01 to 02 August 2023
15 of Av 5783
Rabbi Rogério Cukierman
Rabbi Nehemia Polen, with whom I had the honor of studying with, taught us that the sacrifices offered in the Temple could be compared to flowers or other gifts that couples often give each other: there are flowers to apologize for a mistake, there are flowers for a special occasion, and there are flowers to simply say “I thought of you during the day and wanted to please you.” In our love lives, we have special moments that we want to immortalize and remember frequently, there are times when we fail and for which we seek ways of correction – but for most couples, most of the time we are involved in the effort to keep the fire burning, companionship active, looking and listening attentively to see and hear the other and support him wherever he is.
As in our romantic relationships, the relationship of the Jewish people also had moments of ecstasy, such as the delivery of the Torah on Mount Sinai and moments of deep crisis, such as the worship of the Golden Calf or the lack of faith of the people who followed the pessimistic opinion of the majority of the scouts sent to investigate the Land of Israel. To remember these more dramatic events, we have celebrations (such as Shavuot) and darker dates (such as the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av), depending on the nature of the event we seek to relive. Most days, however, we seek to keep the flame of our relationship with the Divine burning, in whatever way each of us feels and defines it. Part of the way the liturgy does this is by talking about love at least four times a day: in the morning, we pray Ahava Rabbah (“Immense Love”) and in the evening, Ahavat Olam (“Eternal Love”), before Sh’ma Israel. Both speak of the love that God has for us. Immediately after the Sh’ma, we say the veAhavtah, in which we talk about the love we feel for God. Deep, mutual and constantly reaffirmed love.
However, anyone who has been in a more serious fight knows that in these situations, the hurt sets in and, for some time, patience is needed to wait for it to pass. According to a midrash, after the episode in which ten of the twelve scouts sent to investigate the land of Israel returned with pessimistic narratives and convinced the people that they would not be able to conquer the promised land, God would have been so hurt by the episode that he would have stopped talking to Moshé and that this interruption in communication would continue until that entire generation had died. It was on the 15th of Av (Tu b’Av) that the dialogue between God and Moshé was reestablished, indicating to everyone that the deaths had ended and that all those who were still alive could enter the land of Israel. Since then, the date of Tu b’Av would have been established as a happy date in the calendar, the one when we remember the moment when we managed to overcome one of the greatest crises in the Jewish people’s relationship with God.
Since then, Tu b’Av has become the date on the Jewish calendar that talks about love. To be honest, despite the fact that the Mishnah states that this day is, along with Yom Kippur, one of the two happiest on the Jewish calendar, it is one of those commemorative dates that we don’t always pay attention to, for which we find few references and we don’t quite know how to celebrate.
We live in times in which conceptual fluidity has come to define our way of life and in which words have gained so many different interpretations that it is often difficult to know if we are all talking about the same things. In this context, “love” is paradoxically a term that we are all sure we understand what it means and that we don’t know if our understanding is the same as other people’s. Tu b’Av is an excellent opportunity to celebrate love and also talk about it, expand our concepts and understand the point of view of those who think differently.
We are also in the final stretch for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, two weeks before the beginning of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, traditionally dedicated to the process of cheshbon nefesh, the “accounting of the soul” in which we evaluate our conduct in the year that is coming to an end. Tu b’Av is an opportunity to start early in this process, asking ourselves which are the relationships we really care about and in which we are going through a crisis, in order to seek the reunion that the first Tu b’Av meant.
May this Tu b’Av be an opportunity for transformation, encounters, discoveries and expansion of what was already known!
Chag haAhavah Sameach! Happy festivity of love!