This coming Friday is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is written and described in the Talmud in the Tractate Ta’anis. The holiday is called Tu B’Av – the 15th day of the month of Av.
How did Tu B’Av become a holiday? The Talmud mentions several reasons. One reason deals with the generation of the Jews in the desert. After the sin of the spies reporting negatively about the Land of Israel, the Jewish people believed the spies and cried about their future. That night was Tisha B’Av. The Jews of that generation were sentenced to die in the desert. Every Tisha B’Av evening the people would dig graves and lay down in them. On Tisha B’Av morning, several thousand would not wake up. That continued every year in the desert until the 40th year – about eight months before their entry into the Land of Canaan. That year everybody awoke on Tisha B’Av morning. The Jewish people thought that they had miscalculated the date. So, the next night they once again laid down in their graves. Once again, they all awoke the next morning. This went on until the 15th of Av – when there was a full moon. They realized that they had not miscalculated and the punishment for their generation was over.
A second reason advanced by the Talmud is related to the generation of Jews that entered the Land of Israel under the leadership of Yehoshua. Every tribe – with the exception of Levi – inherited land in Israel. Any land inherited by a woman would pass to the family of her husband. So, if a woman from one tribe would marry a man from another tribe, her tribe would lose real estate inside Israel. To prevent this from happening, the generation of the desert had to marry within their own tribes. A man from Yehuda married a woman from Yehuda; a man from Menashe married a woman from Menashe. Once the Jews settled the land of Israel, that decree was lifted, and it was on the 15th of Av that it was lifted.
A third reason for the celebration of Tu B’Av is from the Book of Judges. There was a civil war between the Tribe of Benjamin and the other eleven tribes due to the sin of immorality that was prevalent within the tribe of Benjamin. The Tribe of Benjamin was almost obliterated, and the other Jews took an oath that they would not have marriages with the Tribe of Benjamin. That decree was also lifted on Tu B’Av.
A fourth reason advanced in the Talmud for the celebration of Tu B’Av comes from after the fall of Bar Kochba in 135 CE. His last stronghold in the revolt against the Romans was the city of Beitar. Beitar was destroyed on Tisha B’Av, Bar Kochba was killed and all its inhabitants were slaughtered. In their cruelty, the Romans did not permit the Jews to bury their slain brethren. However, after a few years, a new Roman emperor came on the scene and permitted the burial of the slain Jews. Miraculously, their bodies did not decompose or decay. The date the Romans permitted their burial was Tu B’Av.
How was Tu B’Av celebrated? The Talmud describes the celebration as follows: The unmarried girls borrowed clothes – even the wealthy girls so as not embarrass the poor girls who did not have fresh clothes. The girls would go out to the fields and dance to attract boys for the purpose of marriage. In fact, the Talmud states that Tu B’Av was one of the two happiest days of the year – the other was Yom Kippur.
Now, try to imagine such an event happening nowadays: Picture the following ad in Likutei Pshatim: Girls: are you interested in finding the right guy for you? Forget those shiduch resumes and pictures. Those are nonsense. This coming Sunday night – Tu B’Av – all unmarried girls are requested to come to Proesel Park in Lincolnwood for a dance. Unmarried men are invited to watch. Almost guaranteed to find your match. Sponsored by Bais Ya’akov High School, Hannah Sacks, Girls Lubavitch High School, Blitstein Institute, Agudas Yisroel, the Chicago Community Kollel and the Skokie Kollel.
Could you imagine such an event? But, the Talmud teaches us that is how it was! In addition to teaching us Jewish law and its development, the Talmud also tells us how life was, how people lived and their personal struggles. The lives of the great rabbis were not the fantasy life that we would like to imagine. They also had struggles and difficulties. Their successes were how they overcame those difficulties.
Tu B’Av – the reasons behind it and its celebration in the Talmud – shows how the rabbis were concerned with the welfare of every individual – the family life and sustenance. It was important that the boys and girls be able to get married and lead productive, normal lives. So, the Rabbis instituted a mechanism to allow this to take place. Every person was important to the Rabbis. It is the exact opposite of Tisha B’Av, where the problem among the Jewish people was baseless hatred – no concern for others – only for oneself and one’s own goals.
So, Tu B’Av – coming six days after Tisha B’Av – teaches us how to repair the damage of baseless hatred by instructing us on the basic attribute of concern for our fellow Jews. That is the point the rabbis wanted to get across through the holiday of Tu B’Av. Every person counts and is important. Then the Jewish people can function as a whole body rather than individual parts.