Most of us have been to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. We’ve munched matzah at the Passover Seder. We’ve watched Uncle Marvin kindle the Chanukah menorah while noshing on Aunt Sally’s oily latkes. We may have dressed as clowns with our kids on the joyous day of Purim; and we mourned on the 9th of Av, when our Temples were demolished.
These are all remarkable days on our calendar, days that commemorate significant events. But how many of us draw a blank by the 15th day of Av? Yet the Talmud teaches, “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.”
Seriously? Comparing this unknown day to the holiest day on our nation’s calendar? What is so special about the 15th of Av?
The Talmud writes: “The daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed linen garments (so as not to embarrass those without beautiful clothes of their own) . . . and dance in the vineyards,” and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride. (Talmud, Taanit 31a)
There are lots of deep explanations about this day. (Here’s one.)
My take is very basic, but it is at the core of what I love so much about Judaism.
Judaism tells us to strive for the heavens while keeping our feet grounded to the earth.
The message of the 15th of Av is so down-to-earth: Experience the mystery of marriage. Taste the wonder of love. See the beauty of two very diverse people uniting in body, heart and soul to create harmony in our world. Observe the selflessness of two individuals coming together despite personal barriers to bring new life to our world. And as you do, realize that you are witnessing holiness.
Judaism teaches us that the 15th of Av is no less holy than the hallowed day of Yom Kippur, when we fast and forgo all our bodily needs in our quest to reach spiritual heights. Why? Because this was the day that marriages were forged.
And marriage is a holy institution.
There’s one more important point. The girls would wear borrowed clothing so no one would be embarrassed. No high-fashion couture clothing surrounded in luxurious posh mansions; no petty competitiveness to outshine one another. The girls danced joyously in the vineyards in simple, borrowed, linen garments.
The matchmaking festivity underscored: look beyond the outer shell and find a deeper soul connection.
In our society, when the sanctity of marriage is being eroded, when our values have become shallow and our ideals battered, this day has a valuable message.
Let’s make the 15th of Av a day of increased love, focused less on superficial externals and more on what really matters.
P.S.: Have we become more shallow? What values do you think we should be focusing on?