Love and Justice- Faithfulness Can Bring the Redemption
In a swift transition we go from the saddest day of the year, the ninth of Av, to one of the happiest on the calendar, in just six short days. Tisha b’Av is a day of heartache; a day of mourning associated with crying, disconnect to the land of Israel, with horrific tragedies, carnage, exile, and of course destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. In sharp contrast, the fifteenth of the month has been popularized as a day of love: popular for marriage proposals and weddings, linked to the ancient festivities of girls dancing in Shilo – חַג ה’ בְּשִׁלוֹ מִיָּמִים יָמִימָה… לָחוּל בַּמְּחֹלוֹת (Shoftim 21:19, 21), and associated with allowing intermarriage between tribes (see Taanit 30b), previously prohibited, and specifically to save the tribe of Binyamin from being eradicated in the aftermath of civil war (Shoftim 20). What is the link between these two disparate dates in the Jewish calendar?
There is a word that appears in the haftarah reading on Shabbat Chazon on the eve of Tisha b’Av which seems to connect the two dates. Yishayahu chastises Am Yisrael for acting insincerely, performing ritual acts while not being truly committed to the way of Hashem, namely not being kind and honest with each other. The prophet beseeches us to devote ourselves to being upright, and reminds us that Jerusalem is meant to be עִיר הַצֶּדֶק קִרְיָה נֶאֱמָנָה, the faithful city filled with justice (1:21,26). The word “ne’eman” stems from the same root as emunah, translated as faith, and broadens our perspective as we urge the citizens of Jerusalem and Jews worldwide to be faithful to the values of the Torah, taking care of the widow and orphan, being honest in business, and kind and compassionate in our behavior towards others.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Covenant and Conversation on Devarim) writes: “Isaiah’s warning is as timely now as it was twenty seven centuries ago. When morality is missing and economics and politics are driven by self interest alone, trust fails and society’s fabric unravels. That is how all great civilizations begin their decline, and there is no exception.” If a civilization’s decline begins with increasing degrees of self-interest and selfishness, combined with a lack of altruistic behavior, then the opposite can be true as well. What if we were to revitalize our society as a whole by starting with one couple at a time, one home at a time, honing in on selfless giving, commitment to our spouses, and to being compassionate and gracious to our neighbors? What if we were to “do good, seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan and take the grievances of the widow” (Yishayahu 1:17). The heightened empathy, selflessness and generosity in individual homes, or mini- sanctuaries, has a ripple effect. It creates just, upright communities, societies and civilizations.
When couples get married, they are often blessed that they should merit to build a “בית נאמן בישראל,” a faithful house in Israel. As the words of the prophet Yeshayahu call upon Yerushalayim to be the “faithful city” committed to benevolence, so we bless every home to be similarly devoted to live a life of commitment and loyalty to one another and to the mitzvot and ethics upon which the Torah expounds. In the hope that we merit to witness Yishayahu’s subsequent prophecy (2:2) speedily in the days to come, with the ‘בית ה, house of G-d, the beit hamikdash, it behooves us to start improving ourselves and our own private houses to be mini sanctuaries for the Divine Presence. For every generation in which the Temple was not built it is as if it was destroyed in their days (Talmud Yerushalmi, Yoma 5b).
This unique day of Tu B’Av, less than a week after the bitter day of weeping, is a day of celebration and holiness akin to Yom Kippur (Mishna Taanit 4:8). Just as on Yom Kippur we wear white, gather together as a community and are forgiven for our sins, so too on Tu b’Av the “daughters of Jerusalem” would don white garments, and brides and grooms coming together in matrimony are forgiven their sins on their wedding days. On the holiest day of the year, every individual looks similar to his or her neighbor, saying the same viduy prayers, wearing the same white attire and non leather shoes, stripped of status and jewelry. So too, the women dancing in Shilo on the fifteenth of Av would borrow dresses one from the other, even wealthy women, as the mishna explains בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם יוֹצְאוֹת בִּכְלֵי לָבָן שְׁאוּלִין, שֶׁלֹּא לְבַיֵּשׁ אֶת מִי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ, so as not to embarrass one another. The daughters of Jerusalem understood what the unfaithful city had forgotten – external trappings of wealth and physical beauty pale in comparison to what truly matters.
The b’not Yerushalayim of Shir HaShirim bear witness to the complicated love story between husband and wife, between the Jewish people and G-d, where there is longing and also doubt, each side taking initiative and then struggling with uncertainty of the other’s reciprocity. Experience of distance and pain is carried with a statement of devoted faithfulness nonetheless, as the beloved (ra’aya) states “I charge you, O daughters of Yerushalayim, if you find my beloved, that you tell him, that I am sick with love” (Shir HaShirim 5:8). I am faithful to you even though I feel disconnected to you right now. I choose to believe the best of you even in my pain. The b’not Yerushalayim can attest to the unbreakable bonds that the couple have formed (8:4) as they navigate the complexities of intimate relationships.
Hashem reprimands us through the prophets to be faithful to Him and to the beautiful ways of His Torah. By increasing our commitment to be kind, compassionate and faithful to our loved ones perhaps the force of love of Tu B’Av can overpower the death marking the ninth of Av:
שִׂימֵנִי כַחוֹתָם עַל־לִבֶּךָ כַּחוֹתָם עַל־זְרוֹעֶךָ כִּי־עַזָּה כַמָּוֶת אַהֲבָה…
Place me like a seal upon your heart,
Like a seal upon your arm
For love is as strong as death… (8:6).
Love for one another, one “bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael” at a time is what can propel us to re-establish the holy city of Yerushalyim as עִיר הַצֶּדֶק קִרְיָה נֶאֱמָנָה, as a paragon of faithfulness. Zion will be redeemed through justice (Yishayahu 1:27) with the house of G-d established as the head of the mountains, exalted above the hills (Yishayahu 2:2).