Saturday, Oct 23, 2021

Tu B’Av: The Ultimate Day of Achdus

Of all the special days on the Jewish calendar, the 15th of Av seems to be the most multifaceted. The Gemara (Taanis 26b, 30a; Bava Basra 121b) offers six reasons why it is considered a Yom Tov. Rav Aryeh Leib Shapiro, mashgiach of Yeshivas Ponovezh L’tzeirim (Kovetz Sameiach Tesamach 2:51), based upon a number of major meforshim, even expands the list to twelve matrices or associations between Tu B’Av and other major events. One must wonder why this one joyous day seems to either be shrouded in doubt or require many rationales for its commemoration.

In order to analyze this dilemma, we will briefly enumerate these twelve sources for Tu B’av. The Gemara teaches that:

1. On this day, the Jews ceased dying in the desert. Ever since certain of our sins, there was an annual heavyhearted ritual performed by the entire nation during its travels in the midbar. On Erev Tisha B’Av, everyone dug a grave and lay down to sleep, not knowing if they would arise in the morning. Indeed, because of the punishment for the Eigel, many died during the night. One year, no one passed away, and when the middle of the month (the 15th of Av) arrived, all realized joyfully that the curse had ended.

2. Since the summer sun had begun to diminish, on the 15th of Av they would no longer cut wood for the mizbeiach. The reason for this deadline was that the wood was no longer as dry after Tu B’Av and therefore not as worm-free. The result for Klal Yisroel, however, was that there was more time to learn Torah.

3. From the time of Mattan Torah, the various shevotim were forbidden to intermarry with each other. The reason for this prohibition was that the Torah ordained that each shevet live in a particular part of Eretz Yisroel. If a woman inherited land, as did the daughters of Tzelofchod, and married a man from another shevet, the map of Eretz Yisroel would be seriously compromised. However, at some point, on the 15th of Av, this was no longer deemed to be a threat and the ban was lifted.

4. Somewhat similarly, after the tragedy of the Pilegesh B’Givah and a state of virtual civil war in Klal Yisroel, the prohibition of marrying someone from shevet Binyomin was lifted and they were welcomed back into the fold.

5. Yerovom ben Nevot had appointed guards to exclude anyone from being oleh regel, going up to Yerushalayim for the three Yomim Tovim. One Tu B’Av, this ban, too, was lifted.

6. During the churban of the second Bais Hamikdosh, tens of thousands of residents of the city of Beitar were slaughtered, their corpses left to rot in the hot sun of Eretz Yisroel. Miraculously, when their bodies were finally retrieved on Tu B’Av, they were intact and had not decomposed.

These are the six explanations given by Chazal.

In addition:

7. Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Maamorei Tu B’Av, No. 3) derives from this same section of the Gemara that the third Bais Hamikdosh will be completed, G-d willing, on the 15th of Av.

8. This day is most propitious for the discovery of one’s shidduch. This explication, too, is mentioned in the Gemara, although it is not given as a formal reason for Tu B’Av being a Yom Tov. It is stated as a fact that the Jewish girls used to go out on that day to the vineyards to seek their basherte.

9. The seven days, the actual shivah of mourning for the Bais Hamikdosh, begins on the seventh of Av and ends on the 15th. Thus, Tu B’Av represents the end of the formal aveilus for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.

10. The Mishnah connects Tu B’Av closely with Yom Kippur and we must elucidate this juxtaposition.

11. The Arizal (quoted by Siach Sarfei Kodesh) revealed that the preparations for Rosh Hashanah begin on Tu B’Av. In fact, the gematria associated with this connection has become well-known: The Hebrew letters for Chamishah Asar B’Av and kesivah vachasimah tovah both add up to 928.

12. The Pnei Yehoshua (Brachos 32b) calculates that Moshe Rabbeinu began his 515 prayers to enter Eretz Yisroel on Tu B’Av.

