Tu B’Av is viewed by some as the Jewish Valentine’s Day. The gemara in Masechet Taanit cites the opinion of Rabban Shimon Gamliel that there were no happier days for the Jewish people than the 15th day of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel went out dressed in white with the intent on finding their soulmate. But I think there’s more to the joy of Tu B'Av than a historical opportunity to find a mate.
The gemara in Brachot cites Rav Matna who states that the Rabbis established the bracha of hatov v’hameitiv in birkat hamazon on the day that Bar Kochba’s army, which had been massacred in Betar in 135, was buried. The Bracha uses the word “hatov” as a nod to the good fact that the bodies didn’t smell, and “v’hameitiv” because it is also good that the Jewish people were given the opportunity to bury their fallen. Whenever I think of this gemara, I am quite puzzled. In the aftermath of an army of Jews suffering a massacre, it seems almost disingenuous, almost unbelievable, that the Rabbis' instinct was to declare God's goodness for the favor that the bodies didn't smell. I can understand reciting the blessing of “dayan ha’emet,” that God is the true judge, after such a massacre, but reciting a blessing of goodness?
Perhaps, though, our Sages exclaimed hatov v’hameitiv in response to something larger, as well. Perhaps the Rabbis blessed "hatov v'hameitiv" not in response to the physical realities of the loss of life, but in response to the beginning of the end of the hopelessness that befell our people after the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed.
If one looks at this time through the context of mourning, Tisha B'Av can be viewed as the first day of shiva. The seventh day, the day that we arise from shiva, falls out on Tu B’Av. Coming out of the depths that the Jewish people were in at the time of Bar Kochba's revolt, they were given the opportunity to bury the bodies, and to symbolically move forward, on Tu B’Av. Tu B’Av was, and remains, a day of hope.
Just last week on Tisha B’Av, we not only mourned the destruction of the Temple and other national tragedies that befell our people on that day, we also mourned the lack of unity within the Jewish community. We mourned how assimilated and religiously apathetic our people are, and we mourned the fact that even in Israel, in certain parts of the country you can’t even tell that Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning by the way that people are going about their business. We mourned, because it can all seem so hopeless.
But the truth is, hopelessness is not the appropriate Jewish response to tragedy. When we witness loss and strife amongst our nation, it must spark in all of us a sense of social responsibility and a will to rise again to greatness. Just six days following the hopelessness of Tisha B’Av, the Rabbis tell us on Tu B'Av that all hope is not lost. Just the opposite is true! Just six days after such a low point for our nation, we must raise our heads, look around us, and see what is so beautiful about Torah and the Jewish people. We must exclaim "hatov v’hameitiv," and though we only find ourselves at a stage of reishit tzmichat geulateinu, the beginning of the flowering of our redemption, we must celebrate all that is God given and good.
The holiday of Tu B’Av is all about hope. May we all recite hatov v'hameitiv with hearts that are full of hope for ourselves and the Jewish people. May we never give up on achieving our dreams, especially of finding our soulmate!