"A Look at the 15th of the Hebrew Month of Av" Special Article

The Ancient Tu B’Av Custom
The Attractive and the Noble
The Unattractive Ones
Sound Advice for Singles
The Unique Power of Tu B’Av

The Ancient Tu B’Av Custom

Israel never knew such wonderful holidays as Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur.
On these days the daughters of Israel would go out and dance in the
vineyards and offer themselves joyfully for the purpose of
establishing Jewish families. And despite the fact that all
individuals are different – some are rich and some are poor; some are
more beautiful and some less; some are of noble birth and some are not
– all the same, on these days, special effort was made to try and
bridge the gap, at least as far as wealth was concerned. The young
women would therefore go out wearing white borrowed outfits in order
not to embarrass one who did not herself posses such a gown.

Most likely, the young men were already acquainted to some extent with
the families of the girls in the area and had consulted their parents
regarding an appropriate match. The final decision, however, would
take place on these days. Perhaps these days were meant for those boys
or girls who were not successful in finding a mate in the conventional

The Attractive and the Noble
The Talmud (Taanit 31a) informs us as to the manner in which these
daughters of Israel would try to make themselves desirable: “The
attractive ones would exclaim: Search out beauty, for this is the
purpose of a wife; the ones of noble birth would say: Search out
family, for family is the purpose of wife; the unattractive ones would
say: choose your mate for the sake of Heaven, so long as you adorn her
with gold.”

That the attractive girls would draw attention to their beauty is
understandable. Many boys choose their wives based upon beauty. Beauty
presents itself as a kind of guarantee to a good and happy life, a
life filled with vitality. Reality, though, does not confirm this.
There is no indication whatsoever that men who married so-called
attractive women ended up more content than those who married “less
attractive” women. When beauty comes in addition to good character it
can indeed add to life – but, often, it can be misleading.

Those of noble birth say just that: The main thing is character. A
good family is one in which many of its members have been successful
in obtaining a proper education and good livelihood. One can safely
assume that a woman who comes from such a family will possess a
pleasant and kind character, and agreeable educational habits. In
addition, it is highly probable that the children resulting from such
a matrimony will also possess such traits. We indeed find that the
sages (Baba Batra 110a) advise examining the brothers of the
prospective bride, for it often happens that the children turn out
like the brothers of the bride. The sages also advise marrying the
daughter of a Torah scholar (Pesachim 49a). This is the reason that
the Mishna in Taanit 26b only quotes the girls from good families; in
the eyes of the sages, their words were the most true.

The Unattractive Ones

The most surprising of the three groups is the unattractive one:
“Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven, so long as you adorn her
with gold.” A simple interpretation of these words tells us that these
young women are appealing to the unattractive, untalented boys who
would run after the attractive and distinguished girls only to be
turned away. To these boys they would say: “If you keep running after
the attractive and distinguished girls, you will remain single and
frustrated forever. Be realistic and marry one of us who are ready to
marry you. After all, the Torah commands you to marry – come, marry
for the sake of fulfilling God’s will.” And because marriage must
possess an element of affection they added: “So long as you adorn us
with gold,” for such behavior gives expression to your love for us.

But this is not all. There is a more profound way of understanding the
words of the unattractive girls. Sometimes a person who has merited
neither beauty nor desirable lineage, succeeds, by virtue of
exceptional faith in God, to perfect his or her character traits and
attain great personal achievement. The level such a person reaches is
even higher than that of the attractive and distinguished. A shared
life with such a person is sure to be full of beauty and happiness.
This is what they meant: “Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven and
by so doing we will ascend together and surpass the level of all the
attractive and distinguished couples – and our children will be
distinguished by virtue of us.” And they added, “So long as you adorn
us with gold.” This last statement can be understood best in light of
the words of R’ Yishmael (Nedarim 9:10): “The daughters of Israel are
all beautiful, only that poverty makes them unbecoming.” If you
decorate us with gold you will uncover our true unique beauty. And so,
though in practice the most desired girls are the generally the
attractive ones, and they are followed by the distinguished ones, in
truth the distinguished are preferable to attractive and, sometimes,
the unattractive are the most desirable of all.

Sound Advice for Singles

Here, then, is a bit of advice for single men: Often, girls who are
actually quite pretty appear to be unattractive. This, though, is
simply the result of the man’s level of maturity. God created humans
such that they enter the world as babies and grow and develop until
old age. Each stage in life has its own purpose. At the age of twenty,
the desire to marry is very strong: “Twenty is the age for
chasing” (Avot 5:18). At that stage in life the heart is full of
enthusiasm and courage. The boy sees all that is good in his
prospective match and is ready to leap happily into married life. This
period is followed by a more restrained stage, the purpose of which is
to build and prepare the next layer of life. When an older single man
anticipates to be swept up by youthful enthusiasm when dating, he is
usually disappointed. Yet, instead of attributing this to his age, he
finds fault in the girl. He might admit that she is pleasant and
bright, but – he disappointedly explains to his close friends – she is
not attractive and exciting enough. Such bachelors must be informed:
If the girl is pleasant and smart in your eyes, and you enjoy being
together with her, and the only problem is that the excitement element
is lacking, “Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven.” And do not
worry, for, if you invest energy in your relationship and “decorate
her with gold,” you can be sure that you will be blessed with true
love. The enthusiasm which accompanies falling in love is actually
meant to help a person take the monumental step of entering into the
covenant of marriage. Such emotion, however, does not guarantee a
happy marriage. Good traits and shared goals are much more important.
True, ripe, deep love which reaches the inner layers of the soul is
dependent upon these ingredients.

The Unique Power of Tu B’Av

The author of the work “Bnei Yissachar” explains that Tu B’Av is a day
of deep-rooted significance because it falls forty days before the
date of the world’s creation. The sixth day of creation was Rosh
HaShannah. On that day God formed man. Six days prior to this is the
Twenty-fifth of Elul, and forty days prior to this is Tu B’Av (the
Fifteenth of Av). The sages tell us, “Forty days before the formation
of the infant an announcement is made in heaven: “The daughter of so-
and-so is matched up with so-and-so.” Tu B’Av, too, because it falls
forty days before the formation of the world, is a day of fatal
importance with a unique capacity to initiate life – especially for a
bride and groom who wish to establish a family.

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