JEWISH DAY OF LOVE?!? A Kabbalistic Approach to Tu B’Av

Unless you’re involved in the Jewish dating scene or grew up in Israeli society, chances are you never knew there was a day in the Jewish calendar set aside for love. That’s right, the holiday known as Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Av, is a day designated towards matchmaking. If you don’t believe me on that one, just hang in there because there is something else you’ll have even more difficulty believing me on.

There is actually another day designated towards matchmaking as well, but this one you have heard of – Yom Kippur. Yes, that day, which for many of us has been transformed from a meaningful day of introspective make over to a hollow and torturous foodless day at the opera in which the question ‘Who will live and who will die?’ prompts thoughts of hope for the latter to be approved by the Almighty, actually has an aspect of its source in love. Now, some of you may be thinking, “Ah, that makes sense – the dread of Yom Kippur is quite an appropriate prelude to the marriage experience”, but for the optimists among us, this begs explanation.

Firstly, what does Yom Kippur have to do with matchmaking? Secondly, where did this Tu B’Av day show up from? And thirdly, how are they connected?

Let’s start with the main source:

There were no greater days for the Jewish people than Yom Kippur and Tu Ba’Av because it was on those days that the daughters of Jerusalem went out [to find a spouse]. (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 26b)

Obvious question here: Why are these days specifically designated towards matchmaking? There must be some unique connection between them and the matchmaking concept.

GOD & MRS. GOD

Before we get deep into it, we need a brief recap of the God-gave-the-Torah-to-the-Jewish-people saga:

~6 SIVAN: (49 days after leaving Egypt) God speaks to all the Jewish people at Mount Sinai (this is when we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot). Then, Moshe goes up the mountain to get the Torah from God.

~17 TAMUZ: Moshe returns 40 days later with the Tablets to find the Jews worshipping the golden calf. Moshe promptly throws down the Tablets breaking them. (This is one the reasons we fast on the 17th of Tamuz). Then Moshe proceeds to pray for the forgiveness of the Jewish people for the next 40 days.

~ELUL 1:On the 40th day of Moshe praying, God declares that He will forgive them and Moshe heads back up Mount Sinai for Tablets II.

~10 TISHREI: Forty days later, Moshe comes back down the mountain with the second set of Tablets thereupon completing the forgiveness process. Hence, this day is eternally classified as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

OK. Now that we have our Torah calendar strait, let us capture the scene:

A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

In preparation for the rendezvous with God, the Jewish people prepare by achieving a state of purity (what ‘purity’ means is subject for another discussion), whereas God decorates Mount Sinai with flowers and greenery. God gives the Jewish people the Torah and they accept it.

In Jewish thought, this is comparable to a wedding – where the woman achieves a state of purity, the man opens his hom in the form of a chupah, a decorated canopy, and the man gives something of value to the woman and she accepts it.

So, what we’re saying here is that the giving of the Torah at Sinai was the wedding of God and the Jewish people. Actually, if we want to dig a bit deeper into the truth of the matter, it’s not that we understand the relationship between God and the Jewish people by comparing it to married couples in this world, rather, every married couple in this world is a reflection of that ultimate match that was made in Heaven between God and the Jewish people.

CHEATING ON GOD

For this reason, Moshe breaks the original Tablets, that which established the marriage between God and the Jewish people, when he gets down from the mountain. He sees idolatry going on. But what is idolatry? It is relating to something that is not god as if it is God. Now, what if we were to understand idolatry in the context of a spousal relationship? When one is married to one person yet relates to another as if he is her spouse when in fact he is not her spouse, that is adultery. In fact, that is all idolatry is; It is adultery in the spiritual sense. No wonder God tends to get ticked off about it. So, Moshe, upon seeing this adulterous affair, smashes the marriage agreement because it is better to be messing around as a single than to be an adulteress.

A KABBALISTIC TAKE ON MARRIAGE

Now, let’s take a deeper look at marriage. In Judaism, marriage is a 3-step process: Engagement, Sanctification, and Elevation.

Engagement, Erusin</I>, takes place when there is an initial arrangement for the couple to be wed. (This involves a particular halachic process. It does not apply to a diamond-oriented guy-down-on-one-knee type of agreement by the couple.) At this stage, there is a commitment to be wed and the woman is forbidden to anyone else, but they still cannot be together. This stage we will not go into in depth in this article.

Next is Sanctification, Kiddushin. This is the point at which the man gives the woman something of value under the wedding canopy, and the woman accepts. At this point, the man and woman become permitted to each other to the exclusion of everybody else. This is the stage of marriage that took place between God and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Tablets.

