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Tu B’Ab (Tu B’Av) - טו באב

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

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I. Introduction. 1

II. Intertribal marriage permitted. 5

III. Benjamin re-enters the nation. 6

IV. Death decree ended. 7

V. Barriers removed. 7

VI. Burial at Betar 8

VII. Firewood brought 9

VIII. Other Tu B’Ab Events. 9

IX. A Day of Love. 10

X. Ascent and Descent 11

XI. Names given to Tu B’Ab. 12

XII. The Tu B’Ab dance. 13

XIII. Customs 14

XIV. In The Midrash. 15

XV. Comfort 16

XVI. Tu B’Ab and Tu B’Shebat 16

XVII. Timing. 21

XVIII.  In Other Religions 21

 

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I. Introduction[1]

 

Tu B’Ab[2] (Tu B’Av) is surely the festival which formed the basis for the Gentile celebration of Valentine’s Day. Never the less, the two dates are rooted very differently. Tu B’Ab is focused on the love between Husband and wife, between Israel and HaShem.[3] Valentine’s Day is focused on pagan ideas and values which are foreign to Torah.

 

Tu B’Ab - טו באב is a date. The Hebrew letters are used to form a date: Tet - ט = 9, Vav - ו = 6; 9+6=15. Thus the date for Tu B’Ab is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Ab. The fifteenth of the month of Ab (the fifth month), has the character of a minor festival. Brides and grooms who marry on this day do not fast. Tu B’Ab is also called Chamishah-Asar B’Ab, which is how we pronounce the number 15, in the month of Ab.

 

So, when is Tu B’Av? Here are the dates for Tu B’Av in the near term:

 

Av 15, 5776 begin the evening of August 8 and end the evening of August 19, 2016

 

Tu B’Ab occurs on a full moon, as the Hebrew calendar is both lunar in its months and solar in its years. Ancient cultures which link the full moon with love, fertility, and romance are derived from HaShem’s meaning for this day.

 

Tu B’Ab is one of the more obscure and yet deeply profound holidays in the Jewish calendar. To emphasize this, our Sages point out that virtually every major holiday will pale away after the Mashiach arrives and Tu B’Ab will come to the forefront.

 

This festive day comes six days after Tisha B’Ab, the 9th of Ab, which culminates a three week period of sadness and repentance. It also comes only two weeks before Elul which begins a forty day period of repentance. As such, Tu B’Ab is a festive time sandwiched between two periods of great repentance. This positioning gives us a clue as to the real nature of this minor festival.

 

On a conceptual level, the 15th of Ab is the end, or correction, of the 9th of Ab.

 

We spiral forward in time. Each place on the spiral has its own holiness and its own events. We look for events of freedom on Passover because that is the season for freedom. In the same way we look for tragedies on the seventeenth of Tammuz[4] and the three weeks culminating in the ninth of Ab[5], because that is the time now appointed for tragedy. As we spiral towards Tu B’Ab, we should expect to see the spiritual energy of this day bring out events that have the character of events that occurred in the past, on this date.

 

The theme of Tu B’Ab is love and the unity that love brings.

 

It is worth noting that only the Biblical calendar has this effect. We will not see this in the Gregorian or any other calendar system. It is for this reason that we need to learn HaShem’s calendar and pay close attention to it.

 

Let’s begin to understand this special day by examining a major aspect of this day as noted in the Talmud:

 

Taanit 26b R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAID: THERE NEVER WERE IN ISRAEL GREATER DAYS OF JOY THAN THE FIFTEENTH OF AB AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT. ON THESE DAYS THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM USED TO WALK OUT IN WHITE GARMENTS WHICH THEY BORROWED IN ORDER NOT TO PUT TO SHAME ANY ONE WHO HAD NONE. ALL THESE GARMENTS REQUIRED RITUAL DIPPING. THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS EXCLAIMING AT THE SAME TIME, YOUNG MAN, LIFT UP THINE EYES AND SEE WHAT THOU CHOOSEST FOR THYSELF. DO NOT SET THINE EYES ON BEAUTY BUT SET THINE EYES ON [GOOD] FAMILY. GRACE IS DECEITFUL, AND BEAUTY IS VAIN; BUT A WOMAN THAT FEARETH THE LORD, SHE SHALL BE PRAISED. AND IT FURTHER SAYS, GIVE HER OF THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS; AND LET HER WORKS PRAISE HER IN THE GATES.

 

In the wake of this famous Mishna at the end of Tractate Taanit, there are many who call Tu B’Av, the “Love Festival.” Yet, it would be more appropriate to call it the “Matchmaking Festival,” or perhaps “Choose-Day,” because the girls approach the young men so that they pick the wife of their choice. Obviously, love lurks somewhere in the background; not promiscuous, unrestrained “free-love”, but a pure love that develops between a young man and his single and unique heart’s choice. So, let’s go out on a journey of choice.

 

Although the Mishnah does not make a clear distinction between Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, nonetheless, it goes without saying that these two days are significantly different, and allude to two different types of match or “choice”. In familiar terms, matches made on Yom Kippur are more inclined to the traditional “Charedi” standards, a match that is founded primarily on a similarity between the families and their social status, made mainly by the parents, while the young (sometimes very young) couple just has to confirm it at the final stages. Such matches are usually announced on the wedding invitation with the phrase, “the marriage of so-and-so with the girl of his age, so-and-so.” “A girl of his age” refers to his soulmate, who is suited to him and destined to him from Heaven, “Grapes of a vine with grapes of a vine.”

 

By contrast, the matches of Tu B’Av are a “modern match” (or even “secular”), the young couple find one another, with mutual attraction being a primary incentive for their relationship. This is an attraction that often results from the dissimilarity and difference between the two; “opposites attract”, as the saying goes. On the invitation of a couple such as this, the custom is to write, “So-and-so with his heart’s choice, so-and-so”.[6]

 

This difference is reflected in the Talmudic interpretation of the above mentioned Mishna.[7] The Talmud begins by explaining that with reference to Yom Kippurim, the festivities are clear, “Because it has forgiveness and excusing and it is the day on which the second set of Tablets was given”, this is the epitome of the relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish People, all our sins are excused and instead of the first set of Tablets, which were broken, we were presented with a second set. The emphasis in this case is not on our choice, so it is evident that matches made on this day are under the impression of “everything is in the hands of Heaven[8] and “From God is a woman to a man”.[9]

 

By contrast, the Talmud asks, “But what about Tu B’Av”? What is the reason here for the festivities? And it offers a number of good reasons why. Of these, we will mention just the first two, which are directly connected to matches and marriage.

 

The first reason is, “The day on which the tribes were permitted to intermarry”, since during the first generation after the Land of Israel had been conquered, every girl who had no brothers inherited an estate but could only marry someone from her own tribe. However, in the following generation tribal intermarriage was permitted with no limitations. Until then, marriage had been “dictated”, but from now onwards, anyone could marry whoever they chose.

 

The second reason is, “The day that the Tribe of Benjamin was permitted to reenter the congregation”. After the war against the Tribe of Benjamin (following the episode of the “Concubine in Giv’ah”) the Jewish People all swore that, “No man should give his daughter to [the tribe of] Benjamin as a wife”.[10] Indeed, the custom described in the Mishna is an extension to what is described by the Prophet in this regard, where it states that the solution to the oath would be that the young men of the Tribe of Benjamin would “snatch” themselves wives from the girls of Shilo when the latter went out to dance in the vineyards on the festival of G-d (and it’s reasonable to suggest that this festival was Tu B’Av).[11] This means that although the parents were prevented from making matches between their daughters and men from the Tribe of Benjamin, these same men could jump in and choose a wife for themselves.

 

Now, lets note the reference to the ultimate in Human love, the love between husband and wife.

 

Taanit 30b R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAID: THERE NEVER WERE IN ISRAEL GREATER DAYS OF JOY THAN THE FIFTEENTH OF AB AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT.

