The Good Land
"Let me go over, please, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that good mountain,
and the Lebanon.'"
The joyful day of Tu b'Av - the 15th of Av, always occurs during the week following the Shabbat Torah reading of Ve'etchanan. Surely there lies a common theme that binds together these two annual events. We learn of Tu b'Av in the Mishnah, Ta'anit:
"There were no holidays as joyous for the Jewish People as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur..."
What makes Tu b'Av so joyous? The Mishnah gives numerous reasons: On the 15th of Av the prohibition against the daughters of one tribe of Israel marrying the sons of another tribe was abrogated. Somewhat later in history another prohibition aimed at preventing the marriage between Israelite women and the sons of the tribe of Binyamin (Benjamin) was rescinded. The book of Judges (chapter 19) records a violent civil war between Binyamin and the Israelite tribes. The recrimination was so great that the tribal leaders forbade their daughters from mixing with Benjaminite men. When the decree was annulled, a sign that the bitterness had passed, the children of Israel rejoiced.
Much later in history (135 CE), the Bar Kochba rebellion, aimed at driving out the foreign invaders, was brutally suppressed by the Romans. Tens of thousands of Jewish men, women and children were slaughtered, many of them in the city of Beitar, the last rebel stronghold. In a particularly cruel display of vengeance the Romans forbade the surviving Jews to bury their dead. Only some time later was the edict reversed and the Jews were allowed to tend to their dead. When they approached their fallen brethren they saw that their bodies remained as the day they fell. This miracle was understood to be an act of great heavenly kindness.
During the time of the Holy Temple on the 15th of Av and on Yom Kippur all the girls, from the daughter of the High Priest to the daughter of the village smith would go out to the vineyards of Jerusalem and dance together, each wearing a borrowed white gown, so that none should be embarrassed. To the young men who looked on they said: "Young man, lift up your eyes and choose wisely. Don't look only at physical beauty - look rather at the family - 'For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A G-d - fearing woman is the one to be praised...'" (Proverbs 31:30)
The gentle beauty of the events described above need no further elaboration. The Jerusalem Talmud tells us the following concerning Tu b'Av : It was on this day that G-d's decree that all who had heeded the evil report of the spies and would therefore die in the desert, ended. All who remained alive would enter the land of Israel. The people celebrated.
The thread that draws together each of these given reasons for the joyful celebration of Tu b'Av is the love of the land of Israel and the unity of the people of Israel. When the Israelites were allowed to enter the land; when they had successfully conquered and settled the land; and when they were rewarded, even in defeat, for defending the land; these are all occasions for thanksgiving and rejoicing. When tribes were allowed to freely mix together, this was a cause for happiness. The annual ceremony that took place on this hills of Jerusalem within view of the Holy Temple poignantly symbolized the mutual love and respect afforded to brother and sisters of a united people.
The Torah verses of Ve'etchanan comprise a soaringly beautiful paean to the Land of Israel. Moshe rabbeinu - Moses our master pleads with G-d, asking form permission to enter the land, desiring above all else to witness "'that good mountain, and the Lebanon." Yes, the words of Ve'etchanan echo the rhythms of Tu b'Av : unabashed love and concern for the good land, G-d's country, the land of Israel. And to where was Moshe drawn in his prayers for his people, their strength, their unity, their destiny? To "'that good mountain, and the Lebanon:'" that is, Mount Moriah and the Holy Temple. By inhabiting the land that G-d has promised us and building for Him a house so that He can dwell among us, we can truly serve Him in holiness, all hearts united as one. This is the message of Tu b'Av.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, and join Yitzchak Reuven and Rabbi Richman as they discuss Tu b'Av - the 15th of Av, and this past week's Torah reading of Ve'etchanan.
Click to hear: