Lazer Gurkow
Lazer Gurkow

Tu B’Av – The Full Moon

This Shabbat will be special because the full moon will shine on Friday night. The full moon occurs every month but is most important in the month of Av. The Temple’s destruction on the ninth day of this month was the low point in Jewish history. At that time, it was hard to be optimistic about the future of the Jewish people. The full moon on the 15th of the month, only six days after the Temple was destroyed, was an important symbol of hope.

Every month, the moon waxes, and wanes. On the 15th of the lunar month the moon is complete and on the last day of the month it is concealed. It seems to have disappeared, but it is merely concealed. On the first of the month, it appears again and grows once more to its complete fullness.

After the Temple’s destruction, when many doubted the future of the Jewish people, the full moon reminded one and all that Jewish destiny was not extinct. It was merely in temporary abeyance. In due course, it would indeed mature again and grow to its fullness.

A Day for Couples
In what appears to be a completely separate narrative, the Talmud tells us that the 15th of Av was the joyous day of the year. In Jerusalem, this was a day for merry matchmaking. Jewish men and women would gather in the squares of Jerusalem and couples would meet one another.

The symbolism of matchmaking is also one of hope. It heralds a destiny for the young man and woman that is not apparent at birth. For decades, they walk the earth with no inkling of the person who would one day become their intimate life partner. On this day, they would find each other and connect. They would be betrothed and later marry.

This powerful symbolism reflects the union between the Jewish people and G-d. It seemed to have shattered on the ninth of Av, but it rises again on the 15th of Av. There is hope again. There will be connection again. Moreover, the connection was never severed. It was merely concealed but it will blossom again.

This Shabbat is the 15th of Av. It is remarkable that a week that began with the saddest day of the year—the ninth of Av, ends on the most joyous day of the year—the 15th of Av.

The Secret of the Moon
It is striking that the moon, rather than the sun, reverses the Jewish narrative of gloom. If we were looking for a message of hope, for a full blossoming of our relationship with G-d, would it not have made more sense to celebrate at midday when the sun is at its fullest? The moon is merely a reflection of the sun, so why celebrate with a full moon rather than a full sun?

The answer is that though the light of the sun is stronger, the light of the moon is more precious. Someone once asked a little boy which is more powerful the moon or the sun. The boy answered that the moon is stronger because the sun shines during the day when it is light anyway. The moon shines at night when it is dark.

While this is a humorous story, it is, upon reflection, not such a laughing matter. The sun represents an uninterrupted relationship that was always bright. The moon represents the rectification, the salvaging, of a relationship that was threatened. The full moon tells us that our relationship with G-d was slightly threatened, but it was not shattered.

Marriage
Let’s discuss this in the context of Marriage. There are two kinds of marriages. In the first, the couple loves, admires, and respects each other. They are happy from day one and their bliss only grows with time. The second is a rocky stormy marriage that flails and flounders until it ends in divorce.

But that is not the end of the story. After the divorce, the couple, who could not stand each other in marriage, discover their love and their need for each other—their genuine oneness. It is only after the divorce that they realize how selfish and hurtful they were to the person they cherished most. Only after divorce do they realize how much they threw away.

At this point, they begin the long process of reconciliation. They focus on what binds them and figure out how to live with what divides them. They devise strategies for dealing with disappointment and stress and learn how to communicate with respect. Most important, they learn how much they value and love each other.

The first couple is like the sun, steady and bright. The second couple is like the moon, their marriage ends in darkness, but they learn to shine again. When the two reconcile and remarry, their commitment to each other is thorough and solid. They are not together because of convenience. They are together because they truly belong to each other.

The sun couple enjoys the bliss of constant sunlight. Their marriage is always bright and sunny. But they have no idea whether their marriage might crack under strain. The second couple knows how they would respond to stress. They would not divorce. They tried that and learned that it is not for them. They belong to each other. They belong together. They had every reason to remain separate, but were unable.

The light of the first couple shines steady and uninterrupted. The light of the second couple is more precious. Their darkness created a light so intense that they will never contemplate separation again. They are not together for convenience. They are together because deep in their soul they are one.

After Tisha B’Av
We now understand why the full moon, rather than the sun, represents the reversal of Tisha B’Av. The sun is powerful, but at the end of the day, it banks and sets, leaving darkness in its wake. The moon enters when the night is dark and transforms it from a frightening melancholy into a soothing canopy of silver rays. It soothes the creatures of the night and tells them to not despair. Your future will be bright. Brighter than ever before.

That is why this Shabbat is a special Shabbat.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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