Love Binds Us Together: Shabbat Va’etchanan – August 19, 2016
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Melissa and I celebrated the secular calendar date that I proposed to her eight years ago– I remember it well… it was 8/16/08. That year it was the day of Tu B’Av. And tonight is Tu B’Av. I love being Jewish– we celebrate all of our anniversaries on both the secular AND the Hebrew calendar date! Happy Anniversary, dear!
Why did I propose to her on this day? Well, Tu B’Av, not be confused with Tisha B’Av which is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tu B’Av is known as the happiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is known also as Hag Ha’Ahavah– Holiday of the Love!
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel first mentioned this holiday in the Mishnah from the 2nd century– he said, “There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying?” Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?”(Ta’anit, Chapter 4).
So, why did I propose to Melissa, my wife, on this date of otherwise heterosexual matchmaking? I was reclaiming it of course. And, linking us with generations of Jews over millenia.
Tu B’Av is like the Jewish Valentine’s day like that. A day where we celebrate love.
An interesting note about love– in Hebrew the word for love is AHAVAH– and in Jewish numerology also known as Gematriya, it’s value is 13. Do you know what else is valued at 13? The word for one- Echad. Love and one. One and love. Within this fact is the opportunity to expound upon the connection between the word one and the word love.
Christians do this easily and well through the wedding ceremony, inviting the couple to each light a candle and then use their individual candles to light a third candle together symbolising the unity that occurs out of the bond of love.
There is a similar teaching by the Baal Shem Tov, a 19th century rabbi, who would say that each person has a beam of light ascending from them to the heavens and when two people who are destined to be together meet, their lights stream together in a single beam. In this explaination, love binds people together.
The word for bind is also found in the Ahavah Rabbah prayer, the morning prayer that says v’dabek libeinu b’mitzvotecha– bind our hearts to your commandments. The prayer called AHAVAH rabbah– the great LOVE– asks God to bind our hearts to these good deeds. In doing so, love of God becomes an act of unification.
Similarly, in this week’s Torah portion Va’etchanan, we find the the Shema and the prayer after it known as the V’ahavta– often translated as “And you shall Love the Lord Your God with all of your heart with all of your soul and with all of your might.” Love of God, which inspires our action in accordance with commandments, in the Jewish tradition, seems to bind us to God. To allow us to commune with God. The ahavah (LOVE) transforms into echad (ONENESS) even with our creator.
But not only does love transform us from individuals to links with romantic partners, or connections to God, but love also transforms humanity on a societal level as well. We need only look on the dollar bill to find those famous words, “E Pluribus Unum”- out of the many, one, to be reminded communing in UNITY which is an essential part of the word COMMUNITY, requires love.
All week, I have been watching the Olympics and have seen the love of the sport and competition and love of country has motivated people to transcend all kinds of boundaries and gather in community.
Jewishly, we understand that underneath all that separates us, there is a love so great that it binds each and every creation. Some call this God, some call it Nature, some call it Goodness or Energy or the Force. Some question it’s existence. But the act of reciting blessings expressing gratitude for goodness in our lives allows the activity to occupy our consciousness and that very act binds us with its creator. The goal of life, according to the mystics, is to transcend our alienation from God by unification through the act of love.
Tonight, let us contemplate how we express our love, interpersonally, communally and with our Creator, and in doing so, may any alienation or distance between us vanish.