Tu B’Av Rebuilding

The Talmud states that, “The greatest days for the Jewish people were Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur.”  We all know of the greatness of Yom Kippur, in that it is an opportunity to be forgiven for any misdeeds we may have done.  Every Jew is aware of the holiness and solemnity of the day.  I imagine that if one were to take a survey, 99.9% of Jews are aware of Yom Kippur.

Yet how many Jews have ever even heard of Tu B’Av, let alone consider it (one of) the greatest days of the year?  Seemingly, many holidays can be ranked “higher” than Tu B’Av, amongst them Passover, Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim and more.

In fact, although I have written in the past that the most enigmatic of all Jewish holidays is Lag BaOmer, perhaps this statement would be more accurately attributed to Tu B’Av!  The Code of Jewish Law makes reference to the holiday by instructing us to omit the Penitential Prayer (tachanun) from the day’s prayers, and to increase our Torah study beginning from this day.  The Talmud (ibid.) tells us that many years ago the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” on the 15th of Av, and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride.

The greatness of the day is expressed in the fact that it follows the ominous day of destruction and mourning, Tisha B’Av.  Even after destruction so powerful that one may wonder how the Jewish people could continue, we find renewal.

This renewal is expressed in three ways: 1. The fifteenth day of the Jewish month always coincides with a full moon, alluding to the comparison of the Jewish people to the moon.  Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so too, the Jewish people may experience travail and difficulty while in exile, but we will be renewed just like the moon; 2. The fact that Tu B’Av was a day when young Jewish men and women would meet, also teaches us that even after the destruction of the Temples and upheaval of our People, we will still continue to grow and flourish; 3. The Talmud (ibid.) recounts another event which occurred on Tu B’Av.  On the day of Tisha B’Av, it was decreed that the Jewish people who left Egypt and were wandering in the desert, would not enter the land of Israel.  Each year, on Tisha B’Av, the Jews of the desert would dig graves, assuming that since the day was so terrible, there would once again be tragedy.  And indeed, so it was each year.  Until the last year of their wandering in the desert, when although they dug graves for themselves, no one died.  When they reached the 15th of Av, and still no one had passed away, they realized that this was the end of the decree.

So how do we tap into this power of renewal contained within the holy day of Tu B’Av?

The answer may be contained in this first Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Nachamu.  The unique name of this Shabbat (“Shabbat of Consolation”) is taken from the opening verse of the reading of the Prophets (Haftarah), from Isaiah chapter 40.  The verse states, “Comfort, oh comfort My people!”  What is the reason for the repetition of the word “comfort”?  Wouldn’t the point have been conveyed even if the word comfort was only mentioned once?

Yet the explanation is that in order to be comforted after the destruction of the Temples, one must exert a double effort.  It is never enough what one is currently doing, but one must always strive to double and re-double one’s efforts in all areas of holiness, Torah study, prayer and mitzvot.

We all yearn for renewal.  We all dream of a time when there will be no war, famine or jealousy.  This is what Judaism speaks of when it refers to the Messianic Era.  The instruction is contained in the book of Isaiah, Hebrew for “salvation.”  In order to experience the renewal of the Messianic Era which Tu B’Av refers to, we must double our previous efforts.  Don’t sit by thinking that you are doing enough.  Certainly you can find more ways to help other people.

As Maimonides writes, one should always view the world as in an equal balance between good and evil, requiring only one deed to tip the scale for the good.  That next deed could be yours.  Make it a good one!