Just six days after the saddest day in the Jewish calendar — the 9th of Av, Tisha Be’ Av — comes the happiest day in our calendar. The rabbis teach in the Mishna (Taanit chapter 4) shares the following account:
“Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel said: There were no days of joy in Israel greater than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments in order not to shame anyone who had none.… The daughters of Jerusalem come out and dance in the vineyards.
What a beautiful sight.”
The young women and men would go out to the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem, all dressed in white. Not only did everyone make sure they were dressed well for the event, but they made sure their festive clothing was all borrowed — even for those from the wealthiest families — in order not to embarrass those who could not afford fancy clothing. Meeting in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem, young Jews would find their match and continue to wed and build a Jewish home. This celebration, though geared to a specific demographic and age group, was celebrated by the entire community.
While this social event was indeed an incredibly joyous opportunity for many young people, what about is was worth memorializing for generations? Why was it instituted as a uniquely happy day marked by millions of Jews around the world, more than two thousand years later?
The proximity of the saddest day of the Jewish year and the happiest day in the Jewish year makes it clear that the rabbis were making a point.
Even as we rise from mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and our sacred city being decimated, we remember were our hearts should be at. The events of this month remind us that for every Tisha Be’ Av, there is a Tu Be’ Av, what keeps as through a world with so many challenges, is love and optimism. It is the power of construction over the power of destruction.
One of the most famous customs associated with a Jewish wedding is the breaking of a glass at the end of the Chuppah, whereupon, we declare, “If I forget you, O, Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand” (Psalm 137). The rabbis had made the memory of Jerusalem part and parcel of the Jewish wedding ceremony — more than any other Jewish ceremony. While the official reason given is so that we remember any joy is incomplete, so long as the Temple and Jerusalem have not been rebuilt, it is a two-way street. At a wedding, we are not only injecting our greatest celebration with the sobriety of mourning Jerusalem; we are also injecting our mourning of Jerusalem, with the spirit of the wedding. We are reminding ourselves that the pain, spiritual alienation, exile, and persecution we have experienced upon the destruction of Jerusalem, is mitigated and rehabilitated through the joy of a Jewish wedding.
The Talmud (Brachot 6b) factors this into the mitzvah there is to bring joy to a Chatan and Kalllah (bride and a groom) stating that if a person causes the bride and groom to rejoice in their wedding, it is “as if one rebuilt one of Jerusalem’s ruins, as it is stated later in the same verse(Jeremiah 33:11): “For I will restore the captivity of the land as it was in the beginning.” (Talmud Brachot, 6b)
The bond between a world in retreat, and the beauty of marriage reflected by the myriad of remembrances of Jerusalem at a Jewish wedding, is also reflected in the Jewish calendar. We mark the 15th of Av in immediate juxtaposition to the 9th of Av to show that the great power of rebuilding is not found in a military or even construction company; it is found in love and comradery.
I am reminded of a story I heard from Rabbi Aaron Levi, a renowned Israeli speaker whose eloquence inspires many. His grandmother survived the Holocaust and endured a great deal of suffering. “Grandma, how come you never try to take revenge of the Germans?” he once asked her. She looked at him and said something that encapsulates the power of a generation and said: “winners, my dear, do not take revenge. I have children, grandchildren, and a life that I love. That is my revenge.”
This answer was inspired by generations of Jews who knew that the best response to the destruction of Tisha Be’ Av is the beauty and harmony of Tu Be’ Av.
This explains what took place in a mysterious conversation between a distinguished Roman matriarch and Rabbi Yossi. It was the generation of destruction. Jews were being taken to Rome in the tens of thousands. The humiliation, denigration, and suffering were part of everyday life. At this point, the Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah 68:4) reports this exchange between a Roman noble and a Jewish sage:
“She [the noble] asked Rabbi Yossi, “In how many days did God create the world?” “In six,” he answered.
“And since then,” she asked, “what has God been doing?”
“Matching couples for marriage,” responded R. Yossi.
“That’s it!” she said dismissively. “Even I can do that. I have many slaves, both male and female. In no time at all, I can match them for marriage.” To which Rabbi Yossi countered, “Though this may be an easy thing for you to do, for God, it is as difficult as splitting the Sea of Reeds.”
Whereupon, she took her leave. The next day the aristocrat lined up a thousand male and a thousand female slaves and paired them off before nightfall. The morning after, her estate resembled a battlefield. One slave had his head bashed in, another had lost an eye, while a third hobbled because of a broken leg. No one seemed to want his or her assigned mate. Quickly, she summoned Rabbi Yossi and acknowledged. “Your God is unique, and your Torah is true, pleasing and praiseworthy. You spoke wisely.”
While the simple interpretation of the story speaks volumes on the power of Providence, love, and affection, it also carries metaphoric power.
The Roman noble thought that brute power, chance, and arbitrarily might have the power to foster love and affection. Just as the bond between the Jewish people, the land, and the God of Israel, have been formed, they can be re-formed by chance and power. The response she saw was the power of connection. Love is a choice and cannot be imposed.
As we celebrate the day of Tu Be’ Av, let us remember the power of love and rebuilding. Tu Be’ Av is not just a day of celebration for those seeking a perspective match, it is the framing of a national mindset. On Tu Be’ Av we remember that the answer to destruction is not revenge; it is building. We are reminded that no matter what is going on in this world, we must move forward with hope, optimism, and love. Happy Tu Be’ Av!