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TU B'AV

Tu B'Av or Chamishah-Asar B'Av
(the 15th of Av, this year (5777-2017), Monday, Aug. 7)

 

The Last Mishnah in Ta'anit 4:8 (Talmud, Tractate Ta'anit 26b, [see also 31a]) states: Rabi Shimon ben Gamliel said "Israel has no days as festive as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur....," and adds;
"On these days, the young maidens of Yerushalayim would emerge in the streets wearing borrowed white clothing [so as not to embarrass the poor who did not have garments of their own. They would form a circle (and dance) in the vineyards. What would they say (while they danced)? 'Young man, lift up your eyes and appreciate whom you are selecting (to marry). Don't look at our beauty. Instead, look at the family (from which we descend).' It is written (Shir Hashirim / Song of Songs 3:11), 'Go out and look, you daughters of Zion, at King Shlomo's crown, which was adorned by his mother, (for him to wear) at the day of his wedding and the day of his heart's rejoicing.' The expression 'at the day of his wedding' refers to the Giving of the Torah, and the expression 'the day of his heart's rejoicing' refers to the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash (the Temple in Jerusalem), may it occur swiftly in our lifetime."

(See also Tractate Baba Batra (121a & b) where the Talmud quotes parts of the Mishna and repeats the discussion below with slight differences).

That means that the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur are equally joyous occasions.

On Yom Kippur we are forgiven and we feel a renewed closeness with Hashem, and that is a cause for great celebration. It is the day on which Bnei Yisroel (the children of Israel) was given the second Luchot (Tablets), upon which was engraved the Ten Commandments, (after Moshe broke the first ones on seeing the Eigel Hazahav [Golden Calf]) indicating Divine forgiveness for that sin. Thus, on Yom Kippur we turn over a new leaf in our relation with G-d and man. Such a day is a day of joy both for the community and for the individual.

But what is so special about the 15th of Av?

The 15th of Av is equally a time of historic atonement and celebration.

What are we celebrating?

The Talmud (Tractate Ta'anit 30b - 31a) explains the six historical events that give the 15th of Av its unique character. Five of them commemorate joyous events during Biblical times that express unity among different factions of the Jewish people, and the sixth an annual joyous event in the Beit Hamikdash. The 15th of Av was a festive day, in the era of the Beit Hamikdash, when grand celebrations took place. Today, too, the 15th of Av is celebrated as a festive day.

1. The first reason is given by Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel.

It was the Day on which the Shvatim (Tribes) were allowed to intermarry with each other (after the decision affecting the Bnot [Daughters of] Tzelafchad). (Bamidbar/Numbers 27:1-11, 36:8-9)

When the decision was announced regarding the Daughters of Tzelafchad; namely, that they would be entitled to a share in order to preserve their father's name, thus giving them a share in "Eretz Yisroel," it was qualified by the requirement that they must marry within their Shevet (Tribe). The Torah tells us in Bamidbar 36:8-9 that "any unmarried woman who inherits property...shall marry one from a family of the tribe of her father's, so that...an inheritance will not pass from one tribe to another." If a woman was an heiress, she could only marry someone from within her Shevet. This restriction prevented the transfer of the inheritance a woman received from her father to her husband's Shevet permanently upon her death.

On the 15th of Av, this requirement was lifted. The Sages arrived at the conclusion, based on an understanding of a verse, that this restriction only applied to the generation that entered the land of Eretz Yisroel with Yehoshua (Joshua). The lifting of this restriction was a cause of great joy, especially among women. Now, all women were free to marry any man from any Shevet. Because of the joy that was experienced at that time, this date, the anniversary of that lifting of the restriction, is also a day of great joy.

2. The second reason is that of R' Yosef in the name of Rav Nachman.
(In Baba Batra - Rabba bar bar Chana in the name of Rav Yochanan).

