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Question: What is the significance of Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av?

David Bernstein
Via email

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Synopsis: Last week we noted that due to the tragedies that occurred in Av, we decrease our joy as the month approaches, but we made note that we only decrease but we do not refrain, and that is because of all the occurrences tied to that day. The maidens would go out in white garments; the tribes were given permission to intermarry; the tribe of Benjamin were allowed to re-enter the congregation of Israel; the generation of the desert ceased to die; Hoshea king of Israel removed the guards that prevented the people of the Israelite kingdom from going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; permission was granted to bury those killed in Betar; they would stop felling trees for the Altar and finally that day marked the period when the days began to shorten and the nights lengthen, enabling increased Torah learning during the evening.

 

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Answer: The Maharsha asks several questions relating to the permission granted to the tribes to intermarry. To begin with, why is this cause for celebration? The gain of one tribe (through the transfer of land inheritance) would be at the expense of another tribe. His answer is that this is why it was recorded as a celebration of Bnot Yisrael, the women of Israel. Before that, a woman of any tribe who possessed an inheritance was not allowed to marry a man outside of the tribe, while a man was always permitted to wed a woman from another tribe. It was the correction of this inequity that they celebrated. Similarly, after the incident of pilegesh ba’give’ah, it was the women of other tribes who could not marry men of the tribe of Benjamin (thus curtailing their marriage prospects), while men of all the other tribes were permitted to marry the daughters of the tribe of Benjamin, for it is written, “Lo yiten bito,” he should not give his daughter to Benjamin (not that his son should not take a wife from Benjamin).

Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av are both days of celebration. We can add a question, based on the Maharsha: [Since] Yom Kippur is cause for celebration, as the Talmud states, “because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon,” why, then, did only the women celebrate on that day? Should not the men have celebrated as well?

And there is another question that refers to a halacha stated by the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 572:3) regarding the laws of fasting, “If a community desires to proclaim a public fast for a Monday and the Thursday and Monday that follow (Ta’anit B’Hab), and [one of] the fast day[s] would fall on Tu B’Shevat, the fast [schedule] is postponed to the following week so that a fast should not be decreed on Tu B’Shevat, which is the New Year for the trees.” The Rema adds that if they have already started the fast [schedule] they do not cancel it, as would be the case for Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed.

The Magen Avraham and the Ba’er Heitev both relate an incident that occurred when the Maharil had decreed that the community refrain from eating meat every Monday until Rosh Hashanah. That year, the 15th of Av fell on a Monday, and the Maharil refused to eat meat. However, on an eve of Yom Kippur [when we have to eat two seudot with meat] and on the occasion of a seudat mitzvah, such a decree would not be applied because of the original intention – [it was understood that] he had not intended to include such days in his decree.

Since the incident reported here happened on the 15th of Av, what is its connection to a halacha regarding the 15th of Shevat?

The Ropshitzer Rebbe, R. Naftali Zvi Horowitz, a famous Chasidic Rebbe, alludes to this question in his sefer Zera Kodesh. He notes that there is a similarity between the 15th of Av and the 15th of Shevat. Our Sages state (Sotah 2a), “Forty days before the creation of a child, a heavenly voice proclaims: The daughter of this man will marry so-and-so.” The Ropshitzer Rebbe points out that the whole concept of marriage [as it relates to individuals] also describes the relationship between Hashem and Knesset Yisrael, the Congregation of Israel [Hashem is compared to the husband, and the people of Israel to the wife]. We also find a discussion (Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a) between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua as to whether the world was created in Tishrei or in Nissan. The Ropshitzer Rebbe explains that the opinion of R. Eliezer, who says that the world was created in Tishrei, refers to Adam, who was created on the sixth day of Creation, that is, the first day of Tishrei, but the world was created six days before, on the 25th of Elul. Counting backwards 40 days, we arrive at the 15th of Av. Likewise, according to the opinion of R. Yehoshua, who says the world was created in Nissan, the parallel reckoning will bring us to the 15th of Shevat.

We can now understand why it was the women who displayed the joy that was felt by all on Yom Kippur. The women represent Knesset Yisrael, the House of Israel in its relationship with G-d.

We also see a clear connection between Tu B’Av and Tu B’Shevat. The Ropshitzer Rebbe states, in the name of the Arizal, that this dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua is one of which we say, “Elu va’elu divrei Elokim chayyim – Both of these are the words of the living G-d.” Each of the two dates, the 15th of Av and the 15th of Shevat, is intrinsically bound up with the aspect of birth and renewal. The Ari therefore refers to a variant text, that “there were no greater days of joy than the 15th of Av and the 15th of Shevat,” which is the New Year for the trees, when the resin in the trees starts to flow anew.

We can also add that if we accept the opinion that the world was created in Tishrei, it is in Nissan, at the Exodus from Egypt, that the birth of the nation of Israel took place.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.