Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Tu Be'av
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

R. Avraham Ben David

Tu B'Av - The Joy of Learning the Hard Way

Twice mistakes were made, and in both cases we paid dearly for the mistakes - yet we learn from our mistakes. Without Eretz Yisrael there is no Torah, and without the Torah there is no Eretz Yisrael.


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Av 5698
1. Untimely Joy
2. Out With the Old, In With the New
3. The Destruction of Betar
4. A Common Denominator
5. The Torah and the Land
6. What Awaits Us

(Note: The following feature article dates back to the days before the establishment of the State of Israel)

Untimely Joy
Our traditional days of mourning for the Destruction of the Temple have passed. Tisha B'Av is behind us as well. And here, we have arrived at two stations of the Jewish calendar which evoke memories of days of joy, and sprinkle upon us drops of consolation - Tu B'Av and Shabbat Nahamu .
Yet, for us, their coming just now seems untimely. We find discomforting the radiant faces of these two occasions, for the atmosphere is still permeated with an air mourning. I am not referring to our customary three weeks of mourning, but to the past three years of mourning. The young settlement in Israel is being founded upon its own blood, the Diaspora writhes in agony, and despite it all - Tu B'Av and Shabbat Nahamu.

Out With the Old, In With the New
Among the many reasons given for marking Tu B'Av, there are two which I would like us to dwell upon. The first, points to this as the day on which the last of the metei midbar - the generation that died in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt - finally pass away. The second, tells us that this was the day on which the corpses of the Jews, slaughtered by the Romans at the town of Betar, were finally given proper burial. Two explanations for the same holiday - and what great breadth between them. Great, too, is the span of time which separates these two periods in history.

The first explanation, that of the "metei midbar," calls up recollections of a period of splendor. A nation picks itself up, shakes off the dust of slavery, and snapping its cords of bondage, directs its gaze toward the wonderful tomorrow. The Designated Land stretches herself out before their very eyes. Just a narrow strip of water separates them. This generation is well aware that the land is settled by other nations, well aware that the people of the land are mighty, and have sturdy, rock-hard fortifications. Yet they refuse to be deterred by them. And rightly so, for their time now up. The great abominations which these nations performed take their toll: the land vomits them out, and by the power of Divine promise the Nation of Israel comes to succeed them, inheriting the Land in order to establish a pure and exalted existence. In order to establish a life of law and justice.

The People who left Egypt are no longer. Their expiration is complete. The children won't repeat the mistakes of their parents. No. The claim that "they are stronger than us," now appears absurd. The fear that perhaps we will be cancelled out by a foreign culture, perhaps our Torah, our Law, will appear weak and outdated compared to the modern laws of the land, is gone. The fear that perhaps we won't be able to implement properly the Torah in the Land, that the Torah was given to "manna-eaters" alone, those who are free from all commitment, has fallen. The Nation looks straight ahead: the law of God is its guide now, the word of God is now its unquestioned life commandment. "Let us go up for we are most certainly capable. The Torah will not be a tumbling block for us, but a life-giving drug. Those nations won't manage to endure and won't be able to stand before us inasmuch as the life-giving drug is foreign to them. Gone are all traces of despair which Egyptian life had embedded on our souls." Gone and finished are the people of the desert - the new generation stands firm and ready for its task.

At that moment their souls light up with a flame of joy, their faces radiate, hands come together, and legs break into spontaneous dance.

The Destruction of Betar
Time passes and the picture changes. The scenery is different. Heaps of ruins - a city destroyed; deserted, fallen towers - slain corpses sprawled amongst them and upon them. Faces upon which remain frozen the terror of death, broken swords and rusty spears mixed with the cold and frozen corpses. The living wander among them like shadows of terror. Quietly they do their task, they carve out graves for the dead, the dead of Betar. Rest for the war victims. Here, the final rebellion is finished. Judah has been crushed, and it is as if the last rays of hope are now being buried together with the dead. Once upon a time there was a people, and here, they are no longer.

Yet, incredible. With the completion of the burial of the dead, the hands once again come together and the eyes are closed. Once again, the dance of "the good and the beneficent" - "the good," that the bodies did not decay, "and the beneficent," that the corpses were finally brought to burial. This dance too is full of faith - faith and trust. Hope illuminates the focused and serious faces, and the moon, as if struck by astonishment, lights up the circle of dance with its cold light - "Never" says the Mishna "has Israel known as glorious a day as Tu B'Av..."

A Common Denominator
And though these periods are separated by a great distance of time, and though the occasions are of a very different nature, a common content and a shared notion unites the two holidays: complete faith in the Divine power of providence. Twice mistakes were made, and in both cases we paid dearly for the mistakes - yet we learn from our mistakes.
The first mistake was that of the metei midbar. They thought that the Torah could not be implemented in the Land. Though they honored the Torah greatly, they were unaware of the power of the Land. Yet their delusion came to an abrupt end, and graves were carved out in the sand mounds of the desert.
The second mistake was at Betar. The Talmud relates concerning Bar Kochba, the leader of the rebellion which ended at Betar, that his lips erred in stating, "For you, God, have abandoned us, joining not our departing legions." And according to another expression, "Don't help us, and don't hurt us." We have no need for God's help, the national ascent of Israel has nothing to do with the Divine law. Let he who desires pray to God as much as he likes and whenever he likes, yet let him not interfere in the doings of others. The renaissance of the nation is not connected to its Torah. We are fighting for the Land, and nothing more. And here, this self-deception too was cut short - new graves were carved out, this time in the Land of the Forefathers.

