Parashat Va’et’hanan

Friday, August 16, 2019 /15 Av, 5779
Parashat Va’et’hanan Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Dear Friends,

Just six days after the commemoration of the Temples’ destruction on Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), we celebrate a lesser-known holiday named Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av). Whereas last Saturday night we sat low to the ground, chanting lamentations and mourning for our collective loss, today Israel celebrates “the Jewish valentine’s day” with romantic meals, flowers and expressions of love. It is not uncommon for joyous Jewish holidays to follow more solemn ones. As Psalms 30:12 teaches, “You turned my mourning into dancing, you undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy.” Tu B’Av is a prime example.

The origins of Tu B’Av are unclear. Whether the holiday was an adopted summer equinox ritual, a celebration that the destruction on Tisha B’Av had come to an end, or the end of the Bar Chochba revolt, it has long been a part of Jewish tradition. Simeon ben Gamliel teaches in the Mishnah, “No days were as good for Israel as Tu B’Av and the Day of Atonement, as on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothes… and dance in the vineyards.” (Taanit 26b) Young men would come down from the hills in hopes of finding their partners. “Do not set your eyes towards beauty,” the Mishnah continues. “but set your eyes toward a good family.” (ibid)

Out of the ashes of destruction emerges hope in the future the people will build together. The rabbis taught that the Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred that existed between Israelites. On Tu B’av, restrictions on intermarriage between the tribes were lifted. Women wore borrowed white clothes, to place all women – rich and poor – on even footing. The message on Tu B’av was that far more important than wealth, beauty, and tribe are personality, compatibility and integrity. Far more important that the distinctions that divide us are the similarities that join us together. Tu B’Av reminds us that in the end, love is stronger than hatred. Relationships must prevail.

God echoes this theme in this week’s Haftarah portion. The destruction of the temple was perceived as a divine punishment for the people’s sins. It is unsurprising then that Tisha B’av is followed by Shabbat Nachamu, or the Shabbat of comfort. It is so named for this week’s Haftarah portion, which begins, “Comfort My people, comfort them… [Israel’s] sin is pardoned for she has received from the hand of the Eternal more than enough punishment for her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2) In the week following Tisha B’Av, God models what it looks like to repair relationships, even when they are severely damaged. After the anger has subsided, God comforts the people, providing hope for the future.

The confluence of Tu B’Av and Shabbat Nachamu encourage us to ask ourselves, “What relationships in my life are in need of repair? What can I do to let go of past anger, and build enriching and loving connections in the year ahead?”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Cassi Kail