 

I can understand the Day of Atonement, because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Tables of the Law were given, but what happened on the fifteenth of Ab? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to inter-marry. Whence may this be adduced? — Scripture says, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad etc., [meaning] ‘this thing’ shall hold good for this generation only. R. Joseph said in the name of R. Nahman: It is the day on which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to re-enter the congregation [of Israel], as it is said, Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying: There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. From what was their exposition? — Rab said: From the phrase ‘any of us’ which was interpreted to mean, ‘but not from any of our children’.

 

The Talmud, above, notes:

“… It is the day in which the tribes were permitted to marry one another.”

 

Note, again, the reference to the ultimate in Human love – The love between husband and wife.

 

The commentary of Tosafot adds: “‘the day in which the tribes were permitted to marry one another’, this constitutes a Yom Tov (holiday)”. This seems very strange. Tu B’Ab is not one of our major holidays, certainly not of the likes of Yom HaKippurim!

 

Reb Yaakov Yitzchak of Preshischa, called the Yehudi HaKodesh, the Holy Jew, explained: Tosafot was troubled. What is the comparison between Tu B’Ab and Yom HaKippurim? Yom HaKippurim is a holiday because of the forgiving of transgression; Tu B’Ab is for another reason -- the day in which the tribes were permitted to marry one another. Rather, it must be that the meaning behind the two days is the same, and this is the intention of Tosafot in its statement, “this constitutes a Yom Tov (holiday).” Tu B’Ab is also a Yom Tov just like Yom HaKippurim, because “one who marries is forgiven all his transgressions”. Therefore, the day in which the tribes were permitted to marry one another was considered comparable to Yom HaKippurim.[12] We shall explore the relationship of marriage and atonement a little later.

 

Tu B’Ab is mentioned in the Tanach[13], in Shoftim. Nowhere does the Torah introduce this feast. Without an understanding of the Oral Torah, one would be hard pressed to explain the origins of this feast. Let’s examine the pasuk which speaks of this feast:

 

Shoftim (Judges) 21:19 Then they said, Behold, [there is] a feast (chag) of HaShem in Shiloh yearly [in a place] which [is] on the north side of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.

 

In order to understand the significance of the feast of the 15th of Ab, we will consult the Gemara, in Taanit 30b-31a, where we will find the explanations of exactly why this feast day is a day of happiness.

 

The Gemara[14] quotes six reasons why Tu B’Ab was made a holiday:

 

1.     Marriage between different tribes of Israel was permitted that day. In the desert, a ban on inter-tribal marriage insured that land would not pass out of the hands of the tribe it originally belonged to.[15]

-        Love between husband and wife.-

 

2.     Intermarriage with the tribe of Benjamin was once again permitted after the Pilegesh B’giva civil war.[16] [17]

-        Love between husband and wife.-

 

3.     The generation that left Egypt ceased to die in the wilderness. Consequently, Moses returned to his previous high level of prophecy.[18]

-        Love between HaShem and His bride.-

 

4.     King Hosea permitted residents of the Northern Kingdom to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, once again.[19]

-        Love between HaShem and His bride.-

 

5.     The dead of the great fallen city of Betar were granted burial by the Roman government.

- Love between Israel and those who could never repay.-

 

6.     Starting on the fifteenth of Ab the sharp heat of the sun begins to wane. Wood cut after that date was thus unfit for use on the Altar; it was feared to be wormy.

- Love between HaShem and His bride (the wood was used for the fire on the altar, which was used to draw us near to HaShem.)

 

The reason for the exile, and the destruction of the Temple was: Baseless hatred between HaShem’s people. It is becoming clear that the holiday of Tu B’Ab is the tikkun, the rectification of this great tragedy. The descent of Tisha B’Ab and its tragedies has as its tikkun the ascent of Tu B’Ab.

 

The Temple was a manifestation of the unity of the sons of Israel. The primary tribes were Judah (the son of Leah who would be king), and the tribe of Joseph (the favorite son, the first son of Rachel). It may be argued that had the sons of Jacob all been united, the Temple would have stood in the portion of Joseph (Jerusalem) and kingship would have been the realm of Judah. With the sons of Rachel and Leah united, this Temple would never have fallen.

 

Unfortunately, the brothers were never able to resolve their differences with Joseph. The son of Rachel who became the unifying symbol of the people was Benjamin, and the Temple stood in his portion. This explains the tears of Joseph and Benjamin at the moment when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 45:14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.

 

Megillah 16b; Rashi - Genesis 45:14 Rabbi Eleazar said: “[Joseph] wept for the two Temples which were destined to be in the territory of Benjamin and to be destroyed... [Benjamin] wept for the Tabernacle of Shiloh which was destined to be in the territory of Joseph and to be destroyed.

 

On Tisha B’Ab, the 9th of Ab, in the days of Moshe, the tribes of Joseph and Judah were united: When the spies returned only Joshua and Caleb, from the tribes of Joseph and Judah respectively, remained steadfast in their desire to enter Israel. They serve as the prototypes for the Messiah from Joseph, and the Messiah from David (Judah), who usher in the Messianic Era.[20] Watch this theme of the interplay between the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel as we study.

 

Let’s look at each of these six reasons, given by Chazal, in greater detail:

 

II. Intertribal marriage permitted

 

Taanit 30b R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAID: THERE NEVER WERE IN ISRAEL GREATER DAYS OF JOY THAN THE FIFTEENTH OF AB AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT. I can understand the Day of Atonement, because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Tables of the Law were given, but what happened on the fifteenth of Ab? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to inter-marry. Whence may this be adduced? — Scripture says, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad etc., [meaning] ‘this thing’ shall hold good for this generation only.

 

The Torah tells us in Bamidbar:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 36:8-9 “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.”

 

The theme of division and reunion may be the key to the reasons offered by the Talmud. Significantly, the prohibition of inter-tribal marriage began with the daughters of Tzelafchad, who were from the tribe of Joseph. Surely this law, which maintained each tribe as insulated and separate, also had a negative impact on interpersonal relationships between Jews.

 

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 Ab, 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.

 

Tu B’Ab marks reunifications with the sons of Rachel who had become estranged from the community.

 

In earlier times Tu B’Ab was a festival dedicated to young Jewish men and women finding their mates. Even today, the wall posters of Jerusalem announce special Tu B’Ab prayers for finding a match.

 

III. Benjamin re-enters the nation

 

Taanit 30b R. Joseph said in the name of R. Nahman: It is the day on which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to re-enter the congregation [of Israel], as it is said, Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying: There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. From what was their exposition? — Rab said: From the phrase ‘any of us’ which was interpreted to mean, ‘but not from any of our children’.

 

The next reason the Gemara offers is that of Rav Yosef in the name of Rav Nachman. In Shoftim (Judges), chapters 19-20, we find the incident of the Pilegesh B’giva. A man was traveling with his concubine, Pilegesh, 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 twelve 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, the High Priest, 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 Ab, 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 Ab, the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to “re-enter” the nation of Israel, and to have their sons marry the daughters of any tribe. This was a cause for great happiness:

 

Shoftim (Judges) 21:19-21 Then they said, Behold, [there is] a feast (Chag) of HaShem in Shiloh yearly [in a place] which [is] on the north side of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah. Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.

 

The isolation of the members of the tribe of Benjamin (second son of Rachel) can be seen in a different light. Their role in the episode of the concubine of Givah was certainly an outrage, but the isolation of an entire tribe was even more significant in light of the ongoing division between the sons of Rachel and the sons of Leah.

 

Tu B’Ab marks reunifications with the sons of Rachel who had become estranged from the community.

 

IV. Death decree ended

 

Taanit 30b Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: It is the day on which the generation of the wilderness ceased to die out. For a Master said: So long as the generation of the wilderness continued to die out there was no divine communication to Moses, as it is said, So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead . . . that the Lord spake unto me. [Only then] came the divine communication ‘unto me’.

 

The third reason the Gemara gives is that of Rabbi bar Chana in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, said that 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 Ab.

