By Miriam Abramovich
I’ve had love on my mind lately. It could be the daze of these [really] warm summer days, or, the cascade of lovely moments that have collided in my life over the last few weeks: 70th birthday celebrations for my parents, overnight camp drop-off, dinners al fresco with my husband, and leisurely walks with dear friends. Love, in all its forms, is in the air.
Today is a special day on the Jewish calendar, Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av, often referred to as the Jewish day of love, or ahava in Hebrew. Historically, Tu B’Av was a joyous day celebrated by kindling the sparks of new relationships. As this was one of the only times a year that the 12 tribes of Israel would intermingle, Tu B’Av was a celebration of a joining of people, couples, and cultures. “There were no better days for the people of Israel than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the young people [daughters] of Israel go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying? Young ones [men], consider whom you choose to be your partner [spouse].” (Mishnah Taanit 4:8)
Concepts and commandments to love abound in Jewish life. One need look no further than the epic masterpiece, Song of Songs, a dialogue between lovers from which we draw the poetic vows shared under a chuppah (wedding canopy): Ani le dodi v’dodi li, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3).
It’s not only the love between life partners that we hold in great esteem. One of Judaism’s most scared commandments is to “love your fellow as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) The sage Rabbi Akiva called this the “great principle of the Torah.”
Each year our tradition has us recall many instances of deep love rooted in familial bonds, faith, or friendship such as Ruth’s pledge to her mother-in-law Naomi: “wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). There are also unexpected moments when, despite pain and estrangement, love wells up such as Jacob and Esau’s emotional reunion in adulthood: “He [Jacob] himself went on ahead and bowed low to the ground seven times until he was near his brother. Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.” (Genesis 33:3-4)
Tu B’Av honors the bonds created between people. It is a day to reflect on the abundance of opportunities we have to give and receive love, in all its forms. What are ways to mark this day? Consider writing short notes of love [as simple as, I love you because…] to those you care most about, spend an extra moment lingering in an embrace with a child, pick up the phone and call [yes, call] an old friend, pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive through, give to a cause you find near and dear, or, take time to practice some self-love. Be intentional in expressions of love, today; I know you’ll find as I do, that the one thing that may be better than receiving love, is the gift of sharing it with others.
Miriam Abramovich is Chief Experience Officer at the Buffalo Jewish Federation.