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What’s Love Got to Do with Jewish Tradition?

What’s Love Got to Do with Jewish Tradition?

Flat stones laid out to form the shape of a heart on wet beach sand

Tu B’Av (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av) occurs between Tishah B’Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, a day of mourning that marks the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem) and the period of personal reflection and introspection that ushers in the High Holiday season. Originally, Tu B'Av was a day of joy and celebration during the Second Temple period that marked the betrothal of unmarried women to their future husbands:

There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose [to be your wife]?

Ta’anit, Chapter 6

Today, Tu B’Av is frequently understood to be the Jewish equivalent to Valentine’s Day, celebrating love – from a spouse and from family and friends. 

And while love is indeed something to celebrate, Tu B’Av also offers us an opportunity to acknowledge that love requires great effort and work and asks us to be reflective and thoughtful about how we show our love.

Jewish tradition, with its emphasis on deed rather than creed, action rather than belief, understands that love is best expressed through actions. To love is a mitzvah, a sacred obligation. Even in our relationship with God, we find in the V’ahavta prayer, a list of actions we are commanded to fulfill to demonstrate our love to God:

You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Thus, you shall remember to observe all My commandments and be holy to your God.

Although flowers and gifts are always appreciated, my wife and I best demonstrate the love we share when we are thoughtful in our actions. I know she most appreciates when I do tasks – emptying the dishwasher, doing a load of laundry, scheduling veterinary appointments for our dog – simply because. Such deeds affirm that I have heard her and am responding to her needs – without expecting anything in return.  So, too, I value when she runs an errand when I can’t, or when she surprises me for a quick visit at work. In these ways, we regularly and consistently demonstrate our love for each other.

Love is indeed a verb. Acts we perform in the name of love express the words we speak and the feelings within our hearts. Today, on Tu B’Av, cherish and embrace the love in your life, as well as the people who give you that love and those to whom you give love. To do so is a sacred obligation in Jewish tradition.

Rabbi P.J. Schwartz is the rabbi educator at Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, CA. He is married to his college sweetheart, Michelle, a special education teacher.

Rabbi P.J. Schwartz

Published: 7/26/2018

Categories: Jewish Life, Family, Practice
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