toward Yom Kippur love. If Tisha B’Av breaks us down, communally, perhaps Tu B’Av begins to raise us up. We need both the shattering and the rebuilding — to be able to stand both broken and whole come Yom Kippur.

    The work of the month of Elul is clearly laid out for us; it is the work of cheshbon hanefesh, of an accounting of our souls, our actions, of taking stock of who we are now and who we want to be next year. But what do we do until then? Love. If the cause of Tisha B’Av, according to the sages, is sinat chinam — baseless hatred, what would it look like to live our lives in ahavat chinam, in baseless love.

    I was deeply moved when Lin Manuel Miranda, of “Hamilton” fame, accepted his 2016 Tony Award with a sonnet composed that day, in the wake of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

    We chase the melodies that seem to find us

    Until they’re finished songs and start to play

    When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

    That nothing here is promised, not one day.

    This show is proof that history remembers

    We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;

    We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer

    And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
    The Torah gives us three separate obligations to love. One, quoted by Rabbi Hillel as the essence, the unifying principle, of Judaism: v’ahavta l’re-echa kamocha: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Then, there’s the one we will read this Shabbat,: v’ahavta et Adonai elohecha—you shall love Adonai your God. And, just a few chapters later: V’ahavtem et ha-ger: you, all of you, shall love the stranger.

    Not your partner. Not your parents. Not your children. You shall love: Neighbor, God, stranger. The words of the V’ahavta, taken from this week’s Torah portion, are recited not just once a year but daily. We are commanded, to love people — and a Being — we may never meet, never know, never touch. We are commanded to love not just those with whom we share hopes and dreams, not those with whom we share the joys and challenges of everyday life — but, in fact, those who can seem most distant, most different.

    Tu B’Av is not meant to be transformative, but it is meant to be preparatory. And if we can figure out how to love our neighbor, our God, and the stranger, perhaps we will be ready to love more deeply our spouse, our parents, our children and ourselves. Perhaps, if we can look at the world — or someone in it — with ahavat chinam tomorrow, then we might be ready, seven or so weeks from now, to stand before our neighbor, our God, and ourselves, ready for that Yom Kippur love.

  3. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    This week, in which we read the story of the spies in the book of Numbers, is the beginning of the time when we are looking towards Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av, the day of fasting for the destruction of the first and second Temple and the loss of political freedom for the Jewish people. This year Tisha B’Av will fall out on July 15-16. The next special date in the calendar after that is the celebration of Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av), followed by the New Year for the animals, followed a month later by Rosh Hashanah.

    According to midrash, the first Tisha B’Av calamity happened in the desert, in this parshah (Torah portion), when the spies returned from “touring” the land (the word in Hebrew and English is the same) and convinced the people that they would not be able to defeat the Canaanites. When the people all refused to “go up” to the land and were about ready to stone Moshe, God appeared and swore that all of that generation would fall in the desert (literally their corpses would fall in the desert)–and that, according to their word, they would not be allowed to go up. This happened on Tisha B’Av.

    Now, nobody died a natural death in the wilderness, i.e. from disease or old age, because, under the care of the Shekhinah (God’s presence), nothing wore out–not their clothes and not their bodies. So all that generation that eventually died would die a kind of painless but unnatural death. The midrash explains how this happened: on Erev Tisha B’Av everyone would dig a grave for themselves and lie down for the night in it. In the morning, those who awoke would bury those who didn’t.

    In the fortieth year of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert, they lay down in their erstwhile graves, but the next morning everyone woke up. They went through the same ritual for the next few nights, thinking that maybe they got the date wrong, and the same thing happened. By the time of the full moon, they realized that in fact the ninth of Av had passed, and no one was dying–meaning the oath God made against them was ended. So the fiteenth of the month was a tremendous celebration.

    The Mishnah in Taanit says that there were no better days (or no greater holiday celebrations) in ancient Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur–but it doesn’t give this reason for the celebration. Instead it says that the daughters of Israel would borrow white dresses from each other and go dance in the fields, and the young men would chase after them into the fields, and they would choose each other. A bit like Beltane actually.

    But a different Mishnah also says something similar about the festival of Sukkot, particularly about the in-between days of Sukkot, when there were no holiday restrictions, when the people and the rabbis would party all night (the event was called Simchat Beit Hashoevah–“The Joy of Drawing the Water”). The Mishnah says that the joy in Jerusalem was so great that one who never witnessed it has never seen joy.

    And I was thinking–in what way was Tu B’Av greater than Sukkot, and in what way was Sukkot greater than Tu B’Av?

    Perhaps in the case of Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, because all the people had passed through the intense grief of mourning for the Temples on Tisha B’Av or the intense uncertainty of being judged on Yom Kippur for life or death, and emerged, the depth of joy was very great. And that joy was greatest because it was the result of a profound internal process each person had gone through, which included passing through mourning and grief and loss. To me this is connected with “waking up” in the spiritual sense. And the first Tu B’Av was a celebration of waking up.

