A few days ago, I was invited to a private home in Potomac, Maryland for a study group. The main question that I asked the people who attended, was, "Give me the definition of Judaism in only a few words." Unfortunately, the answers I got were "Yizkor, Yahrzeit, unveiling, Kaddish." I felt that I should share with you what Judaism should mean to every one of you. I feel that what we are going to share today is not just the meaning of Judaism, but also a very important lesson in Jewish history.
Let me digress for a few moments and go to a well-known story that we read in the Torah several weeks ago. It was the time before Moses died and the Jewish people were about to enter the Holy Land, which was to be divided among the twelve tribes. There was a serious question of how they were going to divide the land. So Moses followed G-d’s instructions and made a lottery. He carried two boxes – one had the names of each of the tribes and the other had the names of the properties. It was a clear lottery and there was no favoritism. Now a serious question was left. What happened if they were going to conquer the land, winning the war against the nations and meanwhile some people marry others from a different tribe? For example, if someone from the tribe of Reuben marries someone from the tribe of Shimon, does the bride have the right to carry with her the inheritance or not? If we say that she had the right, then the lottery division of property is meaningless. G-d told Moses to tell the people that it is forbidden to intermarry between the tribes before each tribe gets fully settled in its property. What happened is that for several years it was like twelve individual nations, not one Jewish nation.
This past Wednesday was a festival that was called, Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of Av (not Tu Bishvat). Why was it such a great festival? It was because on this day in the era of the Judges, which was many generations after Moses, G-d instructed the people that they were now allowed to intermarry between the tribes. This was the reason for a very big celebration, because it removed the borders between the tribes. We no longer had twelve different groups, but one individual nation. Since that time, Tu B’Av (15th of Av) became a very special day of celebration and festival. The Jewish Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov describes many wonderful celebrations that happened on the 15th of Av, such as the removing the ban against the tribe of Benjamin. The Talmud says that the happiest day for the Jewish people was the 15th of Av, because at that time all the girls in Jerusalem dressed in white and danced around the city of Jerusalem and around the Temple.
The matchmaker used to fix them up with prospective husbands. According to the Talmud, the matchmakers used to say, "Men, lift up your eyes and find your soul mate. Do not look at her external beauty, but look at her image and internal beauty and her family." To quote from Eshet Chayil which we sing at the Friday night Shabbat dinner table, "Sheker Hachain Vihevel Hayofi, Eeshah Yeerat Hashem Hee Teethallal" which means "False is grace, and vain is beauty, a G-d fearing woman - she should be praised." This is what they used to say and since then, it’s called the "Festival of the Matchmaker."
In many Jewish history books, there are numerous descriptions of celebrations of the 15th of Av. Dr. Rabinovitz from Bar Ilan University said that since the time of the Temple until after the mid-1900’s it was sacredly observed as a wonderful traditional festival, but he, as well as others, thinks that the Holocaust and other tragedies that happened caused the celebrations to stop. However, in Jewish communities around the world, they are celebrating the festival of the 15th of Av by having a singles meeting or a singles weekend.
The idea is that when I met this group in Potomac, I said to them that Judaism is happiness and celebrations and not only sadness. The beauty of our religion is that despite the tragedies that happened to us (and we just finished the time of the three weeks from the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av), we are a nation that lives with positive hope. We never lost our faith. The idea of the celebration of the 15th of Av is a paragon and a very good example of what Judaism should mean to every one of us. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic Movement, said that Judaism is happiness; Judaism is a positive perspective of the world and looking upon a positive future.
May G-d bless all of us with many happy occasions and may we all look towards our future in a cheerful and upbeat way.