Tu B'Av the Fifteenth of Av
By Avi Lazerson
"There have never been such happy days for the Jews as Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur because on these days the maidens of Jerusalem would go out wearing borrowed white dresses in order not to embarrass their poorer neighbors who had nothing of their own to wear. The dresses were immersed in a mikva to purify them. Then the maidens would go into the vineyards and dance. What did they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and look! Don't base your decision on beauty, but rather on the girl's family background. 'Grace is deceitful, beauty is passing, but a girl that possesses the fear of heaven she is to be praised
'" This is from Talmud, in the last Mishna in the tractate of Ta'anit.
This teaching is very interesting because it teaches us about the life around the time of the Mishna. It is difficult for us today to understand just how the Rabbis could have allowed the women to dance before the single men. In our times, no young yeshiva man would be caught dead watching maidens dance and conversely no seminary girl would allow herself to dance in view of men. Never the less, the Talmud teaches that young unmarried men were advised to go down to the vineyard where the maidens were dancing.
Perhaps the difference is that in the time of the Mishna, the Temple was still in the minds and hearts of people. Purity of both thought and action was an important part of life. Marriage was in deed a holy act of building a family. The concept of sex for pleasure only had not infiltrated into the Jewish youth. Therefore a young man who had not found his partner yet was advised to go to see the girls dance in order that he may consider a proper candidate for a martial partner. Here the concept was not lust, but choosing a proper partner to build a firm and holy Jewish family.
This also explains the purity of mind of the girls who were careful not to slight the poor, and therefore wore only borrowed dresses. They understood the importance of spiritual purity and therefore had the gowns immersed into a mikva so that there should be no defilement on their bodies. They also wanted a family that was built on the basis of piousness and wholesomeness.
The sages in the Talmud wanted to understand the importance of this date of Tu B'Av. Why was it chosen for this special ceremony?
They could understand that Yom Kippur was a happy day, for on this day there was divine forgiveness. But they had difficulty in understanding the specialness of Tu B'Av that only on this day the girls danced in borrowed gowns in the vineyards. The Talmud brings down the opinion of several sages who explain the importance of this happy day.
Rabbi Yehuda said, in the name of Shmuel, that on this day the tribes of Israel permitted themselves to intermarry. From the time of the Torah to this time, because of a fear of the possibility of one tribe's land being inherited by a daughter, who in turn would marry someone from a different tribe, thereby causing the land from one tribe to be inherited by another tribe inter-tribal marriages were forbidden. On this day, Tu B'Av, they decided that they would permit girls from one tribe to marry men from another tribe. This was not a small decision, it was one that changed a law that had been in force for hundreds of years and it affected every Jew. Therefore on this day it was only proper to set it aside for encouraging marriages.
Rav Yosef said in the name of Rav Nachman that on this day the eleven tribes who had forbade themselves with an oath from marrying with the tribe of Benyamin relented of that vow. This refers to the time that there was an internal civil war regarding the concubine that was murdered in the area of Benyamin. After a bitter and bloody war the eleven tribes took upon themselves not to marry anyone from Benyamin. But on Tu B'Av they relented and allowed their vow to be nullified permitting marriage with the tribe of Benjamin. This was also a good omen for the day, being that marriages were to be encouraged through out all of Israel.
According to Rabba Bar Bar Chona, Rabbi Yocahnan said it was the day that those people who sinned in the dessert (the generation that left Egypt and due to their sin were not allowed to enter into the Land of Israel) finished dying. During this period of time prophecy was withheld from Moses. This heralded the beginning of the conquest of the Land of Israel and an omen of G-d's bountiful grace towards His chosen people.
Ullah said that it commemorated the time that King Hoshea the son of Ellah took away the police that had guarded the roads preventing Jews from the northern kingdom of Israel to reach the Temple. From this time all Jews were allowed to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a time in which piousness and holiness increased.
Rav Mathna said that it was the day that the murdered bodies of the multitudes Beitar that were slain in their rebellion were permitted to be buried. The authorities had refused permission to bury and their bodies were rotting in the sun. It was a violation of Jewish law that a body should be desecrated and not buried. On this day the authorities relented and permitted the bodies to be buried. Again a sign of divine grace.
Rabba and Rav Yosef said that on this day the wood choppers who worked to bring wood to the Temple stopped cutting down trees. The reason being that there is not enough time left for the wood to dry before the summer ends and moist wood was not used in the Temple for fear of worms. Rabbi Eliezer the Great said that from the fifteen of Av the sun begins to lose its strength and the day becomes shorter, therefore, the workers would be able to spend more time at night studying Torah. Again since Torah study leads to holiness, it was a time in which holiness increased.
From all of these explanations, we see that the fifteenth of Av was considered a propitious time. In the reverse of the terrible tragedy of the Ninth of Av, Tu B'Av was a day of divine goodness. Tu B'Av was a time of getting together, Tisha b'Av was a time of breaking apart.
We see from the proximity of the two dates the Ninth of Av and the Fifteen of Av, a space of six days; we change from abject mourning to unsurpassed rejoicing. The fact that the two are so close together and not separated by several months shows us that no matter how grim the situation may appear, joy may shortly follow.
May it be that we will merit the bringing of G-d's holy presence down here in Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the final third Temple.
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine