In contrast to 9 B’Av last week – the saddest day in the Jewish calendar – this week had Tu B’Av – one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar. Tu B’Av is celebrated on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Av: “Tu” is really טו – the letters tet and vav in Hebrew which have the numerical value of 15 (ט = 9 and ו = 6).
Tu B’Av is more than Israel’s commercialized version of ‘Valentine’s Day.’ It actually is a day with ancient roots dating back to Second Temple times.
According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:8) Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: “There were no better [i.e., more joyous] days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white…and dance in the vineyards.” The unmarried women were joined by their potential partners in the vineyards, and would say: “Lift up your eyes and consider who you choose [to be your wife].”
Just as many tragic events are reported to have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av, the rabbis attribute, in Taanit 30b, a number of joyous events to Tu B’Av.
On this day in Biblical times, according to Rav Yehuda, members of the different tribes of Israel were allowed to marry one another. They had been prohibited from doing so out of fear that ‘intermarriages’ between the tribes would disrupt the system of tribal land inheritance. It is also speculated from the story in the Book of Judges describing the outbreak of civil war between Benjamin and the other tribes, that all the other tribes vowed not to allow marriages between themselves and Benjamin. We can only imagine how painful the prohibition of “intermarriage” among the tribes was for star-crossed lovers who would have been unable to marry their heart’s beloved. It truly would have been a joyous day when, on some Tu B’Av long ago, the prohibition was overturned.
Also on Tu B’Av, according to the midrash, the last of the generation of slaves had died in the desert, so there were no deaths that day and, going forward, the new post-slavery generation could enter the Land of Israel. Others suggest that from the 15th of Av no more trees were cut down for the season, so that is a cause for both the world and its nature – as well as the people – to celebrate. Tu B’Av is also the day we can begin to notice that the sun sets earlier heading already towards winter: Those who study Torah at night will now have their reward for the mitzvah of learning increased.
May we and all the People of Israel – and all the world – merit the happiness produced by the themes of Tu B’Av as their own reward: Love, companionship, unity, freedom, learning, and understanding.
Rabbi Michael Schwartz