A few days ago we marked Tisha b'Av, the most sorrowful day on the Jewish calendar. And a few days from now, when the moon is full, we'll reach Tu b'Av, which was once one of the most joyful days of our year. According to Talmud, Tu B'Av was a day when women would go out into the fields and dance, choosing spouses from among the men who came to dance with them. They would wear white dresses, and everyone borrowed a white dress from a friend so that no one would be shamed by a dress which didn't reflect status or wealth. Talmud teaches that in those days, the two most joyful days of the year were Yom Kippur and Tu B'Av! I gave a sermon a few years ago about joy and Yom Kippur (Unexpected Joy). But now that we don't dance in the fields and pick spouses at this full moon, how might we think about Tu b'Av and joy?
Tradition teaches that on this date, the children of Israel were redeemed from wandering in the wilderness, which they had done since leaving slavery in Egypt. One interpretation holds that the generation which had known slavery was so scarred by their experience that they couldn't make the leap to freedom. Those who had been born into terrible circumstances couldn't let go of the trauma of their past. So God decreed that the generation which had known slavery would live out the remainder of their lives in the wilderness: free from the constriction of slavery, but not yet ascending to the place of promise, to the next level of their spiritual development. On Tu b'Av, the next generation became ready to take on leadership and enter into the promised land.
All of us carry an imprint of our early life experiences. Often we also carry the imprint of our parents' life experiences: their successes and their struggles, their yearnings and satisfactions and regrets. Sometimes we are like the generation which left slavery: caught in remembering where we came from, caught up in analyzing the past, and therefore unable to let go of that past and move forward. For us as for our mythic ancestors, Tu b'Av can be a day to shed our attachments to those old narratives and to take the first steps in a new chapter of our lives. What are the old stories (about yourself, about your family, about where you come from, about others) which you need to shed in order to walk unencumbered into the promised land of the future you yearn for?
Tu b'Av gives us an opportunity to find joy in letting go. Letting go of our old stories -- letting go of our old constrictions -- letting go of the things which once defined us but have become like weights holding us down. Sometimes the old stories and old traumas we carry with us are like a bag full of stones. What would it feel like to set that bag down, to thank those old stories for serving their purpose, and then to build a cairn of those stones and leave it there and walk away? What new territory of the heart and spirit might open up to us if we could let go of old resentments and calcified beliefs about who we are? Can we imagine the lightness of setting down that burden and walking unencumbered into the promise of milk and honey, sustenance and sweetness?