Sadness and Joy

Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, reminds us of the greatest catastrophes in our history. Yet five days after the fast, we have Tu B’Av, the 15th day of Av (yesterday), which according to the Mishna, together with Yom Kipur were the happiest days of the year. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no days as joyful for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards.  And what would they say?  Young man, look around you and see who you would like as a wife.” 

The Gemara asks: Granted, Yom Kippur is a day of joy because it has the elements of pardon and forgiveness, and it is the day on which the last pair of tablets were given. But why the fifteenth of Av?  R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel, this was when the tribes were allowed to intermarry (Mishna Taanit 4 and the Gemara ad loc).  

This sounds so strange from two points of view.  First of all, Yom Kippur which we regard as a very serious, solemn day surely cannot be one of the two happiest days in the year.  But it seems that they felt that even when we may have reached the depths of sadness over our failings and inadequacies, we should still be able to think of the future with joy and optimism. 

Incidentally, Yom Kippur was the occasion where most of the Jewish people came together in one place which was the obvious opportunity for arranging marriages.  Despite Oscar Wilde’s crack that marriage is the triumph of optimism over experience, for us, it is our future and the most important decision we make in our lives. What is happier than a good marriage?  

Yet over the years, Tu B’Av, the 15th day of Av has been all but forgotten.  Become nothing more than a historical oddity.  Are we perhaps a nation of masochists?  The Talmud says that this day was the anniversary of the tribes being allowed to intermarry.  Israelite tribes no less. We think we have problems nowadays with whom we can marry, it was worse then. This was because when they entered the land of Canaan, they were allocated property according to each tribe.  And if you married out of the tribe you might take tribal property away with you and dilute tribal land.  Eventually, it was seen that this was impractical either for historical or social reasons. That was when they were allowed to get married outside the tribe.  And so, both Yom Kipur and Tu B’Av were the equivalents then of all the singles events and dating apps we have today! Actually, in the Charedi world in the Diaspora and Israel, they are beginning to make more of a fuss of this day and in their journals and papers, there are adverts for Shidduch campaigns and arranged marriages!

According to the Bible, the days of pain are fewer than those of joy.  In general, we are supposed to rejoice be positive, look forward, and focus on what’s good as opposed to what’s bad. That seems to me therapeutically to be more important than simply being able to recognize our mistakes and our faults and look at what is wrong. 

But there’s another message here. Tribes in one way or another were always part of history. We started as a tribal system and it led to division, even civil warfare. We abandoned tribalism or rather it effectively ended for us, (apart from symbolically) when both our kingdoms were defeated. We learned that all systems are flawed. But tribalism is certainly not the best model for the future.

This year we have witnessed the descent into tribalism in Israel. Let us hope that they will come to their senses. There are enough threats and dangers outside of our homeland. Yet at the same time, we need to recognize the miracle of what Israel is and the fact that it has brought all these people from different cultures and backgrounds, different points of view, together in one place and been able to hold off all the attacks from all round the world, not only from those in the immediate vicinity, and survive and thrive. 

The 15th of Av was declared the happiest day because it is the antidote to the 9th of Av.  It is not quite “Make Love not War” but it comes close.