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."
Tractate Baba Batra (121a & b) where the Talmud quotes
parts of the Mishna and repeats the discussion below with
That means that
the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur are equally joyous
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
(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
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!
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"
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
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
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.
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
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).