During the times of the Mishna, Tu B’Av was a Yom Tov that revolved around starting a family in Israel * There are many positive initiatives to solve the problem of late singleness, but the main thing is to educate about the value of marriage, love and family, because that is the root * In our generation, in the face of the attacks that seek to paint the family as a burden on limiting a person’s freedom, we must increase the awareness that the family is man’s happiness
Our Sages said in the Mishnah (Ta’anit 26:2): “There were no better days for Israel than the 15th of Av and the Day of Atonement”, when the daughters of Israel went out and frolicked in the vineyards, inviting themselves with joy and love to start families in Israel.
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. However, it was also necessary for the men to see the girls and be able to talk to them about the possibility of the wedding, and that was the purpose of these days. And perhaps these days were mainly intended for those young men and women who in the usual ways did not find their spouses, as hinted in the Midrash (Petichta 33 to Eichah Rabbah): “Tana: One who did not have a wife would turn to there.” However, girls from privileged families would also participate in the dances, so that there would not be a situation where only the poor and needy brides would come there to seek out a groom.
The White Wedding Clothes
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 possess such a gown, as our Sages said (Ta’anit 26:2), that on these good days the daughters of Jerusalem would “go out in white borrowed garments so as not to embarrass one who did not have one.” And even the daughters of the most privileged families would borrow a simple white garment from less privileged daughters: “The daughter of a king borrows from the daughter of a high priest, the daughter of a high priest from the daughter of a deputy, and the daughter of a deputy from the daughter of a mashuach milchama, the daughter of a mashuach milchama from the daughter of a regular priest, and all Israel borrow from each other, so as not to shame anyone who did not have.” In other words, even rich girls who had fancy dresses, would borrow a simple white dress from their friend, and so they would go out to frolic in the vineyards, so as not to embarrass the poor who could not come in fancy dresses.
As a continuation of this, it is still customary for brides to wear white, in order to reduce competition and jealousy between brides, and especially between the poor and the rich.
What the Young Women Would Say
The Talmud (Ta’anit 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.”
What the Attractive Girls Would Say
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, to the point where our Sages said (Yevamot 63b): “A beautiful wife, happy is her husband; the number of his days are doubled.” 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.
What the Noble of Birth Would Say
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 our 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. Our Sages also advise marrying the daughter of a Torah scholar (Pesachim 49a). This is the reason that the Mishna (Ta’anit 4:8) only quotes the girls from good families; in
the eyes of our Sages, their words were the truest. “Young man, please lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself for a wife. Do not set your eyes toward beauty, but set your eyes toward a good family, as the verse states: Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised”, and it further says: “Give her the fruit of her hands (her children), and let her works praise her in the gates(education of children).”
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.
There are girls who don’t look beautiful, but they have good character traits of modesty and humility, wisdom and a desire to do good, and the normal guys are repulsed by them; but if they would know how to look deeper and consider for the sake of heaven – they would find out that it is precisely with such girls it is easier to establish a faithful home, full of Torah and kindness. And if they adorn their bride with gold, they will then get to discover her special beauty, and as the years pass, it will become clear to them and to everyone, that there is nothing more beautiful than her. Because the most beautiful thing on earth is a loving soul, and a deep partnership to adhere to the truth, and do good. And as the outer beauty of youth fades, the inner beauty is revealed and intensified.
The Discussions about the Problem of Singleness, etc.
Various people bring up the “problem of late bachelorhood”, convene meetings and discuss the right ways to help bachelors and bachelorettes get married. One of the proposals is to place in every institution for higher studies for boys or girls a staff member who will be responsible for accompanying the matches, and even making offers to those who are interested. Another suggestion is to encourage as many people as possible to engage in matchmaking. Also organizing meetings and Shabbats for bachelors and bachelorettes, etc.
All these suggestions can be good, however the main thing is to educate about the value of marriage, love and family. Because that is the root. In Israel, education should be based on learning the Torah. If the field of marriage and family needs strengthening, then we need to strengthen our studies in this field, and the more we understand its value, the more we will be able to strengthen it.
Studying the Mitzvot of Marriage in the Past and Present
In the past, the values of the family were considered an existential necessity, because without a family, a person could not provide for his material needs and protect himself, therefore every human society emphasized the values of the family and established for itself rules and laws according to which the family was conducted. On a higher religious level according to the guidance of the Torah, family life was guided in such a way as to elevate all family members to a life of Torah values and mitzvot.
Compared to the situation in the past, in modern society, a lone adult is able to take care of himself in obtaining his material needs and the various entertainments in which he is interested. Not only does he not need a family, but a family is liable to burden him, delay his professional advancement, hinder him from spending nights and days as he pleases, consume his money, deprive him of his freedom, obligate him to take care of his parents in their old age, and dedicate himself in the education of his children.
The value of freedom is indeed sacred, but when misused it strengthens the egoistic position, which sees man as a loner, and seriously harms family values.
We must return and deepen the values of the family and its mitzvot, in order to fulfill them for the sake of the sublime value within them, both in a person’s relationship to his parents, in a person’s relationship to the sacred marriage alliance by which he becomes a complete person, and in his relationship to his children. According to this concept, man is not alone, but part of a family, and this does not harm the revealing of his life forces and freedom, but rather, empowers them. However, in order for this to be the case, one needs to deepen the study of these mitzvot, and learn to fulfill them in completeness.
The Attacks on the Family
The attacks on family values come from the outside, and within. In modern society, which emphasizes and promotes the values of liberty and freedom, man is seen as being alone, and family burdens him, harming his freedom to express his desires. Thus, it turns out that in practice, the more modern the society, the more many people prefer to maintain their personal freedom, and not to bind themselves in marriage. And even among those who marry, many divorce, because they are not ready to pay the price that marriage, as it were, exacts from them. This is how in practice most people live for most of their adult lives without a faithful relationship. As it were, there is a tension between the desire for a happy and deep love, and the binding commitment of marriage.
On the other hand, due to a flawed and partial study of halakha and the words of Kabbalah, there are erroneous and false rumors circulating in the public that slander our holy Torah very badly, as if the Torah’s goal is to diminish the joy between the couple. However, all this happened because of a mistaken teaching that emphasized the opinion of the strict Pharisees, and turned the opinion of the majority of the poskim, who emphasized the joy and rejected the customs of strictness, into a bedi’avad opinion.
The deep tikun (correction) is in a serious and deep study of the mitzvah of marriage, the mitzvah of love and joy between the couple, and the mitzvah of fertility and reproduction. In the midst of a good and in-depth study, we also encounter situations of difficulties in relationships or fertility, and learn about the answers to these questions in the Torah and halakha. In the process, we internalize the enormous value of the mitzvah, which is worth investing one’s life for its sake, and receive good guidance for forging a fulfilling relationship, and establishing a blessed family.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.