Of all the annual “Hallmark holidays”, I hate Valentine’s Day the most. In high school, we ran to our lockers, hoping to see a bunch of pink and red cards waiting for us. While my locker was never empty, it wasn’t exactly overflowing, either.
High school was a long time ago, but as a rabbi, my contempt for Cupid has only grown. The whole occasion is so fabricated and trite. We send out millions of cards. Drugstores turn themselves into chocolatiers for a week, to the point where I can’t find the vitamins and cough syrup. Florists have their busiest day of the year. Restaurant reservations are at a premium. But after all that build up, how can the day itself turn out to be anything but a flop?
And when we designate a single day to celebrate the power of love, what does that mean for the rest of the year? We hate each other?
Even the Vatican seems to share my low opinion of Valentine’s Day. The “Vatican II” reforms of the 1960s crossed the feast of St Valentine off the Church calendar, explaining that the lore surrounding the “patron saint of lovers” was nothing more than romantic legend.
Speaking of which, one of the least known but perhaps most joyous and festive holidays on the Jewish calendar occurs on the 15th Day of the Hebrew month of Av.
Tu B’Av, the 15th Day of Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. At one time, it marked a matchmaking day for unmarried women. In modern times, Tu B’Av has slowly evolved into a Hebrew-Jewish “Day of Love,” a little like Valentine’s Day.
The last Mishnah in Tractate Ta’anis says:
“There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as Tu B’Av (the Fifteenth of Av) and Yom HaKippurim (The Day of Atonement), for on those days, daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing.”
The Mishnah explains that women borrowed each others’ white dresses, so as not to bring shame upon those who couldn’t afford finery. On that day, the poorest woman may have ended up wearing the most expensive dress. The message to suitors was not to judge their potential brides by mere externals.
If only Valentine’s Day could incorporate a lesson from Tu B’Av: it doesn’t matter how many cards you get in your locker, as long as you find that one special card that you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Simcha Weinstein is an internationally known best-selling author. He has appeared on CNN “Showbiz Tonight,” and NPR, and has been profiled in leading publications including The New York Times, The Miami Herald and the London Guardian. His latest book Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st century is on sale now.