This week, as we look forward to Sabbath’s blessed arrival once again, I realize that my messages to you are often serious, even heavy. So, shifting gears somewhat, I will address something perhaps less solemn – but just as important: LOVE. A simple word with many meanings and ramifications. But, what I will bet many people do not know is that there is a festival on the Jewish calendar celebrating love, which occurred this past week! Thousands of years before anyone heard of Saint Valentine or Sadie Hawkins, the Jewish people created a Jerusalem-centered love festival for couples. Seriously. And they say we only have these deadly serious holidays in which we commemorate “they tried to kill us, we survived – now let’s eat!” Not so, it seems.
In ancient times, under the glow of a full summer moon, young women robed in white would dance in the vineyards and fields outside of the walls of Jerusalem. They did this on the Talmudic love festival of Tu B’Av – the 15th day of the month of Av. Coming one week after the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of Av), this day was full of forgiveness and hope for the future. Men would join the women, in hopes of finding brides on this day full of promise. We know little of this festival, however the one mention of it in the Talmud (Ta’anit 4:8) is powerful. There we read that Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel said that there was never in Israel days of greater joy than the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement, for on those days the daughters of Jerusalem would emerge in white garments, which were borrowed, so that those who had none would not be shamed. The young women would dance in the vineyards and exclaim: Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not set your eyes on beauty, but set them on a good family. Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Divine, she will be praised. A message for the ages to focus inward. These celebrations have continued throughout the years, including the one pictured above at a Kibbutz in 1944. Interestingly, I lived at this same Kibbutz in 1974 – Ein HaShofet was a magical place!
There are many kinds of love – romantic love, as we have just discussed, is of course very central. But perhaps the most overlooked type of love is SELF-LOVE. The love we feel for our children takes on different shades throughout their lifetime, but it is constant – even if tested! Our siblings can be a constant source of support. And our friends can often feel like family members, especially when family either is not there or not available to us. We know love when we feel that unconditional acceptance for who and what we are. It can be very difficult for some without a romantic partner, but that it is when it is so important to reach out for the love and support from others. And for all of us, finding ways to truly love and accept ourselves is the key – to find ways to care for ourselves, to forgive ourselves. Only then, can we love others.
What is the importance of embracing love during this current pandemic? I was listening to a psychologist the other day say that since we cannot hug others right now, that we should actually hug ourselves – daily. At first, I thought she was nuts. But I’m re-thinking it. I think it is a good physical reminder of self-love. We must start with ourselves, if we will find way to spread love outward into the world. What is truly missing right now in our society is a very real sense of COMPASSION. And to get through this difficult time, we need it so badly. All of us. To close, I will complete the Beatles reference begun at the top of this column with its title:
“And in the end, the love you take – is equal to the love you make…”
For beautiful love poetry, you need look no further than the original: The Song of Songs from our own Bible. Chanted on Passover, this scroll may symbolize the love between the Divine and the Children of Israel, but its gorgeous, romantic verses lend themselves to weddings and other celebrations of love. Inspired by the style of this poetry, Erev Shel Shoshanim (Evening of Roses) is one of our most famous and beautiful love songs, written in 1957. A few of the words are: Evening of roses, let us go out to the grove…Night falls slowly and a wind of rose blows. Let me whisper a song for you slowly, a song of love. Dawn and your hair is full of dewdrops, your lips are as roses unto the morning… Here is a beautiful instrumental version of Erev Shel Shoshanim by the gifted musicians of the group Jerusalem Duo (Hila Ofek on Concert Harp and Andre Tsirlin on Soprano Sax – not a usual combination!).
Enjoy – and let this love song transport you!
Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat – full of love for those around you,