A great cynical curmudgeon once wrote that “love is the mistaken notion that one female differs from another”. Khazal described a now defunct courtship custom celebrated annually on T”u B”Av (tonight/tomorrow ). I’ve often wondered if in doing so they were intimating the same attitude towards love as that of the great cynical curmudgeon.
The final mishna in Ta’anis teaches that on T”u B”Av “The daughters of Jerusalem (clad in borrowed white garments) would do circle dances in the vineyards” presumably before a male audience and “shop” their marriage-ability. I find the description of the dance significant. Elsewhere Khasidisha seforim point out the geometric truism that a circle is a set of points equidistant from one central point. IOW no individual point in a CIRCLE can possibly be any closer to the center than another. The whole scene is one of egalitarian sameness. Rich and poor wore the same borrowed uniform. Beauty and pedigree were to be ignored. And so the maidens were all points on a circle with no one either further away or closer (re: more attractive or more repulsive)than any other. As if to say “don’t predicate your love and marriage proposal on real or imagined differences. Today on T”U B’Av all are equal.”
The centrality of romantic love to traditional Judaism while indisputable is still ambiguous and enigmatic. On the one hand we have Shir HaShirim, a love poem for adults only, as the ultimate allegory of the covenant and love that binds Israel with her Creator. It is also termed Qodesh Qodoshim= the holy of Holies via a vis other sacred writing in the TaNak”h cannon being merely Qodesh. We also find the Rambam famously describing the love of G-d in terms of a male lovesick with an infatuation for a female who can think of and yearn for nothing else. Yet we have Midrashim describing our founding patriarch as never having beheld his wife’s visage until many years after marriage and our Torah–giving prophet as having separated from his wife. We also have a long and storied tradition of arranged marriages wherein , as Tevyeh in Fiddler says “but my father and my mother said we’d learn to love each other”. Certainly Rav Desslers postulate that "Giving" engenders "Loving" turns the western paradigm of romantic love on it’s ear.
Perhaps more than any other human endeavor our romantic exertions are where we most feel the tension between yedeeah =(providence) and bekhira (free will). Per khazal ones mate is decreed with a Divine “echo/daughter voice” 40 days prior to ones conception (or maybe @ conception 40 days prior to ones embryonic formation? ?? Not sure what yetziras haV’lad means). A great wedding invitation litmus test to determine if a couple is kharedi or MO is to see if they write im bas geelo = with the daughter of his age i.e. with his besherter or im bekhiras leebo/leebah =with his /her hearts choice. If it’s our choice then differences certainly DO differentiate. If it’s G-d’s providence then for all intents and purposes as far as the non-choosing human being is concerned, one will do just as well as another.
Circles, equality, equidistance…ROUND…it’s what makes the world go love.
Qedusha-Havdlala...have you had yours today?