Some Thoughts on Tu B' & the Calendar
Rabbi Joe Blair
July 22, 2013/15 Av 5773
Today is the 15th of Av. In Hebrew we write dates using the letters of the alef-bet to represent numbers - alef=1, bet=2, gimel=3, daled=4, hey=5, vav=6, yud=10, yud-alef=11, etc. In this system, however, we sometimes form words; the most obvious (and the one that is applicable today) is the value ten plus 5 or fifteen. In the standard pattern we would form fifteen from the letters yud for 10 and hey for five. However, these letters together form the word 'Yah', which is understood to be one of the ways we name G-d. In order to observe the commandment not to take the name of G-d in vain (or for useless or futile purposes, or insignificant uses), and to show respect, we change the pattern and we substitute the letters tet and vav, which have the values of 9 and 6, which numerically is the same, but does not form a word that has another meaning. What those letters do form is the combination that can be pronounced as 'Tu' or 'too'. That is how we come to use the name "Tu B'" to indicate 'the fifteenth of'. That comes up today, because this year, July 23rd coincides on the Hebrew calendar with the 15th of the month of Av.
Tu B'Av is mentioned in the Talmud as the happiest day of the year, a day for rejoicing and joy. It is described in a way that makes me think of a combination of Sadie Hawkins day (if anyone remembers what that was), Valentine's day (or at least, what it has come to be seen as in the U.S.), and something like college spring break! In short, it has the connotation of being seen as a day of love, or in more contemporary usage, the DAY OF LOOOOOOOOOVVVEEE! :-) If you want to know more about Tu B'Av, you will have to look it up. Where my mind went from here is not that direction. instead, i got curious about the name of the day.
It is absolutely true that every month has a fifteenth day, so the term Tu B' happens twelve (thirteen in leap years) times every year. However, it is identified specifically in only two of those months. Obviously, Av is one of them. The other is Shevat.
If you think back, you may recall that we celebrated Tu B'Shevat, known as the Birthday of the Trees, or the New Year of the Trees back in January (January 26th 2013). For that observance we held a Tu B'Shevat seder, reading about, focusing on, studying Torah concerning, and eating the produce of trees. We focused on the four worlds model, identifying the various types of fruits as representing each of the worlds, and we also looked through the lenses of environmentalism, Ba'al Taschit (the Mitzvah not to destroy or waste), and a focus on spirituality.
Today, Tu B'Av, I was thinking about the Tu - 15th - and Tu BShevat did indeed come to mind. I noted that these two dates are just about exactly six months apart in most years (leap years cause this not to be universally true), and I was reminded that there is another pair of holidays that is also almost exactly six months apart in the Jewish calendar. That would be Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur and Pesach - the High Holy Days and Passover.
So I began wondering what it meant to have these pairs of equally spaced holidays that come up in the course of the Jewish year. I have to admit that in the course of the day (so far at least!) I have not had any brilliant insights, but it strikes me as far more than a simple coincidence that we have these pairs of holidays that are spaced out through the year, and that this bears a little more thought.
I will ponder it further, but I invite you to be in touch if you feel you have any interesting insights that are worth sharing.
Happy Tu B'Av (Love day). :-)