This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Isaac ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By: Samantha Hulkower
A week after the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B'Av, we come to Tu B'Av - the 15th of the month of Av. Many Jewish holidays fall on the 15th of the month - Sukkot, Pesach, Purim (in Jerusalem). Tu B'Av has been labeled by many as 'The Jewish Valentine's Day' - but it's placement on the calendar tells us there is much more to the day than we might initially think.
The Talmud brings down that on Tu B'Av single ladies used to dress in white and go out to fields to groove out under the full moon. Single guys looking to get hitched would come down and watch them, and by the end of the night everyone had found their soul-mate. This sounds like the plot of a romantic comedy staring Kate Hudson and Ryan Gosling, not an actual chapter in Jewish history. There are two key ideas that we can learn from this holiday that help us understand its significance in Judaism, as well as insights to help us date more effectively.
The first insight comes from the fact that the women would swap dresses with each other before they started dancing. Aside from being a fun opportunity to temporarily expand your wardrobe on the cheap, it also prevented their potential suitors from knowing each woman's socio-economic status. If a woman is wearing her friend's frock, then a person can't make those assumptions about her. All he can do is try to get to know her as a person, for more than what is on the surface.
This can be hard for us to connect to - in a world where there is such an emphasis on outward appearances, Tu B'Av is telling us that what counts the most in a potential spouse is what's on the inside. Once you are able to ascertain what's on the inside, taking the plunge into marriage is the next logical step. These days most people date for a while; on average people are marrying much older than they did even 20 years ago. We're really just wasting our own time - if we're able to see who the other person really is (and like it), then why wait?
The second insight comes from a statement in the Mishneh, which says the two happiest days for the Jewish People are Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur. Another head-scratching statement. Yom Kippur, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, is one of the heaviest days of the year. We spend 25 hrs fasting and praying to G-d to forgive our transgressions and allow us another year on this planet. By the end of the day you're exhausted, but personally, I find Yom Kippur to be exhilarating. Like going for a run, during it I'm glad that I'm out there doing the right thing for my personal well-being, but I'm also kind of a mess flailing all over the place and can't wait for it to be over. When I have truly pushed myself, at the end I feel great and am so glad that I put in the effort. The feeling I get after Yom Kippur is better than any runner's high - clean, confidant and ready to take on the next year. While the insight above has to do with finding clarity in who you want to marry, this has to do with finding clarity within yourself: who you are, what are your values and motivators in life, how you let yourself down, and how you psych yourself up. Self-knowledge is very powerful, and very necessary for finding your partner in life. This is why so many people unfortunately have such a hard time finding the right one - you can't know what you want if you don't first truly know who you are.
As we can see now, Tu B'Av is a yearly reminder of what we need to do in order to find our partner in life: know ourselves and look deeply at the people we are dating. Once we're able to accomplish these things, the result is happier than any Hollywood ending.
Shayna Hulkower is an Olah Chadasha, living in Jerusalem. She enjoys trying to speak Hebrew, finding the humor in every situation (especially dating), and is looking forward to the day she can successfully argue b'Ivrit. You can also view her blogs Curls of Wisdom, Shomer Tel Aviv on all things kosher in Tel Aviv, and on Twitter @shaynahulkower.