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The Spirit of Tu B'Av: Unity & Hope, No Top & No Bottom

Av 13 5765/August 18, 2005
2005 The Temple Institute, Yitzchak Reuven - All Rights Reserved

This past Saturday night the Jewish people began the solemn fast day of Tish'a B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which both the First and Second Holy Temples were destroyed. Each year we pray that this should be the very last Tish'a B'Av, that next year, this day should be a holiday, because the Holy Temple will be rebuilt.

Our sages teach that the enemy entered into the Holy Temple on the seventh day of Av. On the seventh and eighth days, they ate and drank in it, and defiled it. On the ninth day, they set it ablaze. It continued burning all day of the tenth of Av, until sunset.

This year on the tenth of Av - while the Temple was still burning - on that very day, Monday, August 15th - 1,935 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the "Disengagement" began. The destruction of the Holy Temple continues in our own time.

But we are strengthened by our knowledge that, "the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." (Psalms 121:4) The same G-d of Israel that has nurtured the Jewish people, the apple of His eye, to this point - will continue to do so, as He has promised. No power in the world - neither corrupt leadership, nor enemies both within and without - can stop the people of Israel from fulfilling her G-dly appointed destiny of being a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6)

This month of Menachem Av literally means "compassionate father" in Hebrew. This teaches us a profound lesson - that everything G-d does, and allows to happen, even during this very month which is synonymous with destruction - is all out of love, the love of a caring father, who is calling His children back to Him. With love and concern, sometimes He needs to break down in order to rebuild.

According to sacred Jewish tradition this month begins to turn around during its second half, and an incomparably sublime illumination of hope and love begins to shine forth. Tu B'Av, the 15th day of this month, is a holiday which is called by our sages "the happiest day of the year:"

"Israel had no holidays like Tu B'Av..."

"The concept of the machul - dance - is that one who goes in the dance, goes around and around in a circle. The circle has no top and no bottom, no beginning or end. So too, in the future the righteous will experience no jealousy or dislike, for no one will be said to be on a higher level than another...

This itself is the "holiday for Israel" - when there is no jealousy, competition or envy between them. This is what our sages allude to: Israel had no holidays like Tu B'Av - as the 15th letter of the aleph bet is the letter samech, which is a round circle, with no top or bottom. This is the concept of the dance, and this is the greatest holiday for Israel. (Ohev Ysrael Likutim 113:B)

It was reported last night, on the eve of the forced expulsion from Gaza, that the residents of the community of Katif spent the evening singing and dancing the dance of the circle. What could be a more fitting description of the anti-expulsion protesters along with the Jewish residents of Gaza and the north Shomron, as the above description of the circle dance: no top and no bottom, no jealousy and dislike. This is the spirt that has brought together and united the G-d fearing people of Israel in fierce opposition to the Sharon expulsion. The very letter samech - the circle with no top or bottom - means quite simply, "support." Together, we support and uplift one another, together we are invincible. So the spirit of destruction and denial of G-d's covenant with His people, the spirit of Tish'a B'Av, which has lined up behind Ariel Sharon as he sent his legions of obedient soldiers into Gush Katif this week, has been met by the spirit of Tu B'Av - unity and love, with no top and no bottom, an all encompassing circle of linked souls dancing without guile before their Father in heaven.

Where does this great power come from? It is taught in the Bnei Yisasschar that the 15th of Av occurs forty days before the 25th of Elul - the first day of the six days of creation. (The sixth day being Rosh HaShana - the first day of the new year - the day of the creation of Adam.) We further know from our sages that forty days before a soul is created, a heavenly decree goes forth, announcing that a mate, a partner, is likewise to be created so that one day the two souls will meet and become complete. So too, on this primordial Tu B'Av - before time itself - G-d announced the partner awaiting creation, and that partner is Israel. From this original portent of unity and purpose, the 15th of Av has since been a source of love and unity for all generations.

