Posts Tagged 'Tu BAv'

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 Shop

Today we celebrate Tu B’Av. About which we read:

Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Unmarried girls would dress in simple white clothing (so that rich could not be distinguished from poor) and go out to sing and dance in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem to find their matches. (Ta’anit 30b-31a)

There are many ways that we distinguish ourselves from each other by our clothing. In these choices we see taste and style, but we can also see how we spend money and communicate our class. In the words of Macklemore in his hit song Thrift Shop:

They be like, ‘Oh, that Gucci- that’s hella tight.’ I’m like, “Yo- that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt’. Limited edition, let’s do some addition. Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant”

It is entertaining, feel free to watch the video:

It is absurd how much attention we give to our clothing. But not giving any thought into what we wear is also not a good thing.

This morning we sent our eldest child to overnight camp for the first time. It is interesting to reflect on the role of clothing at camp. Camp is a place where we do not all need to be the same to be equal. In camp we are all part of a big family and many of us share our clothing. And despite the fact that I spend a long time yesterday putting labels on all of his clothes, I am pretty certain that the clothing we sent with him to camp is not what will come back.

Our son does not own expensive clothing, but it was still nice to see him want to change his shirt this morning. He changed from a t-shirt to a collared shirt. He wanted to look nice for this day of meeting new people. I know that he just left, but I am already looking forward to his return. I know that he will find joy from the camp t-shirt that he will bring him back. For years to come this humble t-shirt will remind him of a place in which we was an equal as a member of a vibrant community. And he might even meet his match?

Cover Over

Today is Tu B’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av. On this Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said:

Israel had no greater holidays than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, on which occasions the daughters of Israel used to go out in white garments, borrowed so as not to put to shame one who didn’t have a white garment. (Mishnah Ta’anit  4: 8).

What does today and Yom Kippur have in common? In the Talmud it seems to mark the start (today ) and end (Yom Kippur) of the grape harvest. But is there any other connection between these two days?   In some ways these two days seem to be at odds. On Yom Kippur we work on our relationship with God. The day atones for our sins against God and does not speak to all of our sins to our fellow human beings (aka most of our sins). In contrast, we see that on Tu B’Av the unmarried girls of Jerusalem would dress in white garments and go out to dance in the vineyards attracting mates. Where Yom Kippur seems to be solely between human beings and God, Tu B’Av seems to be solely between human beings and each other.

Maybe one of the answers to this comes from the Shma which we read in VaEtchanan, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. 9 And you shall write them upon the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates. (Deuteronomy 6: 4- 9)

Love is the key. For some, their relations with people flow from their relationship with God, and for most I would assume it is the opposite. It is in their experience of love in the relationship in their lives that they encounter the divine. On Tu B’Av they covered over their economic status to allow people to see each other and start relationships without that status clouding their vision. Similarly  Yom Kippur is the day we cover over ( kaparah) our sins and restart our relationship with God.  As we see in the Shma  we plaster love all over our lives. We say the Shma three times a day. We wear it on our bodies in the tfillin. We put it on the doors to our house in the Mezzuzah. And of course we teach it to our children.  There is no joy without love. How will we help our children see that Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel is right? There is no greater holidays than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur. We should not cover this up. Love reigns supreme.


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