(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When stores here start pushing everything from floral arrangements to
heart-shaped chocolates at those in a relationship, it can only mean one thing –
Tu Be’av is here again.
Tu Be’av (15th of Av), also known as Hag Ha’ahava
(Holiday of Love), is more than just an imitation of Valentine’s Day. This
“minor” holiday was popular in the times of the Second Temple and its
celebration is described in the Talmud: “There were no better days for Israel
than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, when the maidens of Jerusalem would go
out...and dance in the vineyards.”
Unmarried girls would dress in
simple white clothing (so that rich could not be distinguished from poor) and go
out to sing and dance in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem while the young
single men would go to watch and choose among them wives for themselves. Hence,
the 15th of Av became an auspicious day for matchmaking and weddings – and
ultimately heart-shaped candies too.
But there are other events which
occurred on Tu Be’av. The Talmud and its commentators list several historical
events which occurred on this day that merit celebration.
It was the day
on which members of different tribes were first permitted to marry each other.
It was also the day on which the tribe of Binyamin was permitted to rejoin and
marry into the nation after the episode of the concubine of Gibeah
(Judges.19-21). On Tu Be’av, Hosea ben Elah removed the roadblocks which
Jeroboam ben Nebat had placed on the roads to prevent the people from going up
to Jerusalem. On this day, the Romans allowed those who fell defending Betar to
be buried. Tu Be’av was also the day when the cutting of wood for the altar was
THERE IS one additional event that occurred on Tu Be’av which
I want to explore. We are told that by Tu Be’av on the 40th and final year of
the Israelites wandering in the desert, the last of the generation of the sin of
the spies, which had been forbidden to enter the Promised Land, died out. Why is
this event cause for celebration? The Torah relates that the entire generation
of Israelites who experienced the exodus from Egypt was sentenced to die while
in the desert for believing the negative report of the spies about the land of
Israel. According to Midrash Lamentations Rabba, every year until the 40th year,
on the eve of the Ninth of Av, the night which they cried at hearing the report,
Moses would command the people, “Go out and dig,” and the people would leave the
camp, dig graves and sleep in them overnight. The following morning a messenger
would proclaim, “Let the living separate from the dead!” Fifteen thousand would
die that very night, but the survivors would return to the camp for another
This occurred year after year, but in the 40th year no one
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Since they thought they might have miscalculated the days, they
slept in their graves an additional night. This went on for five nights
the 15th of Av, when they saw the full moon, realized that their
were correct and rejoiced that no more of the first generation would
subsequently declared Tu Be’av a day of celebration. The “desert
finally died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the
try to imagine this scene, people digging then rising from graves, and
me the creeps.
It sounds like the plot of some Twilight vampire novel my
teenage nieces are currently hooked on or a scene from Michael Jackson’s
Thriller video with all those dancing zombies.
But it is apparent to me
that the point being made is not about the dead, but about staying
Obviously, those Israelites were delighted when they saw the full
moon on Tu Be’av and realized that the decree had ended, that their
been lifted, and that they were among the living and not the dead, but
more to it than that. Not only were they alive, it meant that they were
lucky ones who would soon be entering the Promised Land.
OFTEN I hear
stories of people living in the Diaspora who buy burial plots in Israel
want their final resting place to be in the Holy Land. Others bring over
bodies of their deceased relatives to be interred. All of this is quite
admirable, but perhaps the real message of Tu Be’av might be the call to
here, not when you pass away, but to live. I am always amazed when I
another Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya flight landing at Ben-Gurion Airport with a
planeload of new immigrants from North America. Nobody is surprised to
that there are babies on board, but I always smile when I hear the ages
oldest immigrants – in their 80s and even 90s.
It is encouraging to see
that the desire to live here is strong no matter what one’s age.
Be’av will always be known as Hag Ha’ahava, but maybe it can apply not
love of other people, but to love of the land of Israel as well. Maybe
turn Hag Ha’ahava into Hag Ha’aliya.
The writer has an MA in creative
writing from Bar-Ilan University.
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