The joy of Tu B’Av (the fifteenth of the month of Av) is about transcending limitation. On this day six events occurred, each bearing a message about living in a bigger way. By learning and applying these lessons we can truly celebrate Tu B’Av and understand why it is one the two happiest days in the Jewish year. (The other is Yom Kippur when the Jews were forgiven the sin of the Golden Calf and given the second set of tablets, as stated in Taanit 26b.)
1) The Joy of Life – Following the sin of the spies, who spoke ill of the land of Israel, it was decreed upon all Jewish males between the ages of 20 and 60 (600,000 in total) that they would not enter the land, but rather die in the desert over the next 40 years. For the next 39 years every year on Tisha B’Av they would dig and lie down in a grave and fifteen thousand per year (600,000 divided by 40 comes out to 15,000 per year who died) would not arise in the morning. On the 40th year, the last group of fifteen thousand dug their graves and lied in them, but to their surprise arose in the morning. They thought that perhaps they had miscalculated and for the next several days went to sleep in a grave only to arise the next morning. Finally on the 15th of Av, when they saw the full moon, they realized that they had been given a new lease on life. (According to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.)
It is so easy to take for granted the miracle of life. As long as we are alive, we possess possibility, blessing, and opportunity. By imagining what it felt like to lie down in one’s grave and wake up the next morning, we can appreciate this gift we have been given and live it with greater joy.
2) The Freedom to Choose – During the phase of apportioning the land of Israel amongst the various tribes, the daughters of a tribe who inherited their father were not allowed to marry outside of their tribe, as doing so would mean a loss of ancestral land. This limitation was removed on the 15th of Av.
Having one’s marriage choices so severely limited must have been very difficult for these women. There are few choices as important as who we marry and being limited in this way must have been very frustrating. What if the type of guys in one’s tribe was not so desirable?
Having freedom is huge. Being able to consciously choose a partner based on who we are and not for other reasons is a massive blessing. Realizing how wonderful this is despite the challenges of dating and relationships provides a gift of perspective that we can give to ourselves.
3) The Family Imperative – Ensuing a tragedy known as “The Concubine of Giveah” during the time of the Judges (Judges, Ch. 19) a civil war broke out between the tribe of Benjamin and the rest of the Jewish people. As a result of this struggle, the other tribes did not allow their daughters to marry men from Benjamin. Upon seeing that the very survival of this tribe was being threatened, on the 15th of Av this prohibition was dropped and the men of Benjamin were able to rebuild their tribe.
So often disputes escalate to a point of no return. The ability of the tribes to put the survival of their brother ahead of their significant differences and even allow them to marry their daughters revealed a depth of filial love that is remarkable. On the 15th of Av, we celebrate our ability to put being a brother, a spouse, or a parent ahead of being right. No wonder this day is considered an auspicious one for building new families.
4) Visiting the Divine – When the kingdom of Israel was split into two, the Jews living in the Northern Kingdom were prevented by their king from traveling to the Holy Temple, as he feared it would undermine his power. This situation lasted for many years until the rein of Hoshea Ben Eilah, who removed the guards blocking the way, on the 15th of Av.
When we look at Jewish history, the ability to come to the Holy Temple, or even its remnant (the Western Wall) it is not something to be taken for granted. Even in its destruction, the Sages teach that the Divine presence is manifest there. Having access to holiness is a gift and a responsibility that offers us a priceless opportunity for elevation.
5) The Fuel of our Fire – At the Holy Temple there was a need for wood that was worm-free for the sacrificial offerings and for the eternal fire on the altar. It needed to be gathered by the 15th of Av, when conditions were still dry and the integrity of the wood was intact. During the beginning of the Second Temple period it was extremely difficult and dangerous to procure as the land of Israel was desolate. Courageous men put themselves to great lengths to collect the necessary wood and when the necessary amount was finally stored by the 15th of Av it was cause for great rejoicing.
These men provide a powerful example of what is possible when something really matters. By finding what gives our life substance we can light a fire that redefines what is possible for us.
6) The Light Within the Darkness – About 65 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were massacred by the Romans in Beitar, the last Jewish stronghold in Israel. Their bodies were left to rot for three years and miraculously they did not decompose and were finally allowed burial on the 15th of Av. A special blessing “Hatov V’ Hameitiv” – “the one who is good” – that the bodies did not decompose – “and does good” – that the dead were allowed to be buried, was added to the Grace after Meals.
Our ability to see and appreciate G-d’s kindness even in the midst of tragedy has helped us stay connected despite a history filled with suffering. This light amidst the darkness has given us the strength to withstand the severest of trials, to survive and thrive. By perceiving the divine kindness present in our struggles we can draw the strength necessary to overcome them.
The celebration of the 15th of Av is about being rooted in a reality that can transcend any and every limitation. No matter what darkness or constraint, we possess a divine connection that can lift us and free us. The more we internalize and live in a way that honors this bond, the bigger and more blessed our lives become.