Archive for the '8.5.3 Tu B’Av' Category

Plenilune of Av

Rosh Chodesh and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new month and new year are notable in that they are celebrations of the new moons. They are not plenilune, the time of the full moon, but rather a time marked by the absence of a moon.

In that today is Tu B’Av, the Jewish Valentine’s Day, is the 15th of the month, I pause to explore the other plenilune celebrations on our calendar. We have Sukkot, celebrating our sojourn in booths in the desert after escaping Egypt. We also have Shushan Purim, Passover, and Pesach Sheni each a month from each other. Each of these is also a celebration of liberation. First not being killed in Haman’s genocide,then from slavery in Egypt, and then those who could not celebrate Passover. Another notable 15th full moon is Tu B’Shvat the New Year for the Trees. This is a celebration of nature, the advent of spring, and marks the liberation from the winter months. What do all of these celebrations on the 15th have in common?

In light of today being Tu B’Av, it is tempting to frame the full moon as an expression of our hearts being full with love in the air. But I wanted to offer another frame for these plenilune celebrations. What is a full moon?

The full moon is the lunar phase when the Moon appears fully illuminated from Earth‘s perspective. This means that the lunar hemisphere facing Earth—the near side—is completely sunlit and appears as an approximately circular disk. The full moon occurs roughly once a month. We see it as full because the light from the sun is reflecting off the surface of the moon unobstructed by our shadow.

There is a depth to thinking about these celebrations of love and liberation in a context of seeing things reflected in the world in their fullness without the weight of your pekelah on it. Our nature is to be self-centered and only look at things in the shadow of our needs. At the same time we are inherently limited to see things from our unique perspective. We need to strive for a balance between seeing things for our perspective and trying to also see the reality in its fullness. To experience love and liberation we have to deeply understand that we share this rock called earth. Merry plenilune of Av.


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.

Tu B’Av and End of Summer: 22 for 2 Club

It is safe to say that I am into Jewish summer camp. Between my 7 summers as a camper, 8 summers on staff member in that camp, 2 years as a Shaliach in Minsk running camps there, and 12 years at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, I have spent close to 30 summers at camp. I think it is safe to say that I am in the “10 for 2” club. I work all year for the summer. With that in mind, this summer with all of the Covid camp closings was particularly hard for me.

I was thinking about this today as we celebrate Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av. This is supposed to be 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.  One of those is particularly interesting to me now. There we read:

Rabba and Rav Yosef both say: The fifteenth of Av is the day when they stop cutting wood for the arrangement of wood on the altar. It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Eliezer the Great says: Once the fifteenth of Av came, the force of the sun would weaken, and from this date they would not cut additional wood for the arrangement, because wood cut from then on would not dry properly and would be unfit for use in the Temple. Rav Menashe said: And the people called the fifteenth of Av: The day of the breaking of the sickle, as they did not need the lumbering tools until the following year. (Bava Basra 121a-b)

Egyptian Inventons | Sutori

In this sense Tu B’Av is celebrating the begining of the end of the summer. Most years of my life this has been a sad time of the year, but this year I am actually very happy for this horrible summer to be over.

As we put the summer away, what does the fall have in store for us? What will  school and the High Holidays look like with Covid-19? I am not alone in wanting a vacine so we can rebound quickly from Covid. As much as we are instructed to break the sickle and put the heat of the summer behind us, I know that I am not the only one yearning for the start of summer 2021. I am looking forward to putting that sickle back together to go back into the forest and get back to work. This living “22 for 2” is hard, but for many the first day of camp next year will actually be the happiest day of the year.

-another piece on Tu B’Av- Bystander Effect: Tu B’Av and Kitty Genovese

Bystander Effect: Tu B’Av and Kitty Genovese

Today we celebrate Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which is one of the happiest days of the year. But what are we celebrating? The Gemara shares six historical events that happened on this day.  The second one shared is particularly interesting to me. There we read:

Rabba Bar Bar Chana said in the name of Rav Yochanan: The Tribe of Benjamin was allowed to remarry into K’hal Yisroel after the incident of Pilegesh B’Givah. This occurred on the 15th and signified once again the unity of Israel. (Bava Basra 121a-b and Taanit 30b-31a)

But what is the incident of Pilegesh B’Givah? 

In Judges 19, a Levite’s pilegesh, concubine, leaves him to return home to Bethlehem. After four months, her husband visits her father’s home and attempts to persuade her to return with him. On the fifth day, the concubine leaves with this Levite man. They travel together to Givah, looking for a place to spend the night. An old man sees her and the Levite hanging out in the square. He invites them to spend the night at his home. While there, the perverse men of the city pound on the door requesting the old man to bring out the Levite in order to have sex with him. When the old man offers his virgin daughter and the concubine instead, they refuse. The Levite then forces his concubine into the hands of the mob. She is beaten and raped throughout the night. In the morning, the concubine is found by the Levite on the doorstep of the old man’s house. He tells her to get up and when there is no reply, he places her on the back of his donkey and travels home. Upon arrival, he takes a knife and cuts the concubine’s body into twelve pieces, sending the parts out through the land of Israel. The outraged tribes of Israel sought justice and asked for the miscreants to be delivered for judgment. The Benjamites refused, so the tribes then sought vengeance, and in the subsequent war.

It is noteworthy that when the Levite finds the pilegesh in the morning, it is unclear whether she is dead, as there is no reply. Even though the story is centered around a woman, she never speaks and is nameless. Her life and death are defined by the voices of men around her. It is evident that the victimized woman has no voice. In this context, there is an eerie echo of this case and the case of Kitty Genovese.

In the early hours of March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed outside the apartment building across the street from where she lived in an apartment in Queens. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times published an article claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, but none of them called the police or came to her aid. The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the bystander effect or “Genovese syndrome”, and the murder became a staple of American psychology textbooks.

The bystander effect is a social psychological claim that individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that one of them will help. Several factors contribute to the bystander effect, including ambiguitygroup cohesiveness, and diffusion of responsibility that reinforces mutual denial of a situation’s severity. In the cases of Kitty Genovese and Pilegesh B’Givah we see this bystander effect. Sending her parts around the country served as a wakeup call to the entire nation. In the words of Rabbi A.J. Heschel when he said, “In a free society, some are guilty; all are responsible.” Tu B’Av needs to be a day in which we commit to hearing everyone’s voice, no one should be silenced. It is also a day of reconciliation with the tribe of Benjamin. To this ends, we experience true joy because we all take responsibility.


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