 

On the 9th of Ab, when the Children of Israel sent spies to search the land, the tribes of Joseph and Judah were united: When the spies returned only Joshua and Caleb, from the tribes of Joseph and Judah respectively, remained steadfast in their desire to enter Israel. They serve as the prototypes for the Mashiach ben Yosef, and the Mashiach ben David (Judah), who usher in the Messianic Era.[21]

 

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 Ab. 15,000 men were destined to die each year on Tisha B’Ab. All those who remained alive come the close of the 9th of Ab would get up, and repeat the same actions the next year. In the fortieth 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 for celebration. This meant that HaShem had spared the last 15,000 men. This was truly a day for rejoicing!

 

Furthermore, the Gemara 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 Gemara considers it “no Divine Communication”. Once the 15th of Ab 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.

 

V. Barriers removed

 

Taanit 30b ‘Ulla said: It is the day on which Hosea the son of Elah removed the guards which Jeroboam the son of Nebat had placed on the roads to prevent Israel from going [up to Jerusalem] on pilgrimage, and he proclaimed, Let them go up to whichever shrine they desire.

 

The fourth reason the Gemara mentions is that of Ulla. He said that the wicked king Jeroboam ben Nevat[22] had placed sentries on the road leading to the Temple, to prevent the Jews from going to the Temple on the holidays. This was an attempt to get the Jews to worship idols. On the 15th of Ab, king Hoshea ben Elah,[23] removed these sentries, allowing the Jews to once again have access to the Temple and to serve HaShem, hence, a cause for celebration.

 

Hoshea did not lead people toward Jerusalem, toward the service of HaShem; rather he displayed remarkably liberal thinking and was not particular whether his constituents served HaShem in the Temple or foreign deities! Why would this be a cause for celebration? Because Hoshea’s decree reversed the nefarious deeds of his predecessor on the throne, Jeroboam.

 

Yet even this reversal seems insufficient cause for celebration: Hoshea merely removed the guards charged with preventing pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Furthermore, during Hoshea’s reign the Ten Tribes were carried into captivity. In order to understand the significance of Hoshea’s decree, we must first understand the implications of Jeroboam’s actions.

 

Due to the spiritual failings of King Solomon, HaShem wrested part of the monarchy from the Davidic family.

 

1 Melachim (Kings) 11:29-32 And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went from Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahiya the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment; and the two were alone in the field. And Ahiya caught the new garment that was on him, and tore it in twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take your ten pieces; for thus said the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to you. But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel.’”

 

Jeroboam ignored HaShem’s plan and built an alternative place of worship in an attempt to deter the people from Jerusalem, and, perhaps, allegiance to the House of David. Motivated by jealousy, totally misdirected and self-centered, Jeroboam did the unthinkable: he built places of worship replete with golden calves:

 

1 Melachim (Kings) 12:25-27 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in Mount Ephraim, and lived there; and went out from there, and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David; If this people go up to do sacrifice in the House of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn back to their Lord, to Rehoboam King of Yehuda, and they shall kill me, and go back to Rehoboam King of Yehuda.

 

1 Melachim (Kings) 12:28-29 And the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Beit-El, and the other he placed in Dan.

 

Now we gain some insight into the actions of Hoshea. Unlike Jeroboam, Hoshea was not afraid or jealous of Jerusalem or David’s family. He may have been an idolater, but he was not filled with spiritually self-destructive venom and hatred. Thus, his removal of the guards stationed by Jeroboam, indicated healing from the hatred and jealousy and a possibility for reconciliation.

 

VI. Burial at Betar

 

Taanit 31a R. Mattenah said: It is the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried. R. Mattenah further said: On the day when permission was granted for those killed at Betar to be buried [the Rabbis] at Yabneh instituted [the recitation of] the benediction, ‘Who art kind and dealest kindly etc.’; ‘Who art kind’: Because their dead bodies did not become putrid; ‘And dealest kindly’: Because permission was granted for their burial.

 

The fifth reason is that offered by Rav Masnah. On the 9th of Ab, the inhabitants of the city of Betar were killed, during the Bar Kochba revolution. Throughout the entire reign of Hadrian, the burial of these people was forbidden. The corpses, although they all lay exposed, miraculously did not decompose. Finally, years later on the 15th of Ab, the bodies were buried, and given the proper respect due to them

 

VII. Firewood brought

 

Taanit 31a Rabbah and R. Joseph both said: It is the day on which [every year] they discontinued to fell trees for the altar. It has been taught: R. Eliezer the elder says: From the fifteenth of Ab onwards the strength of the sun grows less and they no longer felled trees for the altar, because they would not dry [sufficiently]. R. Menashya said: And they called it the Day of the Breaking of the Axe. From this day onwards, he who increases [his knowledge through study] will have his life prolonged, but he who does not increase [his knowledge] will have his life taken away. What is meant by ‘taken away’? — R. Joseph learnt: Him his mother will bury.

 

The final reason mentioned is that of Rabba and Rav Yosef. In the time of the Temple, wood was collected throughout the year for use on the altar. The wood used had to be free of worms. One way of ensuring that the wood was “worm-free” was to let the wood dry out, and worms only inhabit moist wood. The wood that was collected for the altar was sun dried, to assure that it would be fit for use. On the 15th of Ab each year, they stopped gathering wood. This is because as of this date, the heat of the sun is inadequate to sufficiently dry out freshly cut wood, and therefore it would be difficult to assure that the wood would be fit for use on the altar. As the 15th of Ab marked the completion of the performance of this mitzva, it was proclaimed a festive occasion.

 

Why was this a festive occasion? Rabbenu Gershom explains that once the wood harvest was over, there was more time for learning Torah. Adds Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita: Look how the sages valued Torah study! Consider how little time and how few people were involved in this wood chopping, yet for the small amount of additional Torah which could be studied after this day, Chazal, our Sages, ordained a holiday. Chazal say, “One who studies more Torah after the 15th of Ab, and especially at night, will have reward added. One who does not will be buried”. Why such a stringent punishment? Rav Scheinberg explains (based upon the writings of the Vilna Gaon) that man’s mission on earth is not only to study Torah and to do mitzvot, but to do so in a way which overcomes his natural urges and tendencies. As the summer winds down and darkness comes earlier, one would tend to go sleep earlier, especially before the advent of electric lights. Thus, man’s responsibility, his mission, is to make an extra effort to stay awake at night and to study Torah.[24]

 

VIII. Other Tu B’Ab Events

 

1.     Moshe goes up on Sinai, a second time, to plead for mercy after the golden calf - day 26. Shemot (Exodus) 32:30-35, Gemara 28b.

 

2.     Israelites camp at Divon Gad (sorrowing overcomers), 2488 AM. This is camp 38. Study on Bamidbar (Numbers) 33 Taanith 30b.

 

3.     The appointed time for the family of Zattu (tribe of Judah) and with them were the priests and Levites and all those who were not certain of their tribes and the bene Gonbe’ali and the bene Koze Kezi’oth to bring firewood for the Temple. Nehemiah 10:34, Taanit 26a    

 

4.     The last of the exodus generation died. Bava Batra 121a

 

5.     Inter-tribal marriage permitted, after the parcelization of the land.

 

6.     Reconciliation between of Benyamin and the other tribesJudges 21:14

 

7.     Hoshea ben Elah, King of Israel, removed the blockades set by Yavrovam ben Nevat had constructed to prevent the people from ascending to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivalsThe Book of Our Heritage, Eliyahu Kitov

 

IX. A Day of Love

 

Tu B’Ab is the day of love between man and wife. When HaShem created Adam he was very different from us:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 1:27 So God created Adam in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

 

When HaShem created Adam, he was male and female together. The Sages teach that at this time Adam did not have a backside because the female side was there instead. This was true oneness. This was true harmony.

 

Tu B’Ab is the opposite of Tisha B’Ab. The baseless hatred that drove our destruction is completely transformed into the ideal love. A love that transcends all petty things and gives freely. That is why all of the events that Chazal speak about with reference to this day, all concern ahavat Israel, love for the people of Israel.

 

Because of the meaning of this day, many Jews marry on this day, whilst Yom HaKippurim is the “Wedding day of Israel“. Thus we can understand why Chazal taught that there were no more joyous days than Yom HaKippurim and Tu B’Ab:

 

Taanit 26b R. Simeon B. Gamaliel said: There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of Ab and the Day of Atonement.

