Why Do We Celebrate the 15th of Av?
Said Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel: There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. (Talmud, Taanit 26b)
The Talmud goes on to list several joyous events which occurred on the 15th day of the month of Av:
- The dying of the generation of the Exodus ceased. Several months after the people of Israel were freed from Egyptian slavery, the incident of the spies demonstrated their unpreparedness for the task of conquering the land of Canaan and developing it as the Holy Land. G‑d decreed that that entire generation would die out in the desert, and that their children would enter the land in their stead (as recounted in Numbers 13 and 14). After 40 years of wandering through the wilderness, the dying finally ended, and a new generation of Jews stood ready to enter the Holy Land. It was the 15th of Av of the year 2487 from creation (1274 BCE).
As long as members of this doomed generation were still alive, G‑d didn’t communicate with Moses. As soon as the last of these men died, once again G‑d lovingly communicated with Moses.
- The tribes of Israel were permitted to intermarry. In order to ensure the orderly division of the Holy Land between the twelve tribes of Israel, restrictions had been placed on marriages between members of two different tribes. A woman who had inherited tribal lands from her father was forbidden to marry out of her tribe, lest her children—members of their father’s tribe—cause the transfer of land from one tribe to another by inheriting her estate (as recounted in Numbers 36). This ordinance was binding on the generation that conquered and settled the Holy Land; when the restriction was lifted, on the 15th of Av, the event was considered a cause for celebration and festivity.
- The tribe of Benjamin was permitted to re-enter the community. On this date the tribe of Benjamin, which had been excommunicated for its behavior in the incident of the “Concubine at Giv’ah,” was readmitted into the community of Israel (as related in Judges 19–21). This occurred during the judgeship of Othniel ben Kenaz, who led the people of Israel in the years 2533–2573 from creation (1228–1188 BCE).
- Hoshea ben Elah opened the roads to Jerusalem. Upon the division of the Holy Land into two kingdoms following the death of King Solomon in the year 2964 from creation (797 BCE), Jeroboam ben Nebat, ruler of the breakaway northern kingdom of Israel, set up roadblocks to prevent his citizens from making the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. These were finally removed more than 200 years later by Hoshea ben Elah, the last king of the northern kingdom, on Av 15, 3187 (574 BCE).
- The dead of Betar were allowed to be buried. The fortress of Betar was the last holdout of the Bar Kochba rebellion. When Betar fell, on Av 9, 3893 (133 CE), Bar Kochba and many thousands of Jews were killed; the Romans massacred the survivors of the battle with great cruelty, and would not even allow the Jews to bury their dead. When the dead of Betar were finally brought to burial on Av 15, 3908 (148 CE), an additional blessing (“Hatov Vehameitiv”) was added to the Grace After Meals in commemoration.
- “The day of the breaking of the ax.” When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the annual cutting of firewood for the altar was concluded on the 15th of Av. The event was celebrated with feasting and rejoicing (as is the custom upon the conclusion of a holy endeavor), and included a ceremonial breaking of the axes, which gave the day its name.
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