In the times of the Shoftim - (Judges, 19-21), under the rule of Otniel, a terrible civil war broke out between Shevet Binyamin and the rest of the nation, after the outrage of "Pilegesh B'Givah," the Concubine at Givah (approx. 2573-1188 BCE.). Shevet Binyamin was decimated and the other Shvatim had decreed that no woman from another Shevet would be allowed to marry a man from Binyamin. This ban would have resulted in the eventual elimination of an entire Shevet of the Jewish people. Some time later, on the 15th of Av, a decision was made to only apply this injunction to the generation that had actually participated in the conflict. In the spirit of unimpeded unity, girls from other Shvatim could again marry men from Binyamin, guaranteeing the survival of the Shevet of Binyamin.

This was a cause for great happiness.

3. The third reason the Talmud offers is given by Rabba bar bar Chana in the name of Rav Yochanan.
(In Baba Batra - Rav Dimi bar Yosef in the name of Rav Nachman).

During the 40-year trek in the desert, all males, above 20, the generation of the Exodus from Egypt, died out for the sin of the "Meraglim," the Spies who slandered Eretz Yisroel. Their death was in punishment for weeping on the night of the 9th of Av after hearing the Spies' report about the Holy Land.

Every Tisha B'Av, for 38 years, 15,000 men, (of the total 600,000 who left Mitzrayim [Egypt]) would die. All the male Jews who had been under the decree (twenty years or over at the time of the Sin) had dug their graves, and slept in them on the night of Tisha B'Av. The following morning, each year, fifteen thousand would not rise from those graves. On the last Tisha B'Av in the year 2488, the remaining 15,000 dug their graves, but in the morning they all rose - none had died!

First they thought that they must have made a mistake in the calendar, so they continued to dig their graves every night until the 15th of Av. On the 15th, when they saw the full moon they knew they hadn't made an error, and rejoiced, realizing that Hashem's anger had ceased and had rescinded the decree for the remaining 15,000!

Furthermore, the Talmud tells us that as long as those destined to die were still alive, the Divine Communication between Hashem and Moshe was on a lower and less personal level, to the extent that the Talmud considers it "no Divine Communication (at all)." Once the 15th of Av passed and it was confirmed that the decree was rescinded, Hashem resumed speaking to Moshe as he had before the enactment of the decree. As this communication was for the benefit of Israel, the day it returned was a day of rejoicing and celebration.

On that day, Klal Yisroel joyously celebrated its renewed lease on life and a day of forgiveness and celebration was proclaimed giving perpetual gratitude to Hashem for the gift of life that He grants, whether through blatantly miraculous means or in a "routine" fashion.

4. The fourth reason the Talmud mentions is that of Ula.

Following the death of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), the nation was divided. The first king of the secessionist Kingdom of Israel, [as opposed to the kingdom of Judah], was led by the evil Yeravam ben Nevat. Three years after taking the throne, he erected two golden calves in the North and South of Israel, and prohibited the Jewish people from being "Oleh L'Regel" (going to visit the Beit Hamikdash) on Pesach, Shavuot or Sukkot. Checkpoints, sentries and other forms of restraint were placed on the road leading to Yerushalayim and the Beit Hamikdash. This was done to discourage the Jews from going to the Beit Hamikdash on the holidays, and encourage them to serve the golden calves.

On the 15th of Av, around 3187-574 BCE, the King Hoshea ben Elah, (the last King of the Kingdom of Israel, approximately the 18th after Yeravam), removed these sentries and roadblocks, lifting the decree, allowing all the Jews once again to go to the Beit Hamikdash and serve Hashem.

Tu B'Av thus became a day when Jews of all backgrounds would come together and demonstrate a full-fledged sense of achdut, (unity) uniting all of Klal Yisroel - a cause for real celebration.

5. The fifth reason is that offered by Rav Masna.

One of the five calamities commemorated on Tisha B'Av is the capture by the Romans in 135 BCE, of the great fortress city of Beitar, the last stronghold of the leaders of the Bar Kochba revolt, during the time of Rabbi Akiva. This occurred 52 years after the destruction of the 2nd Beit Hamikdash.

Bar Kochba led an uprising against the Romans. He was so successful that some considered him to be the Moshiach. His rebellion ended on Tisha B'Av after a 3-year siege against Beitar, and he and 580,000 Jews were brutally liquidated.