 

Why on Tu B’Ab?

 

The Talmud states: Forty days before the formation of the embryo the heavens declare that this soul will be wed to this soul:

 

Mo’ed Katan 18b Surely Rab Judah, as citing Samuel, said: [‘Forty days before the embryo is formed an echo issues forth [on high] announcing, “The daughter of So-and-so is [to be a wife] to So-and-so”.’

 

Forty days before the 25th of Elul (the day of creation according to Rebbe Eliezer) is Tu B’Ab. That is, since the 1st of Tishri is the day of the creation of Adam, by counting backward we find that 25th of Elul is the day of creation of the universe.

 

Thus, it was on the Tu B’Ab before creation that Israel became a thought in the divine Mind and Israel was first destined to receive the Torah, the Second Tablets, on Yom HaKippurim. This is the reason that the day was designated for marital union.

 

1 Yochanan (John) 3:14-19 “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loves not abides in death. Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But, whosoever has this world’s goods, and beholds his brother having, need, and shuts up his tender affections from him, how, is, the love of G-d, abiding in him? Dear children! Let us not be loving in word, nor yet with the tongue, but in deed and truth. An by this, shall we get to know, that, of the truth (Torah), we are, and, before Him, shall persuade our heart

 

Tu B’Ab is the Transformation

 

Tu B’Ab is the seventh day from the 9th of Ab, corresponding to the completion of the shiva days of mourning. It marks the transformation from the days of mourning to the days of joy. In the future, when the 9th of Ab will become a holiday, Tu B’Ab will be the culmination of festivities, the complete rejoicing of the bride and groom. It is not appreciated as such a great holiday as yet, because its real impact will be in the future.

 

The Ari HaKadosh (Isaac Luria) explained that the reason for the greatness of Tu B’Ab is that it falls on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and the fifteenth of the month is the night of the full moon. The moon represents the Jewish people, and the rise of the moon represents the rise of the Jewish people. Although every month has a full moon, the rise of the moon in Ab has a special significance. Since the ninth of Ab (Tisha B’Ab) is the most tragic day of the year, the full moon of Ab represents the transformation of tragedy into joy.

 

X. Ascent and Descent

 

Although Torah Study is forbidden on the 9th of Ab, we are told to increase Torah learning from Tu B’Ab and on.

 

As a seed must undergo decay and destruction in order to reproduce and bear many more seeds, so too must our soul descend in order to ascend. The darkness of the tragedies of Tisha B’Ab was the descent that led to the ascent of Tu B’Ab. “Descent is for the purpose of ascent”. It is after the serious descent of Tisha B’Ab that we can ascend the heights of Tu B’Ab, heights that would otherwise be unachievable.

 

We sing on Friday nights, in Lecha Dodi, the phrase “the last event was the original intent.” In Jewish teachings, this concept is linked with the idea that the thing which goes wrong first is the source of everything that needs fixing:


 

Tisha B’Ab - Descent

Tu B’Ab - Ascent

During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the twelve Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. For the next forty years this generation was decreed death on Tisha B’Ab.

The dying of the generation of the Exodus ceased on Ab 15, this also marked the beginnings of the “ascent” of Ab. A new generation stood poised to enter the land and lay the foundations for renewal.

 

The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian’s fire, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled.

King Hosea permitted residents of the Northern Kingdom to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, once again.

The Romans, led by Titus destroyed the Second Temple. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled

The manner in which the conclusion of the wood-cutting for the Temple service was celebrated on Ab 15 is yet another manifestation of the significance of the day. For the breaking of axes expresses the ultimate purpose of the Holy Temple, whose destruction we mourn on the 9th of Ab and whose rebuilding will herald the harmonious world of Mashiach. Why break the axes? Why not store them for next year’s cutting? Because the ax represents the very antithesis of what the altar, and the Temple as a whole, stood for.

The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar, the Jews’ last stand against the Romans, was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered

Throughout the entire reign of Hadrian, the burial of these people was forbidden. The corpses, although they all lay exposed, miraculously did not decompose. Finally, years later on the 15th of Ab, the bodies were buried, and given the proper respect due to them

The Roman general Turnus Rufus plowed under the Temple area and its surroundings. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city, renamed Aelia Capitolina, and access was forbidden to Jews.

Marriage between different tribes of Israel was permitted that day. In the desert, a ban on inter-tribal marriage insured that land would not pass out of the hands of the tribe it originally belonged to.

 


In a lengthy discourse regarding the destruction of the Temple, Yeshua and His talmid also reveals that descent is for the purpose of ascent:

 

Marqos (Mark) 13:24-27 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

 

Hakham Shaul also revealed this mystical concept of descent for the purposes of ascent:

 

Ephesians 4:7-10 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Mashiach. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

 

So, when we see tragedies in our live on Tisha B’Ab, take heart and know that this descent will not last forever. In fact, seven days after Tisha B’Ab our ascent reaches its culmination in Tu B’Ab.

 

XI. Names given to Tu B’Ab

 

For most of us, Tu B’Ab (Fifteenth Ab) is a minor festival that is eclipsed by the intensity of Tisha B’Ab. Without any special commandments, prohibitions or rituals, it seems to pale next to the other holidays.

 

Tu B’Ab may be a minor festival, yet it has been blessed with several scintillating names that belie its relative insignificance. These names give us a clue as to the positive thrust of the day:

 

The Holiday of the Grape Harvest

 

The 15th Ab is the last day of planting for the year with reference to the Sabbatical Year and orlah, the status of trees during their first three years.

 

Trees are not planted within the forty-four days preceding Rosh HaShanah of the seventh year, in order to allow the tree to take root before the New Year. Regarding orlah, if a tree is planted before 16th Ab, then the remaining days before Rosh HaShanah are considered as one of the three years. The fruit is thus prohibited for only two more years.

 

This is the day when the grape harvest begins in Israel.

 

The Holiday of Unity

 

Marriage only within one’s own tribe, though crucial for establishing tribal identity in that first generation, would have left Israel a loose confederation of states and not a unified nation.

 

A cease-fire that would have left Benjamin politically associated with the rest of the tribes but still forbade marrying them would have, in effect, still cut off one tribe from the rest of Israel. The ability for all of the tribes to marry each other, necessary to facilitate a deep, fundamental sense of Jewish oneness, is worth celebrating. Likewise, Hoshea ben Elah, the last of the kings of the Northern Kingdom, took a step away from a total break-off by allowing the pilgrimages that Jeroboam, his predecessor, forbade. He thereby tacitly recognized Jerusalem as the spiritual center of a unified Israel.

 

Unity after rivalry

 

The daughters of Tzelafchad were from the tribe of Yosef. Their separation from the inheritance of the tribes is additional fallout from the rivalry of the ten brothers and Yosef. The incident with the concubine in Giv’ah was against the tribe of Benjamin. Now Yosef and Benjamin were both the sons of Rachel. These sons had a constant rivalry with the sons of Leah. At stake was the love of Yaaqov. This rivalry separated the sons of Rachel from the sons of Leah. This was true disunity.

 

Tu B’Ab marks reunifications with the sons of Rachel who had become estranged from the community.

 

The emphasis of Tu B’Ab is, therefore, an emphasis on unity. On Tu B’Ab, the rivalry between the brothers was ended and true unity of the tribes was established. This unity is a requirement for the Temple to be built. This unity of the tribes, which is the hallmark of Tu B’Ab, is why the Talmud calls Tu B’Ab the day of the gladness of his heart:

 

Ta’anit 26b On the day of his espousals, this refers to the day of the giving of the law. And on the day of the gladness of his heart, this refers to the building of the Temple; may it be rebuilt speedily in our days.

 

After describing the unique celebration of Yom HaKippurim and Tu B’Ab, the Talmud intertwines the giving of the law and building of the Temple. As we have seen, the giving of the law refers to Yom HaKippurim. Now we understand why the reference to the building of the Temple refers to Tu b’Ab. The Temple can only be rebuilt with tribal unity and Tu B’Ab is when the unity was restored. This suggests that Tu B’Ab is the day that the Temple will be rebuilt!

