Friday, August 3, 2012

Tu B'Av - The Fifteenth of Av

One of the minor holidays of the Jewish calendar is Tu B'Av - the fifteenth of Av. The Talmud (Taanis 4:8) tells us that on this day (as well as on Yom Kippur) "the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments" and "dance in circles in the vineyards" saying, ""Young man! Lift up your eyes and see, what will you choose for yourself? Do not look for beauty, [rather] look for family! 'Charm is false and beauty is empty; a God-fearing wife, she is to be praised.' (Proverbs 31:30) and it says, 'Give to her from the fruits of her hands, and her deeds shall praise her in the gates.' (ibid. 31:31)"

The Talmud tells us that several significant events took place on Tu B'Av:
  1. The temporary prohibition of intermarriage between female heirs and members of other tribes  (Numbers 36) ended on this day.
  2. The prohibition against allowing men from the tribe of Benjamin from marrying women from the other tribes (Judges 21) ended on this date.
  3. After the sin of the spies, a portion of the Jewish population in the wilderness would pass away each year on the ninth of Av. In the fortieth year in the wilderness, no one died on the 9th. At first, the Jews thought that they may have erred in the calculation of the date, but when the fifteenth of Av arrived and still no one had died, they realized that the decree was no longer in effect.
  4. On this date the king, Hoshea ben Elah, of the northern kingdom of Israel, removed the guards that had been set by Jeroboam to prevent the people from going to Jerusalem for the festivals.
  5. On this date the dead of Beitar were permitted to be buried.
  6. Every year, the harvesting of wood to fuel the Temple altar ended on this day.
Of these reasons, two of them have particular relevance to the custom associating shidduchim - finding a match for marriage - with Tu B'Av. However this needs to be explained. Why should the date of Tu B'Av have this special association?

To explain this connection, Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (d.1841), in his work Bnei Yissaschar (מאמרי תמוז-אב ד:ב) cites the famous teaching that God created the world for the purpose of Yisrael (the Jewish people) and the Torah (see Rashi on Genesis 1:1). In other words, the reason for creation is the relationship between the Jewish people and God (by means of the Torah). The relationship between man and wife is frequently used to describe the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Thus, the creation of the world can be seen as the beginning of the shidduch process between God and Yisrael.

Rosh Hashana, the first day of the month of Tishrei, is the anniversary of the creation of Adam, which took place on the sixth day of creation. This means that the first day of creation took place on the equivalent of the  25th of Elul, forty days after the fifteenth of Av.

The Sages tell us (Talmud Sotah 2a) that forty days before the formation of a child a heavenly voice declares, "The daughter of so-and-so is for so-and-so." In other words, in some sense, the process of shidduchim begins even before birth. Similarly, the day of Tu B'Av marks, in some sense, the beginning of the shidduch between God and Israel. It is therefore an appropriate time for human beings to be involved in their own shidduchim, for human marriage is an emulation of and a model for our relationship with God.

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