Tonight and tomorrow make up the somewhat ambiguous Jewish holiday of ‘Tu B’Av' - which means the 15th day of the month of Av - which the Talmud describes as no less than the greatest holiday of the year.

Before we continue with the Jewish holidays however, this is a Jewish article, and anything Jewish must be connected with food. So let’s first discuss one of the world’s first multi-component, open faced sandwiches: Eggs Benedict. This decadent, messy breakfast can be easily made with kosher ingredients, using smoked salmon or other proteins. Its origins are disputed, but the most famous version starts in 1894 with a fellow named Lemuel Benedict. He is said to have ordered an English muffin, poached eggs, hollandaise and [I’ll take the liberty of inserting the kosher substitute] ‘salmon’ from the Maitre D at the Waldorf in NYC.

What resulted from Mr. Benedict’s order was the world’s first true multi-component sandwich, combining many different, self-standing elements into one. Which in turn brings us right back to tonight’s holiday of Tu B’Av. Where, you may ask, do the muffin, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce meet the Jewish holiday?

While all Jewish holidays can be traced back to one, singular event, Tu B’Av is the consummate cosmopolitan holiday, being traced back to a whole slew of events. The Talmud lists six reasons for this holiday, telling of six separate special events which occurred on the 15th day of Av (they range from the Jews ceasing to die in the Sinai desert, to a day when young women and men would customarily get engaged in ancient Jerusalem). It’s almost as if the Talmud wants the aura of the day to rise above any one single event, and highlight a singular message behind them all instead. Indeed, that is exactly the case:

Tu B’Av is not as much about an event than about an attitude. Its about maintaining the strength to have any type of joyous holiday in the month of Av. For Tu B'Av comes six days after the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av, when the two Temples were destroyed. After such a ‘low’ it can be hard to climb back up. Who wouldn't be deflated after that? Yet six days after Tisha B’Av, we celebrate our ability to do just that: To bounce back after a hard challenge. 

Just as the many components of Eggs Benedict come together, going from being eggs, bread, salmon and sauce to forming a brand new entity, so too is Tu B’Av not as much about any particular event but about highlighting that internal, eternal characteristic of the Jewish people which has enabled us to always bounce back from many a challenge. Rather than focusing on a single joyous event, the holiday of Tu B'Av focuses on our ability to be joyful after a hard time. 

Tonight's holiday highlights the very definition of 'happiness' in Jewish tradition. Rather than being something to pursue, it is a way of living; something which can be practiced in great times, and in not-such-great times (although the latter is certainly more challenging). Happiness is a modus vivendi which we can summon forth from within ourselves at any moment.

Tu B'Av reminds us that no matter yesterday's circumstances, the power to wake up with a smile is always within us - though a good breakfast of eggs benedict would certainly help put it there.

Rabbi Avrohom