Tu B’Av: A Day Of Love in Jewish Tradition

The ancient tradition of the Jewish “Day of Love” is on “Tu B’Av” or, the 15th of the Jewish month of Av, which like all Jewish days, starts at sunset the day before, and continues until sunset the following day. The tradition is that unmarried women should go to dance in the vineyards, wearing white dresses (so that no one had the advantage of fancy clothes) and that men would go and pick one to be their bride. The Talmud speaks about this tradition immediately after describing how to mark the sad day of Tisha B’Av, which was the week before. In Tractate Taanit, the young men are called upon to choose wisely, using Proverbs 31 as their guide. The theme of love and marriage is so important in Judaism, and indeed the Bible, not only to be fruitful and multiply, but because it manifests the plans, heart and nature of God, right before our eyes. The very definition of true love.

The Jewish Tradition

This Jewish text, remembering times from before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, gives us some insight into the celebrations of Tu B’Av:

“Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel said: there never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem used to walk out in white garments which they borrowed in order not to put to shame any one who had none. All these garments required ritual dipping. The daughters of Jerusalem came out and danced in the vineyards exclaiming at the same time, young man, lift up thine eyes and see what thou choosest for thyself. Do not set thine eyes on beauty but set thine eyes on [good] family. Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the lord, she shall be praised. And it further says, give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates.” Tractate Taanit 26b

Today, Tu B’Av, or “Love Day” is akin to Valentines Day in many regards, but it has historically been a time for matchmaking the unmarried. Although arranged marriages are common in Hasidic Judaism, the important aspect of choice still plays a part. Although only a few dates may be had before marriage, both the man and woman are free to back out if they choose, and try again with another match. Unlike common western ideas which idolise the state of “being in love” as the end goal of a relationship and a marriage, this system assumes that love can grow and develop.

What is the goal of marriage?

I heard someone saying, to my initial surprise, that the true goal of marriage is to become one. I had to think about it, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. And then I thought that love, the real self-sacrificial, laying-down-your-life variety of love, was the vehicle by which it is possible to get to that destination of becoming one. And then I thought that the crazy chemical experience of “being in love” is more like training wheels on the bicycle of love, which is taking us to our destination of unity.

The “being in love” stabilising training wheels give us a free sample of how it feels to love as God does… the passionate desire to be with that person, the delight in every aspect of who they are and the lack of focus on their faults, and so on. It gives us the experience of how it feels to love – a boost and a help as we learn how to live it out with all the sacrifices that are required. God is crazy in love with us, and he gave everything just to be with us. And he can help us learn how to love too.

Love is not merely a choice – it is so much more than that. Of course, sometimes it will come down to that gritted teeth determination – I’d guess calvary was one of those times for God – but most of the time there are emotions. Passion, desire to be with that person, and affection. This is how God loves us. This is what he has given us a free taste of in the experience of being in love. And this is how we are called to love one another. We have to learn how to ride this bicycle even when the training wheels are removed – how to prefer the other, to lay down our lives, and to cultivate affection and passion, in order to get closer and closer and become one. This, of course, does not only apply to romantic couples. But marriage is supposed to be a picture, a manifestation, a clear-as-day signpost of how true, godly love works.

God – the expert at being “in love”

Another powerful picture of God’s love is the way the trinity members treat one another –

John 16:13, When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

As we listen to the words of Yeshua, when he speaks to the Father and about the Holy Spirit, we such a holy reverence and love between them. Such honour and willingness to give, to sacrifice, to give honour and glory to one another. We often talk about the “one another” passages in Scripture, to see how we should treat one another, and the Holy Trinity do it all so wonderfully to each other, it is a delight to behold.

Further on in his High Priestly prayer, I tried to highlight all the indications of this self-sacrificial, generous, giving love that they have in abundance, towards each other and towards us as believers:

17:1-4 “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed… 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them… 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

If we want to know what true love is, we can look intently into this passage and see it in action. It is a beautiful, mutual giving of self, appreciation, esteem and honour towards the other, a desire to be one, to be together with them, and to know and be known. As Yeshua said, the greatest love is a laid-down life, given for others. Potent stuff. There’s nothing more powerful and beautiful than true love. This is the love which God has lavished upon you. Happy love day!

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