 

Rav Zadok Hakohen from Lublin taught that the 9th of Ab will indeed become a holiday, a seven-day festival. The first day, the 9th of Ab, will commemorate the coming of the Mashiach[25]. Then there will be Chol HaMoed, and on the seventh day, Tu B’Ab, the Temple will be rebuilt!

 

Tu B’Ab allows us to breathe easy after Tisha B’Ab, the worst has passed and it starts to get better. It comes with a message, though, we must counteract the national fragmentation that brought about the destruction of our Temple by celebrating the unity of the Jewish people.

 

Day of courtship[26]

 

This name comes from the fact that this was the day that the young women were courted in vineyards as they danced. They danced and were courted because this was a day of purity; purity from sin and purity for marriage.

 

The Festival of the Lord

 

Just as Yom HaKippurim is a day of forgiveness, so is Tu B’Ab. Just as the Jewish people are delivered from sin on Yom Kippur and the second tablets of law given on that date, so were the people forgiven on Tu B’Ab for the sin of the Golden Calf.

 

Consequently, these days were also regarded as days of festivity during which the daughters of the city would go out to dance in the vineyards without any fear of their breaching the fences of modesty. The day was known also as the “Festival of the Lord,” a day on which all was done solely for the sake of Heaven.

 

The “Day of the Breaking of the Hatchets”

 

The contribution of wood for the Temple Altar in the time of the return from exile was a particularly exemplary deed. The land was desolate and Israel’s enemies were notorious for preventing any found wood from arriving in Jerusalem. Among other things they would set up road blocks on the way to Jerusalem. And without wood, the Temple service could not proceed. So, anyone bringing wood to the Temple performed a courageous and righteous deed. Those that did were known to sing and play as they did.

 

The last day for cutting the wood for the Altar was 15th Ab each year, since only dry wood not attacked by worms was suitable. After this date, the waning strength of the sun’s rays failed to dry the wood quickly enough before the worms entered and rendered the wood unfit for the Altar.

 

The last day of the summer, when preparation of altar wood was completed, was therefore a festive day. It came to be called “the day of the hatchets,” since, after that day, there was no need for the hatchets that year.

 

XII. The Tu B’Ab dance

 

Taanit 26b R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAID: THERE NEVER WERE IN ISRAEL GREATER DAYS OF JOY THAN THE FIFTEENTH OF AB AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT. ON THESE DAYS THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM USED TO WALK OUT IN WHITE GARMENTS WHICH THEY BORROWED IN ORDER NOT TO PUT TO SHAME ANY ONE WHO HAD NONE. ALL THESE GARMENTS REQUIRED RITUAL DIPPING. THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS EXCLAIMING AT THE SAME TIME, YOUNG MAN, LIFT UP THINE EYES AND SEE WHAT THOU CHOOSEST FOR THYSELF. DO NOT SET THINE EYES ON BEAUTY BUT SET THINE EYES ON [GOOD] FAMILY. GRACE IS DECEITFUL, AND BEAUTY IS VAIN; BUT A WOMAN THAT FEARETH THE LORD, SHE SHALL BE PRAISED. AND IT FURTHER SAYS, GIVE HER OF THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS; AND LET HER WORKS PRAISE HER IN THE GATES.

 

Taanit 31a ON THESE DAYS THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM etc. Our Rabbis have taught: The daughter of the king borrows [the garments] from the daughter of the High Priest, the daughter of the High Priest from the daughter of the deputy High Priest, and the daughter of the deputy High Priest from the daughter of the Anointed for Battle, and the daughter of the Anointed for Battle from the daughter of an ordinary priest, and all Israel borrow from one another, so as not to put to shame any one who may not possess [white garments].

 

ALL THE GARMENTS REQUIRE RITUAL DIPPING: R. Eleazar said: Even though they lay folded in a box.

 

THE DAUGHTERS OF ISRAEL CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS. A Tanna taught: Whoever was unmarried repaired thither.

 

THOSE OF THEM WHO CAME OF NOBLE FAMILIES EXCLAIMED, ‘YOUNG MAN etc.’ Our Rabbis have taught: The beautiful amongst them called out, Set your eyes on beauty for the quality most to be prized in woman is beauty; those of them who came of noble families called out, Look for [a good] family for woman has been created to bring up a family; the ugly ones amongst them called out, Carry off your purchase in the name of Heaven, only on one condition that you adorn us with jewels of gold.

 

In earlier times Tu B’Ab was a festival dedicated to young Jewish men and women finding their mates. Even today, the wall posters of Jerusalem announce special Tu B’Ab prayers for finding a match.

 

These days were also regarded as days of festivity during which the daughters of the city would go out to dance in the vineyards without any fear of their breaching the fences of modesty. The day was known also as the “Festival of the Lord,” a day on which all was done solely for the sake of Heaven.

 

XIII. Customs

 

Since the character of Tu B’Ab is the character of a minor festival, we follow the customs set for all minor festivals.

 

1. The custom is not to recite tachanun on that day as well as at mincha on the preceding day.

 

2. Brides and grooms who marry on this day do not fast.

 

3. It is customary to add periods of Torah study to the nights as well as the days, through the end of winter.

 

4. It is written in our ethical literature that the fifteenth of Ab is a preface and a beginning to Elul, the month of preparation for judgment, and it is therefore proper for a person to begin to review his actions during the year.[27]

 

In previous generations, Tu B’Ab was celebrated as a complete festival.

 

The 15th of Ab is considered as a precursor of the upcoming month of Elul, the month of preparation for judgment. Some people, therefore, when writing letters to friends, add the phrase:

 

ketivah vechatimah tova

 

‘May you be inscribed

and sealed for a

good year’

 

from Tu B’Ab, even though the custom is to do so from the beginning of Elul.

 

XIV. In The Midrash

 

Tu B’Ab marks the change from summer to the hot season:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXXIV:11 R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said in R. Meir’s name, and R. Dosa too said thus: [The latter] half of Tishri, Marheshwan and the first half of Kislew is seedtime; the second half of Kislew, Tebeth and half of Shebat are the winter months; the second half of Shebat, Adar and the first half of Nisan are the cold season; the second half of Nisan, Iyar and the first half of Siwan is harvest time; the second half of Siwan, Tammuz and the first half of Ab is summer; the second half of Ab, Elul and the first half of Tishri are the hot season.

 

The Midrash also lends its wisdom to this holiday:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations Prologue XXXIII R. Zera opened his discourse with the text, Therefore is my harp turned to mourning, and my pipe into the voice of them that weep (Job XXX, 31). Elsewhere we have learnt: R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: The Israelites had no greater holidays than the fifteenth of Ab and the Day of Atonement, on which occasions the maidens of Israel used to go out in white garments, borrowed for the event in order not to put to shame them who possessed none of their own. All these garments required to be dipped; and in them the maidens of Israel used to go out to dance in the vineyards. It was taught: The unmarried man would repair there, and what used the maidens to say? ‘Young man, lift up your eves and see whom you will select. Pay no regard to beauty but to family descent.’ Similarly it states, Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and gaze upon king Solomon, even upon the crown wherewith his mother hath crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart (S.S. III, 11). ‘In the day of his espousals‘ alludes to the giving of the Torah; ‘and in the day of the gladness of his heart’ alludes to the building of the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days! (here we have a clear link between the restoration of the Bet HaMikdash, the Temple, and the birth of Mashiach which was to occur on Tisha B’Ab).

 

It is quite right that the Day of Atonement [should be an occasion for dancing] since it was a day of forgiveness and atonement for Israel, and the day upon which the second Tables were given. But what is the reason of the fifteenth of Ab? R. Jacob b. Aha said in the name of R. Assi: On that day begins the favourable season for cutting down trees [for the fuel required in the Temple], because all timber cut down then does not become grub-eaten, while it has been taught1: Any wood in which a worm or grub is found is unfit for use upon the altar. R. Abba b. Kahana and R. Assi said in the name of ‘Ulla who derived it from Rabbi [Judah the Prince]: On that day Hosea the son of Elah abolished the guards whom Jeroboam the son of Nebat had set upon the roads.