    And in the case of Sukkot, there was a kind of opposite process, one in which people entered into a kind of forgetful state of abandonment. The Mishnah describes a carnival-like atmosphere, with rabbis juggling torches (fire dancing!), all kinds of performances, with the night also lit up by thousands of torches. So that the joy was experienced at night.

    Forgetting onself versus remembering oneself. Both can lead to great joy, but to different kinds of joy.

    These images of joy are images of public or shared joy, and not just individual joy, even though they also involve individual fulfillment and/or expression.

    One more thing: the reason why the young women borrowed dresses from each other was so that no one would be distinguished by their property or class. The Gemara also explains that the highest class would borrow dresses from those lower in class than them, so that the king’s daughter would borrow from the high priest’s daughter, and so on, and no one would be put to shame because she didn’t have a beautiful white dress.

    Living in a society in which class distinctions and wealth distinctions are so important, as we do, and as they did in ancient Israel, the only way for everyone to be free and to be joyful is when we can create spaces and times in which those distinctions are erased.

    The Gemara in Taanit ends with another image of joy, which confirms this interpretation. “In the days to come the Holy One, blessed be, will make a circle-dance for the righteous and will sit in their midst in the Garden of Eden, and every one of them will point a finger towards the Holy One, saying, “This is our God” as it is said, ‘And it shall be said in that day: This is our God, for whom we waited…we will be glad and rejoice…’” The point of this image is not that God is a physical presence that can stand in one place. Rather, it means that in the ultimate reality, there will not be higher and lower, those closer to God and those further away, but we will be in a circle, each one equal in relation to joy and truth and enlightenment.

    Those rigidities which separate us from each other and make one person higher than another also separate us from our joy. May we all be honored and privileged to experience the state of beautiful equality in the world-to-come, and in our days!

  4. Wendy

    From Rabbi Izchak Marmorstein

    We have emerged from Tisha Be’av -the ninth of Av- the day of destruction and from the period of negative history that marks the three week period between Tammuz 17 and Av 9.

    Each month of the Israelite calendar has a unique permutation of YudHehVavHeh-the four letter Divine Name. The Bnai Issachar explains that Tu BeAv -the 15th of Av is the moment of realignment of the Divine Name after a 6 week period of dissonance.

    The permutation of the Divine Name in Tammuz is HehVovHeyYud (the Divine Name backwards). The Av permutation is HehVavYudHeh-the first half backwards and then it realigns and continues as YH. Fifteenth of Av is the beginning of the realignment and hence a significant moment in our calendar.

    This deep realignment manifested as a time of great celebration.
    According to the Mishna, Tu B’Av was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, marking the beginning of the grape harvest.
    Yom Kippur marked the end of the grape harvest.

    On both dates, the unmarried girls of Jerusalem dressed in white garments, and went out to dance in the vineyards (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Ta’anit 30b-31a). And what would they say? “Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for yourself….”
    This was the holy day to meet your love match.

    In honor of the holy day of love, I would love to offer Torah of the Rebbe of Love, Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook TZ’L (1865-1935).

    As the spiritual leader of the return to Israel he gave expression to the Torah of Love transforming the the Torah of Yirah-Awe/Fear that characterized the Torah during our long exile from Israel.

    From Midot HaRayah-The Moral Principles-
    “The heart must be filled with love for all.
    The love of all creation comes first, then comes the love for all humankind, and then follows the love for the Jewish people…
    All these loves are to be expressed in practical action-to love is to do good to others them and to seek their elevation….

    The love for people must be alive in heart and soul, a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement…

    The whole Torah, its moral teachings, the commandments, the good deeds and the studies have as their objective to remove the roadblocks, so that universal love should be able to spread, to extend to all realms of life.”

    Rav Kook was (and is) the poet of love.
    He gives this full expression in his poem
    “Shirati Yafati-My Song, My Beauty”.

    “My song, my beauty,
    Beloved of my youth,
    My heart was stirred
    In the beauty of your eyes.

    You approached to commune
    On mountains of fragrance,
    And my spirit rose
    At the sound of your footsteps.

    Years passed,
    Without pleasure and light,
    You hid from me,
    And your footsteps disappeared.

    This heart of the lover
    Was like a withered leaf,
    Choking in agony,
    Yearning for a vision of your being.

    My soul was mute
    From whence your forgot me,
    And the songs of life
    Were strangled in silence.

    Return my beloved
    To your abandoned lover,
    In the light of your eyes
    Illuminate his darkness.

    A sleeping spark of God
    Returns, awakened,
    And the empty heart
    Is filled with the spirit of life.

    My violin, my beauty,
    In spirit I will awaken,
    I will speak of the heights
    That fill my heart.

    I will sing to life,
    To the Divine and the people,
    To the heavens and the stars,
    To the fields and meadows.

    To every ray of life,
    In every hidden corner,
    The every spark of courage
    Stored in every soul.

    Bring me your beauty
    After this long separation,
    Return to me your joy,
    My beauty, my song.”
    TuBe Av Sameach-A Joyous Holy Day of Love.


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