“Frozen” is my youngest daughter’s favorite Disney movie, so I have seen it a few times and even remember many lines by heart! Here is the essence of the story for whoever has missed out. Princess Anna falls in love with Prince Hans, and from their first date she knows she wants to marry him. Her sister Elsa is very angry with her, refusing to accept the idea of love at first sight, so she runs away and freezes the world. Anna goes searching for Elsa with a simple rural guy named Christoph. During their journey, Anna’s heart freezes. In order to save her, they must find someone who truly loves her, as only true love will thaw her heart. Christoph, who secretly loves Anna, does his best to bring her to Prince Hans, but he refuses to help. Olaf, the wise snowman, tells Anna a very important secret: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before your own. Christoph was willing to sacrifice everything to bring you to Hans and therefore only he truly loves you!”
Why am I sharing this? Tu B’Av is coming up (August 5 this year) and in some Jewish circles this day has become an imitation of Valentine’s Day – a day that focuses on the superficial aspects of love and romanticizes the idea of love at first sight. This perception is based of the following description of the Mishnah: There were no days of joy in Israel greater than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days, the daughters of Jerusalem…came out to dance in the vineyards. What would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself.” (Ta’anit 4:8)
However, when reading the entire text of the Mishnah more carefully, a different kind of love story would be found: “On these days, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments in order not to embarrass anyone who had nothing.” Our clothes are our most personal items of self-expression, and on Tu B’Av every bride-to-be was willing to wear a simple dress so as not to embarrass her friends who did not have beautiful outfits to wear. As Olaf taught us, true love is putting someone else’s needs before your own.
On Tu B’Av and on Yom Kippur, the girls wore white dresses and not colorful clothing. White symbolizes simplicity and purity. These were not days for “showing off” but rather times for authenticity, for showing our true colors, with no judgment or competition – only empathy and compassion. That is why Tu B’Av, should be the happiest day of the year and a festival of true and authentic love.
We are taught that our Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred – and that in order to rebuild our nation, we must increase Ahavat Chinam – true and unconditional love. This means developing authentic love for one another, based on our ability to recognize and prioritize the needs of others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us – as individuals, families, communities and Jewish institutions – unprecedented financial challenges. Many have lost their jobs, businesses are suffering, philanthropists are reducing their donations, and Jewish institutions find themselves in dire straits. Many families are struggling to keep their children in Jewish education frameworks. We need to prepare for a new reality for the coming few years. We need to create support systems in our communities to ensure that we do not “embarrass anyone who has nothing”, so that anyone who wishes to keep their children in Jewish education and maintain their membership of their community and other Jewish institutions will be able to do so, regardless of their financial status. Now is the time to practice Ahavat Chinam literally; it’s time to love other people unconditionally and include each and every family in our communities and our schools, even if they don’t have the money to pay (chinam).
Tu B’Av, the festival of true love, is the day on which we can start to repair our past errors, by sowing the seeds of Ahavat Chinam that will ultimately bring the rebuilding of our nation, as Rav Kook wrote so beautifully:
“If we were destroyed, and the world was destroyed with us, on account of gratuitous hatred, then we will be rebuilt, and the world with us, through gratuitous love.” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 324)