 

R. Kahana asked Rab: Is it possible that [Hosea] can have accomplished so much good, and yet it is reported of him, Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria, etc. (II Kings XVII, 3)? But this happened to him because he removed the chain from off his own neck and set it round the necks of the masses, and he did not say, ‘Let all the people go up and pray,’ but ‘ Let whoever wants to go up do so’.

 

R. Samuel b. Nahmani (others state this in the name of R. Samuel b. Isaac): It was the day on which the tribes were permitted to intermarry, for it is said, And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in the tribes of the children of Israel, etc. (Num. XXXVI, 8), and it is written, So shall no inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe, etc. (ib. 9). Is it then possible for a daughter to inherit land belonging to two tribes? Deduce from this statement that her father was of one tribe and her mother of another.

 

The Rabbis say: It was the day when the tribe of Benjamin was allowed to re-enter the Community; for it is written, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin (Judg. XXI, 18). R. Johanan said: They cited a text in virtue of which they brought the tribe near, and they cited a text in virtue of which they repelled it. They cited a text in virtue of which they brought it near, viz. A nation and a company of nations shall be of thee (Gen. XXXV, II) and they cited a text in virtue of which they repelled it, viz. Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine (ib. XLVIII, 5), showing that the Benjamites were not to be reckoned with their brethren. R. Judah said in the name of Samuel: It was the day when permission was given to the tribes to intermarry. R. Mathna said: It was the day when they allowed the slain of Betar to be buried.

 

R. Eliezer the Great said: It is quite right [to cut the wood for the altar] on the fifteenth of Ab; but from then onward the power of the sun declines and they do not cut wood for the altar. R. Menasia remarked: The day was called ‘ the day of breaking the axe’. From the day onward, whoever increases [his years], and whoever does not increase study decreases [the duration of his life].

 

R. Abin and R. Johanan said: It was the day when the grave-digging ceased for those who died in the wilderness. R. Levi said: On every eve of the ninth of Ab Moses used to send a herald throughout the camp and announce, ‘Go out to dig graves’; and they used to go out and dig graves in which they slept. On the morrow he sent out a herald to announce, ‘Arise and separate the dead from the living.’ They would then stand up and find themselves in round figures 15,000 short of 600,000. In the last of the forty years, they acted similarly and found themselves in undiminished numerical strength. They said, ‘It appears that we erred in our calculation’; so they acted similarly on the nights of the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th. When the moon was full they said, ‘It seems that the Holy One, blessed be He, has annulled that decree from us all’; so they proceeded to make [the fifteenth] a holiday. Their sins subsequently caused it to become a day of mourning in this world, in the twofold destruction of the Temple. That is what is written, ‘Therefore is my harp turned to mourning, and my pipe into the voice of them that weep.’ Hence and the people wept that night (Num. XIV, 1). Since they sinned they were exiled; and since they were exiled, Jeremiah began to lament over them, ‘How sitteth solitary.’

 

XV. Comfort

 

Yeremyahu (Jeremiah) 31:13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

 

XVI. Tu B’Ab and Tu B’Shebat

 

According to the Talmud,[28] the Jewish people used to read through the Torah in three and a half years. They read it through twice in a seven year Shmita, or Sabbatical cycle. Using this reading schedule caused the congregation to read Bamidbar 32:1-42 on the Shabbat before Tu B’Ab and on the Shabbat before Tu B’Shebat. Thus they always read Bamidbar 33:1-56 on the Shabbat after Tu B’Ab and on the Shabbat after Tu B’Shebat. This reading caused these two minor festivals to be linked.[29]

 

Tu B’Shebat is the masculine festival that is paired with the feminine festival of Tu B’Ab. We can see from the following table that the year can be divided into the spring months and the fall months, as we have seen previously in my study titled rains. When divided this way, we can see that Ab is paired with Shebat. And middle of each month is also a special time on the calendar, as well as being a full moon.

 

The Midrash states, in Midrash Rabba VaEthanan 31, “Said the Holy One to Israel, ‘My children, all that I have created I created in paired units (zugot). Heaven and earth are a paired unit. The sun and the moon are a paired unit. Adam and Chava (Eve) are a paired unit. This world and the incoming world (haba) are a paired unit...’”. Likewise, the Talmud states, in Baba Bathra 74b, “All that the Holy One created in His world He created male and female, even the Leviathan...”.

 

Rosh HaShana 2a C H A P T E R I MISHNAH. THERE ARE FOUR NEW YEARS. ON THE FIRST OF NISAN IS NEW YEAR FOR KINGS AND FOR FESTIVALS. ON THE FIRST OF ELUL IS NEW YEAR FOR THE TITHE OF CATTLE. R. ELEAZAR AND R. SIMEON, HOWEVER, PLACE THIS ON THE FIRST OF TISHRI. ON THE FIRST OF TISHRI IS NEW YEAR FOR YEARS, FOR RELEASE AND JUBILEE YEARS FOR PLANTATION AND FOR [TITHE OF] VEGETABLES. ON THE FIRST OF SHEBAT IS NEW YEAR FOR TREES, ACCORDING TO THE RULING OF BETH SHAMMAI; BETH HILLEL, HOWEVER, PLACE IT ON THE FIFTEENTH OF THAT MONTH.

 

Masculine

Feminine

Tishri

Heshvan

Kislev

Tevet

Shebat

Adar

Nisan

Iyar

Sivan

Tammuz

Ab

Elul

Tu B’Shebat

Tu B’Ab

 

 

25th of Adar, Adam was conceived.

Tu B’Shebat is forty days earlier.

25th of Elul, Adam was created.

Tu B’Ab is forty days earlier.

 

 

 


 

Soul mate is chosen by Heaven.

 

The Talmud[30] states: Forty days before the formation of the embryo the heavens declare that this soul will be wed to this soul.

 

Forty days before the 25th of Elul is Tu B'Ab. [That is, since the 1st of Tishri is the day of the creation of Humanity / Adam, by counting backward we find that 25th of Elul is the day of creation of the universe.][31]

 

 

40 days

 

 

 

Embryo is formed

 

 

 

Ab 15

Tu B’Ab

Women choose husbands.

 

The day of creation according to Rebbe Eliezer.

 

It was on the Tu B'Av before creation that Israel became a thought in the divine Mind and Israel was first destined to receive the Torah (the Second Tablets) on Yom HaKippurim.* This is the reason that the tribes were permitted to intermarry on that day and the day was designated for marital union.

 

 

 

 

40 days

 

 

Elul 25

(Creation of the heavens and earth.

First opinion)

 

 

 

Shebat 15

Tu B’Shebat

New Year for Trees[32]

 

The day of creation according to Rebbe Yehoshua.

 

We already know that man is likened to a tree.[33]

 

Therefore, even though we don't hold that Nisan is the month of creation, we designate Tu B’Shebat as the New Year for the Trees in that the first blossom is the embryonic stage of what will blossom into fruit and flower and fill the world with beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

40 days

 

 

Adar 25

(Creation of the heavens and earth.

Second opinion)

* Rabbi Arthur Waskow's comment: Although I see that Reb Zvi Elimelekh wishes to connect the two wedding days and thus connect the "pre-creation creation" with the Torah of Israel, it seems to me that the connection between Tu B'Av and 25th of Elul (creation of the universe) makes it more apt to the text and the dating to say that forty days before the Creation, HaShem decreed the joining of HaShem’s Own Self to the Universe. Thus TU B’Av, which is really Y"H B'Av, celebrated the very first covenant of all, and that is why we celebrate covenantings on that day.

 

Now -- WHY does the spark of the Creation began on that day?

 

BECAUSE THAT IS "WHEN" Y"H (the real way of spelling fifteen) ENTERS (the month of) AV -- "ALEPH-BET."