We are taught that after the sin of the spies, who had lost heart and faith in G-d's promise that they would inherit the land, G-d delayed the entry into Israel until the entire generation had died out. Our sages teach that a very deliberate ritual ensued. Each year, on the 9th of Av - the anniversary of the sin of the spies, Moses would call upon every one to grab a shovel, leave the encampment, and dig their own graves. They would sleep that night in the graves they had dug, and the next morning Moses would return to awaken them. Those who climbed out returned to their homes. Those that didn't, (couldn't), were buried there. This annual rite continued for thirty nine years. On that final year, when Moses called for all to arise in the morning - they all emerged - to a man - from their graves. Not believing their eyes - and fearful that they may have miscalculated the day, they returned to sleep in their graves each night for an entire week. Finally, on the morning of Tu B'av - in which the full moon had filled the night sky - they were convinced that the day had passed - and that G-d's anger was assuaged.

Those who had doubted G-d's promise had in effect dug graves for themselves outside the land - and there they slept - even while alive. Those who had never lost their faith - despite the evil reports - the smooth spoken and well rehearsed calls for despair - would not perish from the land - but would reemerge unscathed from whatever pit their brothers would prepare for them. The despair of the 9th would try to quench - but would ultimately be quenched by - the trust of the 15th - the "holiday for Israel" - when there is no jealousy, competition or envy between them.

Traditionally, on the 15th of Av, young unmarried girls would go out to the forest, where, dressed in white they would dance, with the aim of catching the glances of the onlooking boys. Each girl would wear a dress borrowed from another, so that no one would be judged unfairly by the boys, who might otherwise mistake quality clothes for quality souls. But where did this lovely tradition originate? It seems that the 15th of Av was the day chosen for the resolution of two separate but similar issues. Following the incident of the "concubine in Givaa," after which the tribes of Israel vowed at Mitzpe, that "None of us will give his daughter as a wife to Benjamin," (Judges 21:1) the tribe of Benjamin faced near extinction, as most of the men had been killed in the internecine war described in Judges. This problem was compounded by the prohibition enunciated in the book of Numbers (38:6) which placed a ban on girls who had inherited their father's ancestral portion, from marrying out of the tribe. To alleviate the effect of these prohibitions on the daughters of Benjamin, and to help to restore the tribe to its former numbers, the elders nullified the prohibition. This took effect on Tu B'Av. It is described in the book of Judges (21:19):

"They said, Behold, there is a yearly holiday unto HaShem at Shiloh, which is north of Beit-El to Shechem, and south of Lebonah. So they directed the sons of Benjamin, saying: Go and lie in wait in the vineyards. And see, and behold, if the daughters of Shiloh go out to perform the dances, you shall emerge from the vineyards, and each of you grab his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin."

The spirit of Tish'a B'Av - hatred among brothers - the sending of soldiers to decimate the towns and communities of others, as was done so successfully to Benjamin in the war of the tribes, versus the spirit of Tu B'Av - the love and humility expressed in the exchanging of clothes, the gentle persuasion of the dance of the daughters and the coming forth of the sons - the attraction of opposites, the uniting of the tribes.

The spirit of Tish'a B'Av thrives on ignorance of the "other." For the vacuum of ignorance can be easily filled with demonizing words and hateful stereotypes. To maintain this ignorance, people must be kept at home, aloof, apathetic, isolated from the truth which comes with human contact. Their narrative must be provided for them via the Tish'a B'Av inspired media - breeding hatred where love should exist. The children of Tu B'av, on the other hand, marched out of their homes, and their summer vacations, stood on street corners and knocked on doors, in order to meet their brothers and sisters - to see and to be seen - as members of the same tribe - the same destiny - to bring hearts together, and not sunder them apart.

The 15th of Av was the day on which Hoshea ben Ala took down the roadblocks that had been placed by the evil king Jeraboam to prevent the people from making the festival pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Jeraboam wished to replace the Temple service with a pagan cult, and to enforce this decision upon an unwilling populace, he sent out troops to man roadblocks. But the Israelites were as determined as they were cunning. The Beraita from tractate Ta'anit describes what happened:

"Who were the children of Gonvei Eli and Kotzei K'tziot? It happened that once the government made a decree against Israel... that forbade them from bringing the firstfruit offerings up to Jerusalem. They set guards along the roads, in the manner of Jeraboam ben Nevat, to prevent Israel from making the pilgrimage. Here is how the upstanding people of that generation reacted: They brought baskets of firstfruits and covered them with dried dates, (ketziot), and eli wood on their shoulders. Reaching the roadblocks, the guards asked them: 'Where are you going?' 'To make two cakes of pressed figs in yonder press, and using the wood on our shoulders.' Once they had safely passed the guards, they decorated their baskets and brought the fruit to Jerusalem. Thus these families were known as the children of Gonvei Eli and Kotzei K'tziot. For they pulled one over on the guards, (in Hebrew, 'gonvim lev,' lit., 'they stole their hearts,' with the eli and the ketziot, (dates) with which they covered the first fruits."

