A different kind of love

Tu Be'av is more than Israel's Valentine's Day.

chocolate 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
chocolate 311
(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 completed.
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 year.
This occurred year after year, but in the 40th year no one died.
Since they thought they might have miscalculated the days, they slept in their graves an additional night. This went on for five nights until the 15th of Av, when they saw the full moon, realized that their calculations were correct and rejoiced that no more of the first generation would die. They subsequently declared Tu Be’av a day of celebration. The “desert generation” had finally died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the land! I try to imagine this scene, people digging then rising from graves, and it gives 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 alive.
Obviously, those Israelites were delighted when they saw the full moon on Tu Be’av and realized that the decree had ended, that their “curse” had been lifted, and that they were among the living and not the dead, but there is more to it than that. Not only were they alive, it meant that they were the 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 as they want their final resting place to be in the Holy Land. Others bring over the 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 come here, not when you pass away, but to live. I am always amazed when I hear of another Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya flight landing at Ben-Gurion Airport with a planeload of new immigrants from North America. Nobody is surprised to learn that there are babies on board, but I always smile when I hear the ages of the 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.
True, Tu Be’av will always be known as Hag Ha’ahava, but maybe it can apply not only to love of other people, but to love of the land of Israel as well. Maybe we can turn Hag Ha’ahava into Hag Ha’aliya.

The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.