Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tu B'Av (Fifteenth of Av)

The school holidays are here, which means that my brain is not. As someone commented to me this morning, during school holidays he understands the true meaning of the statemtent "the only person who is free is someoene learns Torah"! (I don't actually think that was what Chazal had in mind, but still...)

I know that I am a couple of days too late, but I wanted to post something about Tu B'Av (fifteenth of Av). My brother has started a new blog, and wrote a really nice piece about Tu B'Av: Tu B’Av and a tribute to a true Eshet Chayil

My thoughts on the subject are not nearly as romantic as his (he got all the 'soppy' genes in the family).

The Gemara (Ta'anit 30b) gives 5 reasons that the fifteenth of Av was one of the two happiest days in the calendar. (Translation by Soncino - don't blame me):


I can understand the Day of Atonement, because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Tables of the Law were given, but what happened on the fifteenth of Av? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to inter-marry. Whence may this be adduced? — Scripture says, This is the thing which the L-rd hath commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad etc., [meaning] ‘this thing’ shall hold good for this generation only. R. Joseph said in the name of R. Nahman: It is the day on which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to re-enter the congregation [of Israel], as it is said, Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying: There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. From what was their exposition? — Rab said: From the phrase ‘any of us’ which was interpreted to mean, ‘but not from any of our children’

Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: It is the day on which the generation of the wilderness ceased to die out. For a Master said: So long as the generation of the wilderness continued to die out there was no divine communication to Moses, as it is said, So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead . . . that the L-rd spake unto me. [Only then] came the divine communication ‘unto me’.

‘Ulla said: It is the day on which Hosea the son of Elah removed the guards which Jeroboam the son of Nevat had placed on the roads to prevent Israel from going [up to Jerusalem] on pilgrimage, and he proclaimed, Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire.

R. Mattenah said: It is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Bethar to be buried. R. Mattenah further said: On the day when permission was granted for those killed at Bethar to be buried [the Rabbis] at Jabneh instituted [the recitation of] the benediction, ‘Who art kind and dealest kindly etc.’; ‘Who art kind’: Because their dead bodies did not become putrid; ‘And dealest kindly’: Because permission was granted for their burial.

Rabbah and R. Joseph both said: It is the day on which [every year] they discontinued to fell trees for the altar. It has been taught: R. Eliezer the elder says: From the fifteenth of Av onwards the strength of the sun grows less and they no longer felled trees for the altar, because they would not dry [sufficiently]. R. Menashya said: And they called it the Day of the Breaking of the Axe. From this day onwards, he who increases [his knowledge through study] will have his life prolonged, but he who does not increase [his knowledge] will have his life taken away. What is meant by ‘taken away’? — R. Joseph learnt: Him his mother will bury.

I don't remember where I saw this idea, (and i may have it different than in the original), but this list of 5 corrects the 5 things that we mourn on Tisha B'Av. IMHO they line up as follows:

9 Av 15 Av
1. Death in the desert 1. Stopped dying in the desert
2. Destrucion of 1st Temple 2. Tribe of Binyamin permitted to marry
3. Destruction of 2nd Temple 3. Intertribal marriage permitted
4. Fall of Betar 4. Burial of dead from Betar
5. Plowing of Temple Mount 5. Removing road blocks leading to

I know that the first list of chronological while the second isn't. But it seems to me that there are clear links between the two lists. Obviously numbers 1 and 4 match. Number 5 is intuitive - Plowing the Temple Mount was intended as a clear sign that Jerusalem would never be central to Jews again. There was to be no chance of rebuilding or reviving it. Removing the blocks that Yeravam had set up showed that Jerusalem was once again the centre of things, and that everyone would be able to go there.

Numbers 2 and 3 seem to go together, because both are the destruction of the Temple, and both are allowing marriages between tribes. The first Temple was destroyed because of murder, idol worship and sexual immorality. The tribe of Binyanim were banned from marrying anyone because of the incident recorded at the end of Shoftim - Pilegesh b'Givah, which involved idolatry, sexual immorality and brutal murder.

The Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. As I wrote here Tisha B'Av Quotes, the Netziv explains that the main sin was that everyone felt that their way of serving G-d was the only correct way. Everyone had their group with their own views on life, and anyone who disagreed with them (even though they were equally 'religous' was considered an apikoros. The tribes originally thought it was forbidden for them to marry each other. Each tribe had to maintain tribal purity. Since each tribe had their own way of serving G-d, based on where they stood at Sinai and surrounding the Mishkan, it stands to reason that they also felt their way was the only true way of serving G-d, which was why they could not intermarry. Allowing 'mixed marriages' (nothing to do with Noah Feldman) broke down the barriers and allowed for ahavat chinam.

Regarding these last two 'corrections' - the Talmud explains that the change in 'drasha' was that something that they thought had applied for all time, they now realised had only applied for that generation. The corection of the sins that destroyed both Temles was to make a local, one time issue, into an eternal battle, making each issue much bigger and longer than it should have been.

This is why Tu B'Av is so happy. We are able to realise that when we place things within the context of history, our petty differences and fights fall away. There is no reason to make everything into an 'all or nothing' issue, sometimes things are only problems for one generation (and sometimes even for less than that).

Ok, those were my thoughts (not very well put, and taking way too much time and space to write). For some examples of ahavat chinam look at this wonderful blog Kindness Happens

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