 

THAT IS, THE ENTIRE CREATIVE PROCESS BEGINS, THE GREAT TZIMTZUM HAPPENS, WHEN YAH ENTERS THE ALEPH-BET. THAT'S WHY CREATION BEGINS WITH A "BET", BERESHIT: BECAUSE YAH GOES FAR ENOUGH INTO THE ALEPH-BET TO GET TO "BET," (WHICH UNLIKE Aleph HAS A SOUND, AND ALSO AS THE 2nd IN THE SERIES IS NECESSARY TO MAKE IT A SERIES; BOTH ARE CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF THE EMERGENCE OF A UNIVERSE), AND THAT'S WHEN THE SPARK IS STRUCK.

 


 

Forty is a special value throughout Torah but here it has an additional significance. The Talmud teaches that forty days before physical conception takes place it is “announced in heaven“ the basic characteristics of the soul that is about to come into the world. What the gender of the soul will be is also determined forty days before:

 

Sotah 2a Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Forty days before the creation of a child, a Bath Kol issues forth and proclaims, The daughter of A is for B; the house of C is for D; the field of E is for F!

 

Thus, forty days before the female side of the world comes into existence (the process is always recurring as it states “He renews the creation everyday”) the erect, expanding energy of the masculine tree is releasing its sap and the seed essence of the tree begins rising. Forty days before the male side of the world comes into existence the containing, curved energy of the feminine dance is generating its circle. Tu B’Shebat and Tu B’Ab are the vortex of the cosmic yesod of the world. Forty days before the birth of the world, the divine hormones are released into time to orchestrate HaShem’s calendar.

 

Tu B’Shebat is mystically parallel to Tu B'Av, the fifteenth day of the Summer month of Av. Tu B'Av is forty days before the twenty-fifth of Elul, the date of the beginning of the creation of the world (which is five days prior to Rosh HaShanah). The Talmud, at the end of tractate Taanit, suggests that Tu B’Av represents the 'subconscious' glimmer of love that led to the act of creation. The Baalei HaTosefot, in tractate Rosh HaShanah 27b, say that on Rosh HaShanah, the 'thought' of creating humanity entered the Creator's consciousness. The actual Creation of humanity took place six months later, on the first of the month of Nisan.

 

Tu B’Shebat is forty days before the twenty-fifth of Adar. According to the Baalei HaTosefot, the twenty-fifth of Adar would be the first day of creation of the world, as it is five days before the first of Nisan. Tu B’Shebat would thus be the first glimmer of love before the act of creation. According to Jewish law, it is the day that new sap begins to stir and flow within the fruit trees of the land of Israel. It is the first glimmer of the new fruits that will blossom in Nisan. It is the first glimmer of the chesed that will nourish us in the coming year.

 

The first Mishna of Rosh HaShana states that Tu B’Shebat is the Rosh HaShana for trees with regard to orlah (that which is cut off). The new year of Tu B’Shebat significantly affects the status of the trees’ fruit. The Torah does not permit fruits from a tree during its first three years of growth. Tu B’Shebat will terminate the third year as it ushers in the fourth, the year the fruits may be eaten. (The produce of the fourth year must be redeemed by transferring the holiness onto a coin before it is eaten.) This takes effect even though three full years (thirty-six months) have not elapsed. Once the tree has lived past three Tu B’Shebats, the tree is considered to be starting its forth year.

 

It is not sufficient to plant the tree one day before Tu B’Shebat to qualify for the tree’s transformation to it’s second year with the coming of Tu B’Shebat. Rather the tree must be planted by the end of the 15th of Ab, Tu B’Ab, to first utilize the Rosh HaShana of Tishrei and only later utilize the new year of Tu B’Shebat. This is, because during its first few months this young sapling is not yet considered a “tree”. By planting forty-four days before Rosh HaShana (Tishrei) the young sapling enters its second year as a sapling at Rosh HaShana (Tishrei). Only as a “tree” is it affected by Tu B’Shebat. which allows the tree to enter a new year as soon as Tu B’Shebat commences. By the third Tu B’Shebat the tree’s produce which subsequently begins to form, is no longer orlah, and by the fourth it is no longer the fruit that must be redeemed.

 

Kabbalists connect the sefirot with the festivals such that Tu B’Shebat and Tu B’Ab are both associated with Yesod. The Arizal writes that the sefira of Yesod is revealed on that day:[34]

 

 


 

Keter

(Crown)

Skull

 

Binah

(Understanding)

Left Brain

Daat

Mid Brain & Spine

 Chachmah

(Wisdom)

Right Brain

Gevurah

(Strength)

Rosh HaShana

Yom Kippurim

Succoth

Left Arm & Hand

Chessed

(Mercy)

Pesach

Right Arm & Hand

 

Tiferet

(Beauty)

Shavuot

Torso

 

Biblical Festivals (Above the Diaphragm)

Rabbinic Festivals (Below the Diaphragm)

Hod

(Glory)

Chanukah

Left Kidney, Gonad, Leg

 

Netzach

(Victory)

Purim

right

Right Kidney, Gonad, Leg

 

Yesod

(Foundation)

Tu B’Ab

Tu B’Shebat

Reproductive organs

 

 

Malkhut

(Presence)

To be revealed

in the

Messianic era

Mouth of reproductive channel

 

 

Notice that Tu B'Av and Tu B’Shebat correspond to the reproductive center of the “Festival Man” keeping in mind that the "festival” structure of time is both male and female as that is the original divine form (see our study on Adam).

 

The fifteenth of the month is a very important time. The number of prominent events on that date is remarkable and not coincidental. Pesach, Succoth, Purim, Tu B’Shebat, and Tu B’Ab all fall on the fifteenth. The fifteenth of the Hebrew month is, of course, the full moon, whose waxing and waning is compared to Jewish fortunes throughout history. This idea is expressed during the Kiddush HaLavanah (sanctification of the new moon) ceremony. These are days of joy, victory, and completion, times of optimism.

 

There are seven days between Tisha B’Ab and Tu B’Ab. Precisely seven days. Tisha B’Ab, the saddest day of the year, is joined with Tu B’Ab, one of the most joyful days of the year, by Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of comfort:

 

Tisha B’Ab

Shabbat Nachamu

Tu B’Ab

Destruction of the Temple

Comfort

Temple is rebuilt

 

The greater the descent, the greater the ascent.

 

The Mystical sources[35] state that the festival of Tu B’Ab marks the middle of the month, the time when the moon is completely full, and all the other events associated with this day are only outcomes of this occurrence. The symbolism communicates that Am Israel, who are compared to the moon, are at full strength.

 

This is based on a principle that rising after a fall is not simply a recovery but guaranteed to reach a higher level than before. In other words, the greater the decent, into darkness, the greater will be the subsequent ascent and ensuing revelation. Plugging this back into the above symbolism, Am Israel suffered a tremendous blow during the month of Ab, and the full moon of Tu B’Ab signifies the luminous repair that follows this intense period of darkness, an increased ascent.

 

More concretely, the festivity of Tu B’Ab is directly related to the sadness of the Tisha B’Ab. While the ninth of Av marks the onset of a disease and destruction, the 15th of Av serves as the cure, the recovery, and furthermore a sign of reaching greater heights.

 

Our Hakhamim tell us that there will be a redemption that will make the exodus from Egypt secondary. When Mashiach comes it will be so great that the exodus will all but be forgotten. It makes sense that there will be a new seven day holiday similar to, but grander than Pesach. If you count seven days from Tisha B'Ab it culminates with the holiday of Tu B'Ab (just as Pesach culminates with the splitting of the sea). This is perhaps the true, the deeper, the secret meaning of Tu B'Av.

 

The Talmud tells us that in every generation when the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if we have destroyed it. This refers not merely to the physical structure of the Temple, but rather to the embodiment of the spiritual essence, what the Temple represents – the body of Mashiach. The Divine intention in creation and the yearning of our souls is to have a dwelling place in physical reality. We can each, in our own bodies, build holy sanctuaries for the indwelling of the Shechinah.

 

Tu B’Ab is the highest day kabbalistically.

