Rejoicing in a Month of Misfortune - Part 1
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The Mishna in Ta'anis 4:8 states: Rabi Shimon ban Gamliel said "Israel has
no days as festive as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur...."
In order to understand the significance of the 15th of Av we will consult the Gemora, where we will
find the explanations of why exactly this day is a day of happiness.
The Gemora in Ta'anis lists six reasons why the 15th of Av is such a festive
day. It begins with the reason given by Rabi Yehudah in the name of Shmuel.
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." This
restriction prevented the transfer of the inheritance a woman received from
her father to her husband's tribe permanently upon her death.
On the 15th of Av, 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 Israel with Joshua. The lifting of this
restriction was a cause of great joy, especially among women. Previously, if
a woman was an heiress, she could only marry someone from within her tribe.
Now, all women were free to marry any man from any tribe. Because of the joy
that was experienced in that time, this date, the anniversary of that
lifting of the restriction, is also a day of great joy.
The next reason the Gemora offers is that of Rav Yosef in the name of Rav
Nachman. In Shoftim (Judges) 19-20, we find the incident of the "Pilegesh in
Giv'ah." A man was traveling with his concubine (Pilegesh, in Hebrew) and
servant back to his home. As evening approached, the group of travelers
arrived in the city of Giv'ah, in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin,
hoping to find a place to stay. Only one old man offered to put the group up.
He brought them to his home, and offered them and their donkeys food and
drink. As the guests were refreshing themselves, wicked people from the city
began banging on the door of the house, demanding that the old man send out
the male guests from his house. The old man went out to the crowd, and tried
to appease them by offering his own daughter and the man's concubine. He
pleaded with them not to do anything disgraceful. The crowd took away the
concubine. When she returned the next morning, after being assaulted, she
collapsed and died on the old man's doorstep. In the morning, the man
discovered his concubine was dead. He took her body with him back home. He
then cut her body into 12 pieces, sending each tribe of Israel a piece, to
inform them of the abomination that occurred.
The whole nation was in an uproar and disgusted by what had happened. Over
400,000 warriors from all tribes gathered to eradicate this evil. The group
demanded from the tribe of Benjamin that the evil men of Giv'ah be turned
over, but the tribe refused and joined with the inhabitants of Giv'ah to
battle against the rest of the nation. On the first two days of the battle,
the unified tribes suffered severe casualties. The tribes then offered
sacrifices, prayed, cried, and fasted, asking Hashem for His assistance.
They asked the Kohen Gadol what should be done. He responded that on the
next day, the tribe of Benjamin would be delivered into the hands of the
rest of the nation. That is what happened.
After this incident, the tribes swore that they would not let any man from
the tribe of Benjamin marry their daughters. The people who made the oath
felt much remorse over having to take such an action, as they were in
essence cutting off a tribe from Israel. On the 15th of Av, it was
established that the oath-takers had only intended for the oath to apply to
themselves, and not to their children. Hence, on the 15th of Av, the tribe
of Benjamin was permitted to "re-enter" the nation of Israel, and to have
its sons' marry the daughters of any tribe. This was a cause for great
The third reason the Gemora gives is that of Rabi bar bar Chana in the name
of Rabi Yochanan. As we noted in YomTov # 31, the adult Jews who departed
from Egypt had a decree placed on them that they were to die before their
children entered the land of Israel. The nation knew that the deaths related
to this decree occurred annually on the 9th of Av. Each year, every man in
the age group destined to die would dig a grave for himself and lie down in
it on the eve on the 9th of Av. All those who remained alive come the close
of the 9th of Av would get up, and repeat the same actions the next year.
In the 40th year, everyone arose. Seeing that no one had died, they thought
that they might have erred in their calculation of the date, so they
returned to their graves every night until the night of the 15th. On the
15th, they saw the full moon which indicated that their calculations were
correct, and still no one had died. The decree was over, and there was cause
Furthermore, the Gemora 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 Gemora considers it
"no Divine Communication." Once the 15th of Av passed and it was confirmed
that the decree was no longer, 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.
Check out all of the posts on The Three Weeks: 17 Tammuz - 9 Av Mourning the Destruction. Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.