The Torah and the Land
The lesson learned from these two mistakes is that one cannot rend that which is inherently bound. One cannot separate the Land from the Torah. Without Eretz Yisrael there is no Torah, and without the Torah there is no Eretz Yisrael. All attempts to separate the two can only end in failure. The Nation, armed with the wisdom of such experiences, clings to its Torah and continues on its way. In the first case, that of the metei midbar, the Nation continued on its way in the direction of the Promised Land; in the second case, after Betar, wandering stick in hand, into the exile. And the mistake, once it takes the form of a lesson to be learned from, is no longer frightening; the mourning itself contains something encouraging. Yes, Israel knows no day so glorious as Tu B'Av.

What Awaits Us
Today, we too are confronted by trying times. We too are carving out new graves every day. Graves for the Children of Israel who have come out of Egypt. Graves for the Children of Israel who have come to the Land. We too carry within ourselves hope for the days to come. Indeed, this is a difficult period, yet despite the hardships, it may well prove to be a momentous hour. Perhaps we will soon bear witness to the reestablishment of Jewish rule in the Land of Israel after a lapse of two thousand years. And even if all of our expectations are not met, and it turns out to be a chopped up and dismembered Land, still, one who has nothing should not scorn his plight. We, after all is said and done, must bear in mind that this little state of ours will constitute a great trial. She could turn out to be the beginning of the redemption. She could, though, heaven forbid, turn out to be the opposite.

What will the complexion of the new state be? What sort of rule will it contain? Will the rotting separation once again reign. Will we once again behold the separation of the Land from the Torah? What sort of shape will party wars take on? What sort of form will candidacy wars take? Will the state not cause additional separation and increased hatred? There are even some who ask themselves if, who knows, perhaps the entire state will turn into one large cemetery - a graveyard of our hopes - for another two thousand years.

There were, according to the Sages, two causes which lead to the eventual Destruction of the Second Temple: unfounded hatred, and the lack of respect for the Torah. And, really, the one is dependent on the other. If the view that the Torah must be all-encompassing is not well rooted, all renaissance work is inconceivable. Hatred will penetrate and divide between brothers, and the causes of the Destruction of the Temple can never be transformed into the causes of its rebuilding. We have been living in a state of hope for years on end. Here, the hope is on the verge of materializing. Will we lose that which is practically in our hands? Will the stuff of destruction be fixed in the foundations of the House of Israel ? We have known for years to bless "the Good and the Beneficent," gratification for the privilege of a just burial. Will we ever know how to bless it in appreciation for a just life? And given we are granted such a life, will we know how to use it properly?

The Midrash relates that the People of Israel said to Isaiah: "Isaiah our teacher, tell us that you've come to comfort only that generation in whose time the Holy Temple was destroyed." He replied: "I have come to comfort all the generations, for it is not written: 'And God said, Comfort my people, comfort them.' Rather, it is written (Isaiah 50:1): 'Your God will say , Comfort my people, comfort them.' "


Tisha B'Av: Literally, The Ninth [day] in [the month of] Av. A fast day which marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. It concludes a three-week period of mourning beginning on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the fast day commemorating the breaching of the walls of the besieged city of Jerusalem, prior to the Destruction. Many customs associated with mourning for the dead are observed during this period.

Tu B'Av: Literally, The Fifteenth [day] in [the month of] Av. It was a popular holiday at the time of the Second Temple. Various reasons are given for its celebration.

Shabbat Nahamu: Literally, The Shabbat of 'Comfort'. The first Shabbat after Tisha B'Av. It derives its name from the words of Isaiah the Prophet which are read in the Synagogue on this day. After three weeks of mourning the Destruction, Jews are called upon to take comfort and consolation in the words of Isaiah.

Metei Midbar: Or, the "Dead of the Desert". It was decreed by God that the entire generation which had come out of Egypt would be forbidden from entering the Promised Land and would instead die and be buried in the Desert. This harsh judgment came as a result of their lack of confidence and trust in God. They believed themselves incapable of conquering the Land.

Betar: In the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Betar was the base of Bar Kochba's unsuccessful rebellion. When the Romans defeated the Jewish army, the cruel victors went about slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Betar's inhabitants. In addition, they avenged themselves by denying the Jews the right to bury the corpses of their fallen brethren. After some years, Rabban Gamliel and his court fasted and prayed for many days and Rabban Gamliel gave his inheritance in order to satisfy the Romans. Finally permission for burial was granted. Miraculously, the bodies were still fresh and intact.

The Good and the Beneficent: In order to thank God for the kindness He showed towards the victims of Betar, the rabbinical court instituted a blessing - "The Good and the Beneficent" - which was incorporated into the Grace after Meals. "The Good," for having preserved the bodies of the dead, "and the Beneficent," for allowing them to receive the final honor.
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