One of the common denominators between many of these associations is reestablishing the unity of Klal Yisroel. After some event or clash that had created discord in the nation, an incident or phenomenon occurred on the 15th of Av that restored the harmony and solidarity of Am Yisroel. With no elaboration required, this explains numbers 3 and 4, but how do the others fit in?

We can also explain, with relative ease, several of the other interpretations. Number 5 begins to fit in with the pattern when we remember that it was Yerovom ben Nevot who created the major schism in the nation to begin with. When Hoshea ben Eilah, who is not otherwise known for positive actions, opened up the roads to aliyah leregel, it helped unify the people once again under the banner of the Bais Hamikdosh and the common offering of korbanos. Although the Gemara does mention that Tu B’Av was established as a Yom Tov because of shidduchim (number 8), there is perhaps no greater unifier than the joining of two people and their extended families in the holy bonds of kiddushin. The Sefas Emes (Likkutim) adds that the women searched for a shidduch on Tu B’Av because the sin of the Eigel was forgiven on Yom Kippur and the sin of the meraglim on Tu B’Av. Both aveiros did not involve the women. Therefore, on these days, they have the special zechus of not requiring the kapparah of the day. We may include number 7 in this category as well, since the third Bais Hamikdosh, with Moshiach, will surely represent the great symphony of joined voices and harmony in all of history.

However, when we think more profoundly, we will realize that number 11, the prelude to Rosh Hashanah, is perhaps the greater equalizer of all. We declare in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that all of Klal Yisroel stands as one before Hashem. Although we are judged as individuals, we are examined as am echad as well. Thus, the reconciliation achieved at various other junctures of Tu B’Av allows us to share our merits and tefillos as we stand before Hashem in the ultimate togetherness. This leads us to Moshe Rabbeinu’s Va’eschanan (515) prayers to enter Eretz Yisroel. Despite the failed efforts of occasional groups to cast false aspersions upon Moshe Rabbeinu, there was no unity in history as that of our nation united under the leadership of our ultimate rebbi. Surely, Moshe Rabbeinu was not just davening for his own satisfaction, as the meforshim explain in this week’s parsha. As always, he had our best interests at heart, to enter Eretz Yisroel with the same oneness we had at Har Sinai.

With this approach, we complete our survey. When Klal Yisroel breathed a sigh of relief that the edict of death for the desert was over (number 1), there was no longer the pall hanging over the nation that some would still have to pay for the sin of the Eigel. Just as on Rosh Hashanah we stand together in the spirit of kol Yisroel areivim, so on that fateful Tu B’Av was Klal Yisroel able to stand as one, knowing that they could now concentrate on entering Eretz Yisroel absolved of their communal sin. The diminishing of the sun and the lengthening of the night (number 2), as well, reestablishes the primacy of Torah study amongst Klal Yisroel.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l was known to ask someone annually to remind him to learn more on the eve of Tu B’Av, because the Gemara (Bava Basra 121b) mentions that one must do so, since the night was created for Torah study (see Zohar, Vayikra 22a, and Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger zt”l, Peninei Rabbeinu Ha’Avi Ezri, page 192).
Number six, the miracle of the bodies of the Beitar corpses, as well, established that Hashem’s Hashgochah Protis, Divine providence, extends to those alive and even to those who have passed away, further unifying the live and the dead and one generation with the other.

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It is clear now that number 9, the ending of the shivah for the churban, fits in, because a nation cannot go forward with the simchah and energy it requires when it is still broken in spirit by mourning and despondence. Thus, Tu B’Av represents the transition for Klal Yisroel of being able to rejoice in its accomplishments despite the losses it experienced.

Finally, both Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur bring Klal Yisroel together as true baalei teshuvah, helping each other to achieve kirvas Elokim, the closeness to Hashem that is the hallmark of the nation.
May this Tu B’Av truly usher in the achdus for which we yearn to bring the geulah for us all.

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