The Final step, Elevation, Nisuin, occurs when the spouse is secluded and consummate the marriage. In the marriage between God and the Jewish people, this is mainly considered a parallel to Messianic times when the oneness experienced by the Jewish people in their relationship with God will be much more manifest.

THE LIGHT(S) OF GOD

If we want to go deeper into the Jewish concept of marriage and how it reflects the marriage between God and the Jewish people, we must first understand a bit about how God relates to the world.

Kabbalah discusses two modes of God’s relationship with the world. They are: His Surrounding Light and His Inner Light. God’s Surrounding Light refers to His transcendence, reflecting the idea that God is above and beyond. Whereas God’s Inner Light refers to God’s immanence, reflecting the idea that although God is “beyond” since He is Infinite and therefore completely beyond limitation, He is actually “within”; He is the essence of all that there is.

Why the need for both these modes of expression of God’s relationship to us?

CREATING A CONDUCIVE ENVIORNMENT

Well, let me give you an example from a personal present dilemma that I face. My oldest daughter is presently five-years-old. I have recently started to teach her how to read. My question to you is this: If I want her to read, shouldn’t I just bust out a novel, open it up to page 1 and let her give it a go? Well, obviously this is not going to work. If anything that will have the opposite effect. She will become discouraged, resentful, and instead of her gaining something from the experience most likely it will break her – she simply does not have the tools to grasp what I am giving her; she is not a vessel that is strong enough to receive the light I am bestowing upon her.

The proper move for me as a parent to make in this situation is that, as much as I want to give her everything, I must hold myself back. I must open a space for her as an “other”, and offer her a comfortable and positive atmosphere of support and security based on where she is at. To an extent, I must sideline myself for the sake of her survival and ability to thrive. This is the concept of the Surrounding Light. It’s too powerful to be bestowed so it must be pulled away. I must make myself into exactly that – a surrounding light – a source of inspiration and security without overstepping bounds by which I may unwittingly cause damage.

Once that is intact, I proceed to give her that which she can handle – the Inner Light – a few letters, a few vowels, etc. I infuse within her the amount of light she can handle while doing my best to not overload her. I am enlightening her to the extent it will be productive. To give her more of this light than she can handle is comparable to a person looking directly at the sun. While being a wonderful thing since it lights up the world, looking directly at the sun is destructive since it is simply too much for the eye to handle.

MARRIAGE IN KABBALAH

In Kabbalah it is taught that at the Sanctification stage of marriage (which takes place under a canopy, a model of the man’s home which he is welcoming his bride in to), a man gives his bride Surrounding Light, and at the Elevation stage (taking place when they are together secluded), he gives her Inner Light.

(This Surrounding Light-Inner Light/Transcendance-Immanence model holds true in every aspect of the spousal relationship – from the most basic and mundane to the most intimate and elevated; from the physical, to the psychological, to the spiritual. To show this, however, would be tangential and would double the size of this article.)

“YISRAEL”

All of this is a mere parallel and reflection of that ultimate marriage and relationship between God and the Jewish people. The husband giving the wife the Surrounding Light at the canopy and the Inner Light upon their seclusion mirrors God’s giving the Jewish people the Surrounding Light at Sinai and the Inner Light in Messianic times. In matter of fact, this union with God is at the core of who the Jewish people are and what the Jewish people are here for.

We can see this hinted to in the name of the Jewish People, Yisrael, ישראל. The outer letters, ל, lamed, and י, yud, hint to the outer surrounding light in the fact that the lamed is highest of all the letters whereas the yud is the smallest – thus indicating God’s forming a connection with the Jewish people as ‘Great and Transcendent Being’ Who makes room allowing for the existence of the Jewish people. Hence the groom says to the bride under the canopy, “Behold you are sanctified to me”; ‘me’ in Hebrew is the word lee, לי – those same letters which hint at the aspect of relationship that involves a connection initiated by opening a place for the other thereby setting the stage for a secure relationship. With this understanding, that phrase said by the groom to the bride under the canopy has whole other level of meaning: “Behold you are sanctified with Surrounding Light”.

The protective Surrounding Light having been given, the groom proceeds to give his bride the Inner Light when they are secluded. The transfer of Inner Light that occurs in this union is reflected in the inner letters of Yisrael, שרא, since its gematria, numerical value, is the equivalent of the gematria of the limbs of man (248) and woman (252) combined. (Consequently, this is also the numerical value of the phrase “Be fruitful and multiply”.)

