What do parshat Va’etchanan and the holiday of Tu B’Av (which coincide this week) have in common?
The Shema prayer — the ultimate testament of faith and commitment by the Jewish people to God — is found in parshat Va’etchanan. The first paragraph begins with a challenging command: to Love Hashem. As the midrash Sifrei asks, “How does one come to love God?!” In other words, how can the Torah command such an emotion?! The Sifrei’s answer provides insight not only into how to observe the command to love God but also into how to increase love in human relationships. The Sifrei learns from the second paragraph of Shema, “And these things that I command you this day shall be upon your heart,” that the way to fulfill ahavat Hashem is by performing mitzvot. Acts of lovingkindness and service bring us closer, so to speak, to God.
A similar idea runs through the closing mishna in Ta’anit, which teaches that Tu B’av (and Yom Kippur) were the happiest days, since the daughters of Israel would go out to dance in the vineyards to meet their love-match. The women would all borrow dresses so as not to shame anyone who did not own a nice white garment. The mishna continues by comparing this matchmaking celebration with the wedding day of Shlomo Ha-melech in Shir Hashirim: “Go forth, daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon… on the day of his wedding…” The mishna interprets Shlomo’s wedding day as a metaphor for the bond between God and Israel: The day of Matan Torah, God’s gift to Israel and Israel’s building of the mikdash.
The message of this mishna and the Sifrei: selflessness, acts of giving and sacrifice increase love between the Jewish people and God and in human relationships as well. Shabbat shalom and happy Tu B’Av! -Karen Miller Jackson