This coming Shabbos we bentch the month of Menachem Av (literally “comfort the father”), Rosh Chodesh falling on Yom Sheini (July 28). As the Three Weeks will draw to a close, we will be observing the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the month). Since we know that our Father suffers along with us in Galus, it makes sense for us to comfort Him during the month that brought us so much grief and tragedy, to assure Him that we regret having sinned and that we strive to be worthy of the ultimate redemption.
We are likened to the moon and its continuity. Just as the moon waxes, wanes and renews itself, so has the nation of Israel renewed itself through the millennia. As we sanctify the new moon each month, we pray, “Just as I dance toward you but cannot touch you, so may all my enemies be unable to touch me harmfully . . .
By mid-month the full moon shines forth in all its luster – but the fifteenth day of this particular month is unique in that it celebrates a Yom Tov, Tu B’Av, which is compared to the greatness of Yom Kippur. The Mishnah describes Chamisha Assar B’Av as having been a joyous holiday like none other. Various reasons are cited for having marked it so, not least among them the cessation of the decree that all men would die in the wilderness before their children would enter the Holy Land.
On each Tisha B’Av eve, those destined to die that year would dig their own graves and lie down in them. In the fortieth year, however, none died and so they thought they might have erred with the time of month. The resplendent full moon on the fifteenth of Av signaled that they had calculated correctly and that the decree had been annulled. Thus, the day became one of joyous celebration.
And who cannot help but be captivated by the portrayal of the dancing maidens in the fields, an enticing ritual that took place twice a year – on Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur afternoon. The young maidens of Jerusalem would don white dresses, all borrowed so as not to bring indignity upon those who could not afford a dress of their own. They sang and danced in a circle, beckoning the single males to choose mates from among them. The refrain would vary according to what each young woman had to offer. “Lift up your eyes and choose thoughtfully…” they would sing.
Those not endowed with physical beauty appealed to be chosen for their aristocratic lineage, while the ones who could boast of neither would claim that “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain… a woman who fears G-d shall be praised.”
Among the tzaddikim whose yahrtzeits fall in Av: Aharon HaKohen, the Kedushas Tzion of Bobov, the Arizal, the Chozeh of Lublin, the Me’am Loez, R’ Eliyahu HaKohen Dushnitzer, the Steipler Gaon, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, and the Netziv.
Rav Eliyahu HaKohen Dushnitzer was the mashgiach of Lomza Yeshiva in Petach Tikva. The Chazon Ish counted him as one of the 36 hidden tzaddikim. In a fascinating story related by Rav Elchanan Wasserman, Rav Eliyahu, a disciple of the Chofetz Chaim, was instrumental in exorcising a dybbuk (clinging spirit) from a young girl. Her father had brought the 14-year-old to Radin when she had taken ill shortly after a horse had died in the barn.
Upon returning from the barn, the girl, who had been sweating profusely, drank some cold water from an open vessel. Soon afterwards she began convulsing and fell to the floor in a dead faint. When she came to, she couldn’t recall what had happened to her.