The walls of Jerusalem loomed before Tikva as she prepared to exit the city. She hesitated as she reached Jaffa Gate, her stomach fluttering with a mixture of fear and excitement. It would be so easy to turn back and scamper home. It was a crazy thing she was doing, really, and very much out of character. Her friends would never let her live it down if they found out.
The urge to turn back was powerful, but fleeting; Tikva knew that she would continue on her journey. While the potential for failure and embarrassment made Tikva literally tremble, at least it would be over with after a couple of hours. If she turned back, though, the self-doubt over a lost opportunity would gnaw at her indefinitely. She could not bear to think of missing an opportunity, the opportunity – not after all she had been through.
“Come on, Yeshua, don’t give me excuses. We’re all going together, and you’re coming with us.”
Yeshua shot his friend an angry look. “This is absurd, absolutely ridiculous. You’re not getting me to go. Just forget about it.”
Shimon laughed. “So you’re just going to sit here by yourself?”
“I wish you’d let me,” retorted Yeshua. “Go enjoy yourself. I’m sure you’ll have a great time. It’s not for me.”
“Listen, you have no excuse not to go. A lot of people are going to be there – but I’m tired of arguing with you. You know what’s best for yourself.”
Shimon patted him on the back, which struck Yeshua as unnecessarily patronizing, and turned to leave. “You know what’s best for yourself,” he repeated.
Tikva wished she’d gone with a friend. The whole experience was so awkward and full of pressure. Her sisters had gone in years past, with mixed results, but this was Tikva’s first time. She knew that, one way or the other, she would never do this again.
She noticed that her dress had a small stain in the front, a faded yellow streak. It wasn’t obvious, but it sure didn’t make her feel any better. Why couldn’t she have gotten a nicer dress? Why did the odds always seem stacked against her? And why did things never work the few times the odds seemed more favorable? Why?
Tears welled inside her, but Tikva forced them back. There would be plenty of time for her to cry later, and she expected to take full advantage of it. But not now. Tikva had beautiful eyes, and she intended to keep them that way. She was far from glamorous, as were some of the other girls, but Tikva had a pleasant appearance. At certain times, when things were right, she could even be radiant. She could not allow herself to cry.
Tikva smiled warmly as she approached the fields. Today her inner radiance would shine through to the surface. The fear and darkness would be buried deep inside her, perhaps never to reemerge. She dared to hope.
Yeshua tried to concentrate on his Talmudic teachings, but it was no use. His normally clear mind refused to stay focused for more than a few moments. After a final attempt to review some laws of agriculture, Yeshua gave up for the day.
“Fine!” he declared to the heavens, which, as usual, did not respond in any way that he could discern. “I’ll go. Let it not be said that I haven’t tried!”
His friends were long gone, and it was questionable whether he would even run into them when he arrived. But that suited Yeshua just fine. He didn’t mind being alone this time, free from their jeers and platitudes. They meant well – for the most part everyone meant well – but Yeshua preferred for things to remain mostly private. Even if that limited his opportunities, it made him feel better, and that had to count.
Yeshua had gone before, several times in fact. The experience had always been dreadful for him and yet, he acknowledged that it didn’t have to be that way. There was definitely potential for it to be pleasant, and it seemed that for most people it was. Maybe he just placed too much pressure on himself. Maybe this year would be different.
Yeshua would never have admitted it to anyone, but inside he really hoped. He felt a quiet confidence that he could not attribute to anything substantial, but he welcomed it. It really could be different this time, and if he had anything at all to say about it, it really would be different this time.
In that private inner place where no one else could look, Yeshua believed that it would.
Tikva heard the music from a healthy distance, and could almost feel something different in the air.
One of her sisters had met her husband at one of these affairs while Tikva was a child. The story was similar to those told by many others, yet still it seemed so magical. Somehow she had found herself in a conversation with a special young man before she knew it they had separated from the throngs of people it seemed like they were in their own little world, a world that had not existed until they found each other and in just a few short days they decided to share this world on a permanent basis.
Tikva yearned for this, she ached for it. Her world, so beautiful in its own right, often seemed empty, for lack of someone with whom to share it.
The magic often seemed terribly elusive. Today, however, she thought she could almost feel it. God’s presence was in these fields.
Yeshua was old enough to remember when these events occurred twice a year, on Yom Kippur afternoon as well as the fifteenth of Av. But with the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, the festive atmosphere following the Yom Kippur services in the Bais Hamikdash was replaced with a spiritual void. For a few years the traditional dances in the fields continued, but they lacked the spirit and joy of years past. Not surprisingly, few marriages resulted, and the dances began to dwindle. Yom Kippur was now an almost entirely solemn day, and the afternoon dances were a thing of the past.
Fortunately, the Tu B’Av dances retained their festivity, and continued to be well attended. A few extremists had begun to grumble that the Tu B’Av dances should not continue, for several reasons. Some felt that it was an embarrassment to the memory of the Yom Kippur dances, which no longer existed. Others argued that society’s morals had reached new lows, and young people should not be allowed to meet and marry in such a public fashion. Yeshua was glad that these fringe voices had little influence in the religious community.
He wished more than anything in the world to find an appropriate wife, and, despite his reluctance to attend the dance, appreciated the opportunity. Yeshua felt hope in the air, and hurried toward the festivities. His bride might very well be there waiting for him.
Tikva danced with the other girls, her soul filled with joy. She knew her face was glowing. Dozens of young men looked on at the edge of the field. Some of them appeared to be contemplating approaching the girls. Tikva wished they would get over their fears and do so already.
One of the young men stood out from the rest of the bunch. She did not know why. There seemed to be nothing remarkable about him yet something about him had clearly gotten her attention. Maybe it was the way he carried himself quiet confidence, but not the boisterous self-promotion of many of the others.
Or maybe it was simply the fact that he seemed to be watching her. He wasn’t obvious enough about it that Tikva could be sure, but it definitely seemed that he had taken notice of her. Tikva wondered if it was only her imagination. And she wondered if she was crazy to feel an attraction to someone she had never even spoken to. Why should she be attracted to him, she wondered? Why not anyone else? Why not everyone else? Was it right? Was it wise?
She didn’t know. But the more she covertly observed this young man, the less she found that she cared.
Yeshua could not justify to himself why he wished very badly to meet that girl in the circle. Her dress did not seem to fit her very well (though Yeshua knew that it was most likely borrowed). There were certainly prettier girls, and so far he had little else by which to gauge anyone. Yet she danced with a great deal of passion that seemed genuine, not simply for show. And she appeared to be keenly aware of the others in her circle, making sure not to allow her own dancing to adversely affect anyone else’s. She seemed graceful and charming, yet it was obvious to Yeshua that she did not desire to flaunt her qualities. He was certain that there were many such qualities, only a sample of which were on display. He wished to discover more about her.
Was it his imagination, or did she smile at him ever so briefly?
Throughout the generations there have been many Tikvas and Yeshuas, lonely Jews who searched for their respective hopes and salvations. In recent times the search has become more complicated and excruciating than perhaps ever before. Many thousands of Tikvas and Yeshuas are suffering indescribable pain and spiritual solitude every day of their lives. It will always be in God’s hands to bring people together. But it remains in our hands to allow God to perform this miracle in a subtle fashion, lest we not merit more supernatural methods.
Let us help our single men and women meet one another. And if we cannot help all of them sufficiently, let us not prevent them from helping themselves. May the new year bring the beginnings of many healthy and holy unions.