AV, in general, is a paradoxical month. It begins with nine days of semi-mourning that conclude with the solemn fast day of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av).
During this time we recall the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the occupation by foreign powers, and the exile of the majority of the Jewish people from the Land given them by God.
Thereafter, the mood changes. We read the words of consolation given by the prophet Isaiah and remember the promises of God for the redemption and return of His people to restore and rebuild His Land. We, indeed, rejoice as we witness the fulfilment of these prophetic promises in our day!
We then arrive at the middle day of Av, which becomes a pinnacle of joyous potential as it is recognized as Sweetheart’s Day in Israel. The story of how this came to be also involves a paradox as it begins with tragedy and destruction and ends with the promise of new life and hope!
A sobering account in the book of Judges relates how certain men of the tribe of Benjamin, which was situated in the Jerusalem area, had committed acts of rape and murder against members of the other tribes. In response, the tribes gathered together and attacked and destroyed the small tribe of Benjamin, including the women and children. Only 600 men escaped the attack and fled to the cliffs of Rimmon, which are situated northeast of Jerusalem. Later, after the intervention of the prophet Samuel, the tribes repented of the severity of their action and they made peace with the Benjaminites.
Realizing the men now needed to find wives in order to build up the tribe once again, the elders advised them to go to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant was housed, on Tu B’Av – the 15th day of the month of Av, in order to attend the celebration of the annual grape harvest .
They advised, “Go and hide in the vineyards and watch; if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and choose each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and return to the land of Benjamin” (Judges 21:20-21).
YAMIM LEVANIM – WHITE DAYS
Tu b’Av marks the day the summer begins waning. A cooling begins and the land and vegetation baked by the summer sun begin to feel the gentle, refreshing touch of increased dew. The days between Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur are called in Hebrew ‘Yamim Levanim’ – White Days. Why?
At the time of Tu B’Av the white squill, with its delicate bridal-like blossoms, and resembling slim candles raised above the brown landscape, blooms all over Israel.
The virgin maidens, to retain modesty and similarity of dress for rich and poor alike, and in a reflection of the blossoming white squill, would don white dresses. They would joyously dance in the vineyards of Shiloh, and wedding matches were made.
To this day, therefore, the fifteenth of Av is celebrated in Israel as “Sweetheart’s Day”!
Just over six weeks later, on 10th Tishrei, Yom Kippur is observed when, once more, all traditionally dress in white. Again, it’s a fast day, but this one is combined with joy. Forgiveness is received after repentance, and, reflecting bridal holiness and purity, we stand like angels before the Throne of Almighty God, offering Him our hearts and lives in gratitude for His mercy, grace, and covenantal love.