It was February, and the aisles of the local CVS were bursting with cupids and candy hearts as my dear friend Rabbi Jodie Gordon and I sat down to record “OMfG Podcast: Jewish Wisdom for Unprecedented Times.” In each episode, we reframe modern living in the context of our Jewish lives, especially when secular and Jewish calendars seem out of sync. We spoke that day about Tu B’Av, the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day, which arrives in the hot days of summer.
The 19th century Hasidic text Likutei Halakhot by Nathan Sternhartz, suggest that the purpose of Tu B’Av (the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Av) is to offer sweetness and repair, rekindling our joy after the sadness of our observance of(on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av). Tishah B’Av marks grievous destructions in Jewish history and is commemorated with lamentation, fasting, and collective mourning. It is, arguably, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Less than a week later, we have Tu B’Av, a day for celebrating love.
Remarkably, the(Ta’anit 4:8) equates Tu B’Av with , the Day of Atonement: “Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel said: There were no days of joy in Israel greater than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur.”
We might wonder what about this day could be so special to elevate it to the same level as the Yom Kippur. The(Taanit 30b:9-10), citing a connection to the daughters of Zelophehad in Parashat Pinchas, suggests that Tu B’Av is a day of joy because it was on this day that the law changed to permit marriage between members of the different tribes of Israel. With historic barriers removed, a day of rejoicing - an ancient ‘love is love is love’ - was established.
The Mishnah (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8) elaborates for us what this day looked like - essentially an “in real life” JSwipe dating app experience:
“On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments in order not to shame anyone who had none...and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes…Do not set your eyes on beauty but set your eyes on the family.”
There is much to glean from Tu B’Av as it relates to our modern relationships.
First, in relationships - whether platonic, romantic, collegial, or familial - though there may be destruction or despair, joy and sweetness can always return.
Second, if the joy of Tu B’Av is akin in fact to that of Yom Kippur, let us pursue loving relationships that are imbued with renewal and forgiveness, allowing for repentance, apology, and ultimate repair.
Third, it does not matter what you’re wearing, how much money you have, what your identities are, or why you are seeking out friendship and love. The way the Mishnah describes the rituals of Tu B’Av reminds us that loving relationships are founded on equity, honor and respect - never on shame. Building strong relationships relies on “lifting up” our eyes to truly see people for who they are.
As we recorded our podcast episode, my co-host reminded me of the saying, “I know that not all great love stories are romantic, because this friendship has been one of the great love stories of my life.” Rabbi Gordon and I are both married to our own beloveds; she was referring to our chavruta relationship. Chavruta typically refers to study partners (and we are), but she describes this relationship as the “real, deep, and soulful knowing of another who isn’t necessarily a life partner, spouse, or family member.”
My chavruta and I share the love languages of gift giving, words of affirmation, comfy pants, and concerts in western Massachusetts. We learn from each other, help one another become the strongest versions of ourselves, and sometimes just listen to one another. We are in regular communication and are equally understanding if one of us is too busy to connect; we find ways to hang out with each other; and most importantly, we live out the description of friendship and chavruta from Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.” This friendship underlies our work together on the OMfG Podcast.
On this Tu B’Av, may we all seek out those people who are on our team through despair and delight, who can forgive and seek forgiveness, who see us for who we truly are and support us on the journey to becoming whoever we will someday be. And if your Valentine’s Day candy stash has run out, send those you love a note of sweetness and gratitude instead. Happy Tu B’Av!