Romantic Chesed: Tu B’Av and the Caring for the Dead

Tomorrow we celebrate Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av. This is supposed to be the Jewish Valentine’s day. It is a day of love and one of the happiest days of the year. But what are we celebrating? The Gemara shares six historical happy events that happened on this day.  This year one in particular interested me. There we read:

Rav Mattana said: There was an additional salvation on this day, as it was the day that the slain of Beitar were brought to burial, several years after the battle at Beitar (see Gittin 57a). And Rav Mattana said: On the same day that the slain of Beitar were brought to burial, they instituted the blessing: Who is good and does good, at Yavne. Who is good, thanking God that the corpses did not decompose while awaiting burial, and does good, thanking God that they were ultimately brought to burial. ( Ta'ant 31a)

Why would be be so happy that these people would be buried? And it all sounds very morbid. What does that have to do with love?

Interestingly when Yaakov was about to pass away he called Yosef to help him. There we read:

And when the time approached for Israel to die, he summoned his son Yosef and said to him, “Do me this favor, place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your chesed and truth: please do not bury me in Egypt. (Genesis 47:29)

It was important to Yakov that he should be buried in the Promised Land and not in Egypt. Yakov appeals to his chesed– mercy or grace to make this so. In explaining this passage Rashi quotes the midrash and writes:

Chesed and Truth— The chesed shown to the dead is “chesed of truth” (true, disinterested kindness) since one cannot hope for any reward (Genesis Rabbah 76:3).

This could come to explain who burying a dead body is a “chesed of truth”, but what does that have to do with love?

I have been thinking for a while about a famous line in Micah in the Haftarah from Parshat Balak. There we read, “Only to do justice And to love chesed, And to walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8). What does God want from us? We need to have the hubris to pursue justice in the world. We also need a corrective to strive to do that modestly. But what does it mean to love chesed?

Chesed is how we treat people who do not have power over you. In a profound way I believe that Judaism has a romantic notion of love for those who do not have power. A dead body has no power. The burial of these bodies on Tu B’Av represents a national expression of this love of chesed.

1 Response to “Romantic Chesed: Tu B’Av and the Caring for the Dead”


  1. 1 Arthur Schwartz July 23, 2021 at 7:26 am

    Hi Ravi;

    Wow…I didn’t see Micah 6-8 a-coming….but I truly believe, with all my heart, that your post gets at the core of what my own research (on the nature of leadership) has revealed: how we relate to POWER says a lot about us. Both those “in power” (I have been thinking a lot about my behavior as an older sibling growing up) and those without.

    Thank you revealing the relationship between chesed and power. Of course, there is also the relationship between justice and power. Forgiveness and power (rarely do I hear about persons with power forgiving). And finally, the relationship between power and humility (servant leadership).

    With gratitude,

    Arthur


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