What’s so important about the Fifteenth of Av? It’s a day like any other day, right?
Our sages tell us that on that day, some 3,300 years ago, in the Moabite Desert opposite Jericho, a miracle occurred. After the incident of the spies, God told our ancestors that the generation that had left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel. Instead, their children would inherit the Land.
In this wilderness shall your carcasses drop…. Your young children of whom you said they will be taken captive, I shall bring them; they shall know the Land that you have despised…. Your children will roam in the Wilderness for forty years and bear your guilt…. [Numbers 14:29-33]
And so, every Tisha B’Av, on the anniversary of their sin, the men of Israel would dig their own graves and lie down in them. The next morning, 15,000 of those men would fail to arise. This continued every year, until 585,000 men of that generation had died in the wilderness. The next year, the fortieth year, the last 15,000 men would presumably leave this world and complete the death of that entire generation, which had numbered 600,000 males.
But the following Tisha B’Av, all the men who slept in their graves awoke. Perhaps they had miscalculated the day. So the next night they slept once again in their graves. In the morning they were still alive. This continued until Tu B’Av, the fifteenth day of the month. When they saw the full moon, they knew that Tisha B’Av had indeed passed and the decree of death had been rescinded.
Tu B’Av became a day of great rejoicing for them and their descendants. The full moon during the month of Menachem Av seems to signify the moment of our redemption.
What does all this mean for us, some three thousand years later?
We, the Children of Israel, have been marching seemingly endless years in the desert of Exile. We feel we should have arrived at the promised land of our eternal inheritance millennia ago, but the long travail continues. As we say (Shemoneh Esrei for Yom Tov): “Because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land and sent far from our soil. We cannot ascend to appear and to prostrate ourselves before You and to perform our obligations in the…great and holy House upon which Your Name was proclaimed because of the hand that was dispatched against Your Sanctuary.”
It seems that the decree of exile and death is eternal. We feel our 2,000-year march through the “howling wilderness” will never end. We despair. We become cynical and hopeless. We wonder whether we should adopt the customs of the nations among whom we live, God forbid, because we feel the decree against us will never be rescinded.
And then, one night, the full moon arises.
It is interesting that only when it is full does the moon rise at the precise moment the sun sets. In other words, on that night it is never dark.
May it be Your will, my God and the God of my fathers, to fill the flaw of the moon that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before it was diminished, as it is said, “The two great luminaries.” And may there be fulfilled upon us the verse that is written, “They shall seek … their God and Dovid their king. Amen.” [Kiddush Levana]
On the Fifteenth of Av in the Moabite Desert, the clear, white glow of the full moon lifted the hearts of the Children of Israel. The next morning they arose; the decree of death had been lifted.
Ma’ase avos siman l’banim – the deeds of the fathers are signs for the children.
So it will surely be for us.
K’heref ayin, one day soon, in the twinkling of an eye, our decree of Exile will suddenly be lifted. The crushing weight of two thousand years will vanish and the entire world will be filled with a new light. The Exile we felt would never end will dissipate like a puff of steam.