Tu B'Av was one of the cut-off days for bringing wood to the Temple to be burned on the altar, and these two families, Gonvei Eli and Kotzei K'tziot, and their descendants, were granted special permission to donate wood on the 15th of Av, in commemoration of their ancestors' dedication and commitment to fulfilling the word of G-d.

So too, the news of the past weeks has been filled with stories about roadblocks. The Prime Minister, like Jeraboam, trying to impose his cult of retreat upon a nation that wants only to serve G-d, has ordered his soldiers and policemen to man roadblocks, with the aim of preventing the people from uniting with their threatened brethren in Gush Katif. But the upstanding people of our generation have responded with perseverance and with cunning, creating a virtual "underground railroad" for getting through and around the roadblocks. And at the head of this parade of brotherhood march our children - our own first fruits - who have absorbed the teaching of their fathers, and with the clear sight and steady foot so typical of unsullied youth, are leading the struggle.

Tu B'Av was the day on which permission was granted to bury the Jews slaughtered in Beitar. Beitar was the last stronghold of the Bar Cochba revolt against imperial Rome. Thousands of Jews were killed in its fall to the Romans. Their corpses lay in the streets, but the Roman authority would not allow their burial. Some two years later the ban was finally rescinded, and when the Jews returned to bury their dead, they discovered that their bodies remained intact, no decomposition had occurred. This miracle was understood as being an expression of hesed - loving kindness from G-d.

As these lines are being written, Ariel Sharon's legions are overrunning the righteous communities of Gush Katif. Residents are being forcibly removed. When the towns have been cleansed of their living inhabitants, the army has been instructed to exhume the dead from their graves, to be reinterred elsewhere in Israel. The spirit of Tish'a B'Av has entered and is obliterated some thirty Jewish communities in Gaza and Samaria. Every trace of their existence will be removed: the houses, the synagogues, the schools, even the graves. Into these graves to be opened, the spirit of Tish'a B'Av - and its followers will fall, never to reemerge. And from these graves to be reopened will spring forth the spirit of Tu B'Av - an entire people united in the circle dance - with no top and no bottom, no beginning and no end. For the love Israel has for our Creator, and the promised land in which He has placed us, like Tu B'Av, begins before the beginning, and like the circle, has no end.

"What is the reason for the 15th of Av?... each sage gave a reason, until Rabbah and R. Yosef, who together stated: 'It is the day on which they ceased cutting wood for the altar... and they called it Yom Tavar Magal, The Day the Sickle is Broken."

"Of all the explanations given for this day, this is the reason of all reasons, the root of all the others listed... for all these revolve around one central point: that all the kitrugim, the evil accusations on Israel were nullified, and this is the 'breaking of the sickle:' all the accusations were nullified and all the anger was broken. From this time forward, the Blessed Holy One begins to direct Israel with the attribute of Divine love."

We are not discouraged. We refuse to be broken. We continue with renewed strength and determination, towards rebuilding, towards restoration, towards the light of the Holy Temple, which the people of Israel, and the entire world, need more than ever.

Terror has been rewarded. The vacuum left by the exiled, righteous and heroic Jews of Gush Katif will be filled by a terror enclave that will export murder to the entire world.

Our goal of rebuilding the Holy Temple represents represents the opposite of that evil: Bringing about the redemption of mankind and the return of the Shechina, the Divine Presence back into the world. Together with your help, we will continue marching towards that bright future of hope and love, the love of the compassionate Father, for Israel and the entire world.

Langston Hughes, Dream Deferred

Yitzchak Reuven
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE
www.templeinstitute.org

PO Box 31876 Jerusalem, Israel 97500

 

 

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