The Mishnah states that “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.”1 What transpired on the Fifteenth of Av that caused it to become such a great festival — a festival of the magnitude of Yom Kippur?

One explanation in the Gemara2 is that this was the day when — because of climactic conditions — the Jewish people ceased chopping down wood for use on the altar.

Why was ceasing to perform an action that was done for the sake of the Beis HaMikdash considered so special? If anything, this would seem to be a reason for dolefulness, not celebration. Yet, this festival is deemed so great that “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the Fifteenth of Av (and Yom Kippur).”

The Rashbam3 explains that the reason for the joy of the Fifteenth of Av was that on that day they completed the “great mitzvah of preparing wood for the altar for the entire year. Just as we celebrate the conclusion of other mitzvos, writing a Sefer Torah for example, so too the conclusion of preparing wood for the altar was celebrated with great joy.4

In stating that the preparation of wood for the altar was a “great mitzvah,” the Rashbam is explaining why the Fifteenth of Av was an extraordinary festival, not an ordinary holiday like other festivals. But why, indeed, was this wood chopping considered such a “great mitzvah”? If anything, it merely served as a preparation for a mitzvah — preparing enough wood for the mitzvah of bringing the offerings.

The statement “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur” is related to an earlier statement in the Mishnah concerning Tishah BeAv, the year’s quintessential “day of mourning”: throughout the entire year there is no day that is so completely contrary to the theme of joy and Yom Tov as the day of Tishah BeAv. In conjunction with the above, the Mishnah goes on to conclude that at the opposite pole, “There were no greater festivals for Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.”5

We thus understand that not only the festival itself, but also the reasons for the great celebration of the Fifteenth of Av are in direct opposition to the events that led to the tragedy of Tishah BeAv. How does wood preparation serve as the antithesis of Tishah BeAv?

Preparing the wood enabled offerings to be brought on the altar the whole year through. This included both individual offerings as well as communal offerings — offerings in which each and every Jew had a part.6

Thus, the substance and theme of preparing the wood to enable bringing the offerings was the mitzvah of tzedakah, “a mitzvah equal to all other mitzvos together, and in all of the Talmud Yerushalmi, tzedakah is called simply ‘The mitzvah.’”7

The greatness of this tzedakah was both quantitative and qualitative: Quantitatively it was performed by each individual and by all of Israel, as it enabled individual and communal offerings; qualitatively, were the wood not to have been prepared by the Fifteenth of Av, there wouldn’t have been proper wood available to complete the service of the offerings.

Since the Beis HaMikdash was erected in order that there be “an edifice for G‑d in readiness for the bringing of offerings,”8 it follows that by making the wood available for the offerings, the entire purpose of the Beis HaMikdash was brought to fruition. The culmination of this “great mitzvah” took place on the Fifteenth of Av.

The latter events of Tishah BeAv, the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash — an event that was “even more severe than the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash” — was a direct result of the baseless hatred, sinas chinam, that existed from man to his fellow.

Chopping wood for the altar in order to enable people who were entirely unknown to those who prepared the wood was not only an act of tzedakah of the highest order, but also an act that was grounded in baseless love, ahavas chinam, as the person who prepared the wood had absolutely no idea for whom he was doing a favor. As such, this was the very antithesis of the baseless hatred that gave rise to Tishah BeAv.

In other words, the Fifteenth of Av provided both the “building” of the Beis HaMikdash — an edifice intended for offerings — in lieu of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on Tishah BeAv, and also acts of baseless love, in contradistinction to the baseless hatred that was the cause of Tishah BeAv.

Acting in a similar manner today, treating each and every individual with ahavas chinam, serves as the best possible antidote to our present-day exile that resulted from sinas chinam, and hastens the speedy arrival of our righteous Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Third Beis HaMikdash.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIV, pp. 47-56.