This Thursday night marks the arrival of a Jewish holiday so minor that most Jews don’t even know it exists! This holiday, Tu B’Av (the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Av) is considered to be the Jewish equivalent to Valentine’s Day. Even though it’s observance has grown exponentially in recent years, most Jews still don’t observe it in anyway. In reality, how many of us wouldn’t want to celebrate a Jewish Day of Love?!
Tu B’Av’s beginnings go back thousands of years. We learn about this holiday from the Talmud. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel shares:
There were no happier days for Israel than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes, that were borrowed, so that none should be embarrassed if they did not own white garments… The daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? “Young man, please lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family, as the verse states: “Grace is deceptive and beauty short-lived, but a woman loyal to God, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
No wonder Tu B’Av was considered to be one of the happiest days of the years! Men and Women would gather in a beautiful vineyard. Wearing white garments, they would sing and dance. New couples were created; Love was truly in the air!
The Israelites gathered to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. They didn’t have access to J-Date or Tinder or any of the other technological apps of our day. Instead, they found “The One” by meeting each other in-person at a Vineyard. You’d think that looks would be a defining factor as they searched for love. But that wasn’t the case! The Talmud tells us that they didn’t set their eyes towards beauty, but towards a good family. You’d think that being well dressed or well put-together would be important. However, each of the women wore the same borrowed dress, no one stood out in anyway.
No, what truly mattered was the values they each possessed. The men and women looked for a significant other that had a deep commitment to family and friends. They searched for a partner who was loyal not only to God, but to the community of which they were a part. It was the heart that mattered, not the exterior.
I’m not so naïve to believe that looks or beauty didn’t matter to the ancient Israelites. We recognize human nature and the need for a physical connection in lust and longing. But, there is something different about love! Tu B’Av reminds us that for love to exist, there must be something more. A foundation built upon looks or beauty, will not stand the test of time. Love lasts when our relationship is about the heart and the values we each possess. Love lasts when we know in our heart of hearts that our significant other protects us, supports us, and is by our side no matter what.
Tu B’Av might be a minor Jewish holiday, but it’s also a perfect time to celebrate love! Find that special person in your life and thank them: perhaps it’s flowers, or chocolates, or a romantic dinner. But whatever it is, may this day be a reminder of what makes love last: by caring for each other, supporting each other, and making your loved one the center of your world.
Rabbi Andrew Gordon serves Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights, New York.