Love is in the Air (and the Torah!)

by Arliene Botnick, July 30, 2020

It’s not February – therefore we can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. And with all deference to Al Capps L’l Abner, most don’t even know about Sadie Hawkins Day, when, in Dog Patch, women would chase down terrified bachelors to “force” them into marriage. But it is still a time for love and romance, as Israel has, as one of its newest holidays, Tu B’Av – the 15th day of Av (coinciding this year with August 5). It is the holiday of love (Chag Ha Ahava) and a great day for weddings to take place in Israel. Mentioned in the Mishnah, Tu B’Av was a joyful holiday that marked the beginning of the grape harvest. Tradition tells us that on the 15th of Av, maidens dressed in white garments and danced in the vineyards. Today, this holiday – though having no formal rituals – has become the “high” after the three weeks of mourning that leads up to the commemoration of Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av which is the date given to the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd temples).

Romance is in the air – joy and dancing, singing, flowers, and then some studying are what fills Tu B’Av.

And one’s thoughts can turn to our Torah and see where “love” is mentioned (excluding the main concept of love between God and the people of Israel).

Let’s begin with Adam and Eve – the first arranged marriage, God being the matchmaker. No mention of love. But there is a mention in Genesis 2(18) of God saying: “It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helpmate.” Woman’s role was “to help,” but for Adam and Eve, perhaps her help in convincing him to eat the forbidden fruit wasn’t what was hoped for (or was it?).

Let’s skip ahead to Sarai (later to be called Sarah). No mention of love in this story. She was “taken” as a wife, dutifully followed Abram on this journey; she was barren, wanted a child, convinced Abram to take Hagar, the maidservant (Genesis 16-1) to have a son through her. Also, this doesn’t work out too well, when Sarah later convinces Abram to cast out Hagar and their son Ishmael. By the way, is it love that motivates Abraham to buy the cave of Machpelah in which to bury Sarah later in the story?

Next, we have the story of Isaac and Rebekah. She is put to the “feeding water to the camels” test by Eliezar (servant of Abraham). The right woman for Isaac must be kind, generous, caring, and hospitable. When Isaac meets Rebekah, it is written: Genesis 24(67) And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah; he took Rebekah, and she became his wife and he “loved her.” Notice the order of the events – “took her,” “became his wife,” and “he loved her.” Loving is the third stage of the romance. This reminds me of the love song in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye asks Golde if she loves him and she responds, something to the effect that for 25 years, she’s taken care of him, washed his clothes, given him children. If that’s not love, what is? Maybe love doesn’t precede marriage, maybe it develops after marriage.

We could continue with the saga of Jacob who worked for 14 years for the woman he really wanted to marry (Rachel), but along the way, partnered with her sister first (Leah), as well as two maidservants.

Love in our texts is very confusing and complicated, just as in real life. May I encourage you, therefore, to join a discussion about love on Zoom with our sister Israeli congregation (Darchei Noam) – 1:00 p.m. August 4 (call the office for the Zoom link). You will listen to some beautiful romantic music, hear some great love poems, and have a chance to add to the conversation and answer the burning question “What is love?”

Keep healthy!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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