INSIGHT

5768 - #37

NEW BEGINNINGS

When one first reads the mishna on T.B. Ta’anit 26b, it would seem that the two days mentioned, Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av, were deemed to be the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar because of the courting1 event that was held on this day. A review of the gemara on T.B. Ta’anit 30b, 31a,2 however, seems to indicate that these days were actually deemed to be so special because of the significance of the historical events that happened on these days. It would seem that the event held on these days was not the cause of the extended happiness felt on them but, rather, it was the significance and joy inherent in these days that led to them being chosen for this special event.3 The question still arises, though: why? What is the connection between the inherent significance of these days and this courting event?

            Actually, the gemara begins its investigation of the significance of these days by not referring to a historical event but to the fact that Yom Kippur is, of course, a day of great joy for it is a day of forgiveness for our transgressions. It is then that the gemara refers to the historical event that marked this day – the day on which Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Har Sinai to present the Second Tablets to Klal Yisrael – as this incident showed that God forgave the Jewish nation for their transgression with the Golden Calf. This date, as such, became Yom Kippur, a day of forgiveness for the generations. In reviewing the many different historical events that the gemara presents as happening on Tu B’Av, a case could be made that this day also marks Divine forgiveness. This would seem to be certainly true in regard to the first significant historical occurrence on this day -- that the last group who were sentenced to die for the sin of the spies did not die – and it would seem proper to contend that this first event truly established the essence of this day into the future. In that the day of marriage is also deemed to be a day of forgiveness for the bride and groom,4 it could be contended that this theme of forgiveness is also that which connects the essence of these days to the courting event held on them.

             There is a problem, though, with advancing this theory, as is, as the explanation of the connection between these days and the courting event. While it is true that the theme of forgiveness is found in some of the historical events connected to Tu B’Av, other events that occurred on this day do not seem to easily reflect this concept. This in itself, of course, may not necessarily challenge the theory of a connection to the courting event based on forgiveness – after all, forgiveness is still a theme of the day – but in that the other events do not necessarily tie to forgiveness per se, we may begin to wonder about the essence of this day beyond forgiveness and how this may apply to both the connection to Yom Kippur and marriage.  Whenever a list of events is presented to reflect the value of a day, our motivation is to find the common denominator that binds these variant events into one theme. Forgiveness, seemingly the only theme presented for Yom Kippur, does seem to form some basis for the connection between that day, Tu B’Av and the courting event, yet the other historical events that occurred on Tu B’Av do not seem to easily fit into this model and this demands contemplation.

            The specific placement of this mishna in the general discussion of Tisha B’Av also demands some consideration. This would seem to imply that while the mishna does declare both Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av as, equally, the two most joyous days on the Jewish calendar, even mentioning Yom Kippur first, the focus still would seem be on Tu B’Av, just 6 days after Tisha B’Av. Interestingly, though, no connection between Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av is actually mentioned except in regard to the fact that Tisha B’Av was actually the day that those expecting to be punished as part of the sin of the spies expected to die. It was on Tu B’Av that they finally recognized that God pardoned them. This fact, though, may be most significant. Tu B’Av was not really the day on which they were forgiven – it would seem that God’s pardon actually occurred on Tisha B’Av – but the day that they recognized that they were forgiven. Similarly, in regard to other events that occurred on this day, what really occurred on this day was the recognition of the favour, not exactly the bestowing of the benefit.5 The focus would thus be not on, for example, an act of forgiving per se but rather on the response to this pardon.

            When we consider teshuva, repentance, and slicha, forgiveness, there are actually two parts to this contemplation. One is on the past – feelings of shame and desire to avoid punishment. The other, though, is on the future – feelings of hope and desire for change. When God forgives us, we clearly are happy that we thereby avoid the Divine retribution for sin but with forgiveness also comes a hope for a new beginning, for a new order with a chance to achieve a greater good both personally and communally. This latter idea would seem to be the forgiveness that is marked on Tu B’Av and the focus of the forgiveness that is highlighted on Yom Kippur through its connection to Tu B’Av. When those expecting to die in the desert found themselves alive, their gratification went beyond the fact that they were pardoned by God – they could now enter Eretz Yisrael and begin a new chapter in the existence of Klal Yisrael.

            Forgiveness and pardon is not just about the past, about the fact that God will not punish us. Forgiveness and pardon is also about the future, the fact that we begin anew and without the weight of past sins. This is the essence of the forgiveness that God bestows upon a new couple about to embark on a new life together. The new being of this new couple in itself effectively brings about the pardon of God for the past as they now dedicate themselves to the future. This is the essence of the value of Tu B’Av and the forgiveness for which we should strive.

. 4.

 

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Footnotes

1 The word “courting” does not truly describe the event of the day but is used as, perhaps, the best English word available. The reader is invited to read the gemara’s description of what happened on these days but, for our purposes, it may be suffice to simply describe the event as fostering a meeting between young men and young women for the purpose of marriage.

2 See, also, T.B. Baba Batra 121a,b.  

3 It could be argued, though, that the point of the gemara’s presentation of the historical significance of the days was simply to show that the days were, in any event, initially significant. It was thus because they had significance on their own that they were chosen to host the courting event, yet it was still the courting event that made these days especially joyous. See, perhaps, Tosfot, Ta’anit 30b, d.h. yom. See, also, Maharsha, Baba Batra 121a, d.h. yom which seems to tie the special joyousness that is being mentioned in the mishna to the courting.

4 See Beit Shmuel, Even HaEzer, 61:6.

5 For example, the allowance for daughters, after the generation of the B’not Tzelaphchad to marry outside the tribe was actually inherent in the original declaration of Moshe Rabbeinu. It was the point of recognition that is marked on Tu B’Av. See, also, the above noted Maharsha.

(c) Nishma, 2008


 


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2006 NISHMA