We normally think of Tu B’Av (the 15th day in the Hebrew month of Av) as a day for marriage propositions and romance. It is basically the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day. But the sad-yet-happy story behind this day makes it even more special. Prepare for an unexpected lesson in love.
The end of the Book of Judges details a unique drama. A Levite was returning home with his concubine. After dark, they could not continue their journey and sought shelter in a city that belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. An old man offered them food and shelter, but at night, the wicked people of the town stormed the house. They took the concubine and abused her the entire night. At dawn they let her go; she returned to the old man’s house but never made it inside. She collapsed by the door and died.
The Levite, who cared for his concubine deeply, dismembered her body into twelve pieces and sent each piece to a different tribe in Israel. The people of Israel were shocked by the crime perpetrated by the tribe of Benjamin and declared war on the entire tribe.
In the bloody civil war that broke out, the tribe of Benjamin was defeated and was almost obliterated. However, since “If a tribe from Israel is obliterated, all of Israel are obliterated from the world” (Masechet Sotah), Israel had to find a solution to sustain the tribe. On the 15th of Av, they permitted the men from the tribe of Benjamin to take women from the town of Shiloh: “Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to take part in the dances, then you shall come out of the vineyards and each of you shall catch his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin” (Judges, 21:20-21).
The 15th of Av—a Symbol of Brotherly Love
The story about the Levite’s concubine became a symbol of reconciliation, unity and love in Israel. It was said (Tifferet Shlomo), “No day was as good for Israel as the 15th of Av—a day when the tribes were permitted to mingle and impart each one’s goodness to one’s friend.”
It has been nearly 3,000 years since that story unfolded, but the people of Israel are still divided. We are divided by culture, ideology and ethnicity. Since that day, division has increased and hatred has only grown among us. Is there really nothing that can unite us or at least make peace between us?
Life’s Two Forces
The wisdom of Kabbalah describes two forces operating in nature, as well as among humans: love and hate. Our innate self-centered nature is the dominant, continually growing negative force. It causes us to be inconsiderate, quarrelsome, and leads to conflicts everywhere.
Even when we feel we love someone, it is because we love how that person makes us feel. As a result, we stop loving when we derive no joy from the relationship, so in truth, there was no love there to begin with.
To truly love another means to want that person’s happiness, to want to give to that other person. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is very literal: as much as you now love yourself, you should love another. It is much like a mother who instinctively cares for her child and wants her child’s happiness regardless of her own, but without the blood relation. So what do you do when hate awakens as in the story about the Levite and the concubine?
A Lesson in Love
The wisdom of Kabbalah does not negate hate. On the contrary, it necessitates it. Kabbalah says that true love can be built only when hate and love complement one another like positive and negative poles. However, in the end, love must rule, as it is written, “Love covers all crimes” (Proverbs, 10:12).
At each stage in our lives, the ego shows another layer of itself. This is expressed in feelings of isolation, rejection, alienation and hatred of others. We must not blur hate; it is an organic part of creation. Our sages said (Masechet Kidushin), “I have created the evil inclination; I have created for it the Torah as a spice,” meaning the light that covers our hatred with love. All we have to do is strive to unite, and thereby evoke the Torah, the positive force that connects us with love. This force neutralizes the hatred and induces balance, tranquility and peace.
The more we exert in connecting to each other, the more we will evoke the power of love that will unite us, until we become “as one man with one heart.” Above our crime of hatred, we build a solid and lasting fabric of love. The state of love is the end goal of our development. It is not a temporary state, but a natural law that sustains all of reality, and only waits for humanity to voluntarily embrace it. When we achieve this we will unite all of reality into one, complete system.
Between the two forces at the basis of our relationships—hate and love—we will discover a higher dimension of existence, a higher world, if you will, where love, eternity, and connection prevail. At that time we will be able to feel reality through others, our perceptions will expand and our view of this world will acquire infinite depths.
From the Ashes of Ruin to a Celebration of Love
Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av) symbolizes the brotherly love that manifested among the disputed tribes of Israel. It comes just one week after the 9th of Av, which symbolizes the baseless hatred that caused the ruin of the Temple. In a sense, the 15th of Av is a mitigation of the 9th of Av, and stresses that when hate appears, it is an opportunity to add more love and cover it. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the all-inclusive law of the Torah. In these days, when the whole world is groaning under the toll of baseless hatred, let us cover ours with love and discover that higher existence of love, eternity, and connection.