 

XVII. Timing

 

A baby conceived on Chanukah would be born on Succoth. (see BIRTH)

 

XVIII.  In Other Religions

 

Avraham sent Hagar and Ishmael to the east and he sent them with ‘gifts’. Avraham also kept the whole Torah. Because of these two things, I would expect to find hints of Tu B’Ab in the festivals of the children of the east.

 

Tu B’Av is HaShem’s festival that is mirrored in other religions that understand the meaning and purpose of this time of year. In this section I would like to show how other religions have picked up this festival and attempt to make it something that the Gentiles use to celebrate.

 

 

Celtic and modern Wiccans celebrate the holiday of Lammas on August 1, in the northern hemisphere. This solar date always falls very close to Tu B’Ab. For example, I am writing this portion on Ab 11, 5772. Tu B’Ab, in 5772, begins on August 3, 2012.

 

Lammas celebrates the Goddess as harvester, and in Scotland the first cut of the harvest was made on Lammas. Interestingly, like Tu B’Av, Lammas was a holiday of weddings—according top some accounts, in Ireland and Britain, “handfastings” or weddings that were binding for a year and a day took place at “Lammas Fairs” each year.

 

Christian celebrate this as a harvest holiday as well, celebrating the offering of new loaves of bread from harvested grain on the church altar.

 

Chinese Valentine’s Day - August 23, 2012

Another special day for lovers, Chinese Valentine’ Day falls on the seventh day of the seventh Chinese lunar month. It is also called Seven Sisters festival or the Festival of the Double Sevens, due to a charming legend surrounding its origins. Today, the festival goes by without much in the way of traditional celebrations, as young people generally prefer to celebrate their love on February 14th.

 

Zamling Chisang - Universal Prayer Day. In central Tibet, on the 15th day of the fifth month in the Tibetan calendar, Tibetans go to the tops of local mountains to burn incense and hang prayer flags.

 

In Tibet, according to tradition, The 15th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar is the Lingka Festival, or the World Happiness Day, when people dress in their best and go picnicking in parks.

 

Popa Nat (Spirit) festival is held on full moon day of Tagu, the first month in Myanmar calendar during summer (April). Large numbers of worshippers, who believe in spirits pay respect to the Nats at their shrines on the top of Mt.Popa. Visitors will have a chance to witness the Nat (Spirit) dances, which are very crowded with the audience. In addition to this main festival, there are also festivals held on full moon day of Warkhaung, the fifth month of Myanmar calendar (July-August) and full moon day of Nadaw, the ninth month in Myanmar calendar (November ~ December).

 

In Thailand, the Mid-Fifth Month Festival starts from the full moon day to the second day of the waning moon, totaling three days and nights. It is held to mark the movement of Luangpho Sothon from the river to be enshrined at the temple.

 

Vesak is the commemoration of the three main events in the life of the Buddha Gotama, all of which fell on the full moon day of the fifth month: his birth, enlightenment, and his final passing away. Buddhists assemble for this commemoration on or near the full moon day in May to observe the precepts, listen to dhamma, and offer Dana to the Sangha. It is a national holiday in some Buddhist countries.

 

Raksha Bandhan, also known as ‘Rakhi,’ is a traditional Indian festival that celebrates the sacred bond of love between brothers and sisters. Every year, this festival is celebrated throughout India on the full moon day in the fifth month of Hindu calendar, Shraavana. The sister ties a rakhi (which could be a thread, a band, a metal clip, or even a piece of cloth) on the wrist of her brother’s right hand; the rakhi is a symbol of the protection that the sister’s love bestows upon the brother. Raksha Bandhan is one the oldest festivals of India. It celebrates the love between a brother and a sister. The festival has evolved with time, and the way it is celebrated has changed over the course of years. However, the spirit of the festival remains untouched.

 

So too, through Tu B’Av, we re-enact the cycle of death and rebirth, as the grain and vegetation around us is beginning to die in order to be reborn in spring. We honor the harvest of our hearts: the gifts of love we have been given, and our will to share them with others.

 

 

 

* * *

 

Origins of Valentine's Day: A Pagan Festival in February

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--which probably occurred around A.D. 270--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. 

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

 

 

 

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

Return to The WATCHMAN home page

Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com

 

 

 


 



[1] Many of the ideas of this study were learned from: Yom Tov, Vol. I, # 32. Tu B’Ab: Rejoicing in a Month of Misfortune - Part 1+2, by Rabbi Yehudah Prero.

[2] Tu B’Ab is how Sephardic Jews pronounce this date. Tu B’Av is how Ashkenazi Jews pronounce this date.

[3] In modern times it has become a popular day for weddings, proposals and romantic dates.

[4] “Tammuz” is the Babylonian name of this month, as are all of the “official” names of the months in the Hebrew Calendar. In the Bible, however, the month is referred to as “the Fourth Month,” with reference to Nisan, the First Month.

[5] “Ab” is the Babylonian name of this month, as are all of the “official” names of the months in the Hebrew Calendar. In the Bible, however, the month is referred to as “the Fifth Month,” with reference to Nisan, the First Month. The name Ab literally means “father.” It derives from the root which means “to will” or “to desire.” it is customary to add the name Menachem (“comforter,” “consoler”; the name of Mashiach) -- Menachem Ab.

 

[6] This idea is discussed at length in the book in Hebrew, Machol Hakeramim, by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

[7] Taanit 30b

[8] Berachot 33b

[9] Moed Katan 18b

[10] Judges 21:1

[11] See the Talmudic Encyclopedia, “Tu B’Av”, note 80. Otzar Hageonim at the end of Taanit; Pri Tzadik on Tu B’Av, 1 and various other sources mentioned in the Book of Our Heritage.

[12] Nifla’os Hayehudi, p. 85

[13] Old Testament

[14] Taanit 30b-31a

[15] See Numbers 36

[16] See Judges 21

[17] R. Yosef in the name of R. Nachman

[18] Rabba bar Channa in the name of R. Yochanan

[19] Ulla

[20] Sukkah 52a

[21] Sukkah 52a

[22] The first king of the Kingdom of Israel, [as opposed to the kingdom of Judah,] after King Shlomo

[23] A king from the Kingdom of Israel, approximately the eighteenth after Jeroboam

[24] Derech Emunah U’bitachon

[25] On the 9th of Ab the tribes of Joseph and Judah were united: When the spies returned only Joshua and Caleb, from the tribes of Joseph and Judah respectively, remained steadfast in their desire to enter Israel. They serve as the prototypes for the Messiah from Joseph, and the Messiah from David (Judah), who usher in the Messianic Era. See Sukkah 52a

[26] Gateway to Judaism, Pg.341

[27] The Book of Our Heritage, Eliyahu Kitov

[28] Megillah 29b

[29] The Jewish Encyclopedia, under the heading “Triennial Cycle“, speaks about the number of sedarim: “The Masoretic divisions known as “sedarim” and variously indicated in the text, number 154 in the Pentateuch, and probably correspond, therefore, to the Sabbath lessons of the triennial system, as was first surmised by Rapoport (“Halikot edem,” p. 11). The number varies, however, so that Menahem Me’iri reckoned 161 divisions, corresponding to the greatest number of Sabbaths possible in three years; the Yemen grammars and scrolls of the Pentateuch enumerate 167 and the tractate Soferim (xvi. 10) gives the number as 175 (comp. Yer. Shab. i. 1). It is possible that this last division corresponds to a further development by which the whole of the Pentateuch was read twice in seven years, or once in three and a half years.”

[30] Sotah 2a, Sanhedrin 22a

[31] According to Bnei Yesakhar, a Hassidic teaching by R. Zvi Elimelekh Shapira of Dinov, p. 112d, translated by Ivan Ickovits

[32] Mishna: Seder Moed: Tractate Rosh HaShanah: 1:1

[33] Devarim 20:19, Yeshayahu 65:22, and Yeremyahu 17:8

[34] Pri Eitz Chaim, Mikrah Kodesh, Chapter 4, Sha'ar Chag Hashavuot, Chapter 1

[35] Pri Eitz Chaim