While we have shown some of the depth of the combination of souls that occurs at a Jewish wedding, the intent is that this is a mere reflection and manifestation of what lies at the essence of the Jewish people – We see that the whole essence of the Jewish people is the concept of couplehood; their unique bond with God – it is their name; it is who they are; it is what they were created for.

CLIMATE CONTROL

That having been said, it becomes clear why Yom Kippur is such a happy and appropriate day for matchmaking. Judaism understands time as a circulating spiral, not a random timeline. Just as there are different recurring climates present at different times of the year, so too there are different recurring spiritual climates at different times of the year. And while we are not completely limited by these climates, it does help to be tuned in to the climate of the time to figure out what is most appropriate.

Yom Kippur is the anniversary of this ultimate eternal marriage between the Jewish people and God. It is the day that embodies the concept of a match made in Heaven. For this reason, we understand why it is a day of Jewish matchmaking for the ages.

TU B’AV & MATCHMAKING

Although the truth is that we see other sources that connect marriage and Tu B’Av (i.e. this was the day on which permission was granted to marry a member from a different tribe than your own within the Jewish people), the question still remains: Why was permission granted on this day specifically? What is the connection between this Tu B’Av and couplehood?

Many people think that Rosh HaShonah, which takes place on the 1st of the month of Tishrei, is the birthday of the world – that it is the anniversary of the world’s creation. However, this is a misconception. Rather Rosh HaShonah is the anniversary of the birth day of the purpose of the world’s creation – humanity. However, since the Torah teaches that the first human being, Adam, was created on the sixth day of the world’s inception, we can infer that the world actually began its development six days earlier, on the 25th day of the month of Elul.

Like any good architect, God begins building the world with the end in mind. In fact, it is a well known principle in Midrash and Kabbalah that God’s “initial thought” in creating the world was the concept of the Jewish people – meaning that God set up the worldstage with the end-goal – that ultimate marriage between the Jewish people and God – “in mind”. A question that lingers, though, is: So “when” exactly did this “initial thought” of God take place?

If we are to continue on the Kabbalistic train of thought that we have laid out thus far – that the relationship between husband and wife is a parallel manifestation of the ultimate couple, God and the Jewish people, it follows that were we to find a source that contains information about how and when matches are made between couples in this world, it would go a long way in shedding light on “when” the match between God and the Jewish people was “initially” orchestrated.

Interestingly enough, we have such a source:

Forty days prior to the formation of an embryo, an announcement is made in the heavens: ‘The daughter of Person X is [designated] for Person Y’. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 2a)

Astounding! From here we can deduce that forty days prior to the embryonic formation of the world known as Day 1 of creation (the 25th of the month of Elul) is “when” the “initial” thought of God to create Israel, and thus create the world, took place.

Counting back forty days from the world’s inception on Day 1 of creation (the 25th of the month of Elul) we reach the 15th day of the month of Av – Tu B’Av!

It turns out that Tu B’Av is the initiation of the original match made in Heaven, which, in turn, is the source of all subsequent parallel human impersonations.

This is the energy and the joy present in Tu B’Av – it points to the completion of the world as well as the source of the world simultaneously. It is the bedrock upon which all relationships, love, joy, and fulfillment are built. With the aforementioned concept of spiritual climate in mind, can you think of better times to initiate a relationship than the days of Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur – the inception and climax of the world whose whole basis is formed around the Ultimate Relationship of God and the Jewish people?

It is with these ideas in mind that I bless everyone with a successful Tu B’Av. Those who are looking should find who they are looking for. And those who have already been blessed to find should be successful in raising the level of their relationship to the next level. And all of the Jewish people should reflect on their ultimate marriage with God, and hopefully we will quickly merit having it elevated to the next level with the coming Moshiach soon in our days!

About the Author
Rabbi Eli Deutsch is a speaker and author who inspires people of all backgrounds to take a fresh look at their lives by presenting thought-provoking ideas through the lens of Chassidus and Kabbalah. By masterfully articulating abstract concepts into practical transformative teachings, Rabbi Eli communicates the deeper side of Judaism in an impactful way that resonates with the well-read student as well as the newcomer. Rabbi Eli currently lives in the Old City of Jerusalem and spends most of his time lecturing, writing, counseling, learning, hosting, and with his family. His classic bestsellers, "Jewish By Choice" and "The Case for Judaism", have won wide acclaim as the clearest, most comprehensive, easily accessible, and practical depiction of Kabbalah and the "whys" of Judaism available in the English language today.
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