To disgrace and demoralize the people, the "fallen of Beitar" were not permitted by the Roman authorities to be buried. Instead, the corpses were stacked as a human fence around the vineyards of the governor, Adrianus, (approx. 12 mile perimeter). For almost 11 years (others say 15), throughout the entire reign of the Emperor Hadrian, and until his death, the bodies, although they all lay exposed, miraculously remained intact without decomposing.

Rabban Gamliel and his court in Yavneh fasted and prayed for many days, and Rabban Gamliel depleted his considerable inheritance to bribe the Roman despots, until finally, on the 15th of Av, permission was granted to bury the martyred of Beitar. This miracle was cause for celebration. In fact, the fourth blessing of the Birchat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) "Hatov V'Hameitiv" - Hashem Who Is Good And Who Does Good - was authored by the Sages in Yavneh to commemorate this great miracle. This was ordained to remember the special love that Hashem displayed in not allowing the martyrs of Beitar to decompose before burial and the fact that ultimately they were afforded burial.

6. The final reason mentioned is that of Rabba and Rav Yosef.

In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, wood was collected throughout the year for use on the Mizbayach (altar) pyre. (Actually they chopped wood needed to burn on the altar for the whole year only from Nisan until the 15th of Av).
This wood had to be free of worms, to the extent that an imperfection as slight as the first trace of worm infestation constituted grounds for rejection. (See Mishna, Middot 2:5 and Tractate Menachot 85b). One way of ensuring that the wood was "worm-free" was to let the wood dry out, as worms only inhabit moist wood. The wood that was collected for the altar was sun dried, to assure that it would be fit for use.

On the 15th of Av each year, the Temple custodians stopped cutting and gathering wood, because at this time of the year it would be difficult to assure that the wood would be fit for use. As of this date, the days begin getting noticeably shorter and the nights longer and the heat of the sun is no longer adequate to sufficiently dry out freshly cut wood. This was the day that our Sages called "Yom Tabar Ma'agel - The Day of the breaking of the Axes" - a day of enormous joy and rejoicing knowing that the sacrifices could be brought for the coming year.

As the 15th of Av marked the culmination of the performance of this beautiful Mitzvah that required a great amount of effort, it was proclaimed a festive occasion. This is similar to the rejoicing at the completion of other mitzvot, such as the rejoicing on Simchat Torah, when we complete the annual Torah reading cycle. (See Rashbam - Bava Batra 121b).

Since the days start becoming noticeably shorter and the nights longer around the 15th of Av, the Talmud goes on to say that, from this day on, it is appropriate to start studying more Torah at night, thereby prolonging one's life (Ta'anit 31, Rashi). Chazal (Our Sages) paraphrased the Mishnah in Avot (1:13) that states, "Whoever does more (increases the time allotted for Torah study) will be blessed with longevity." By juxtaposing these two thoughts, Chazal are implying that we are never content with our previous accomplishments, no matter how great they may have been. Rather than simply celebrate the completion of the mitzvah of preparing wood for the Mizbayach, we immediately take advantage of the longer nights heralded by the fifteenth of Av by devoting increased time to Torah study every night, a most appropriate method of getting ourselves ready for the upcoming Yomim Noraim (High Holy Days).


The Bnei Yissaschar says that this day was destined for shidduchim (marriages) from early times. He goes on to explains that because two of the sources for Chamishah-Asar B'Av being chosen as a Yom-Tov are connected with shidduchim [see 1 & 2 above, - on it the shvatim were permitted to intermarry (after entering Eretz Yisroel), and on it, the ban on marrying women from Binyamin (following the episode of the Pilegesh B'Givah) was lifted] that is why Chazal chose this particular day for this sort of celebration rather than pick another existing Yom-Tov for the joyous occasion.

It follows that this day is one of good beginnings and great hope for Klal Yisroel and the individual. This is why these days were festivals and days of great rejoicing for Israel, and so shall they be in the future when celebrations and days of rejoicing will once more return to Israel, as it says, "This is the L-rd. We have waited for Him. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." (Isaiah 25:9)



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