1. The reason for this farbrengen is clear: The Oral Torah explains at length that the 15th of Av is a “festival,” and, moreover, “There were no festivals (lit., “good days”) for Israel like the 15th of Av and like Yom Kippur.” The very comparison of the 15th of Av to Yom Kippur indicates the importance of this day, for Yom Kippur is “one in a year.

Although Yom Kippur is part of the “Days of Awe, it is still called a “good day,” (i.e., festival) for as the day which is “one in a year,” it is loftier than all other days. Because holiness and goodness are connected, the fact that Yom Kippur is so special in holiness means also that it is special in goodness — and therefore Yom Kippur is called a “good day,” to the extent that “There were no festivals (“good days”) for Israel l .. Yom Kippur.”

Since the 15th of Av is compared to Yom Kippur — “There were no festivals for Israel like the 15th of Av and like Yom Kippur” — it means that it is equal to Yom Kippur, and loftier than other festivals. Indeed, since the mishnah cites the 15th of Av before Yom Kippur, it implies that in some respects the 15th of Av is loftier even than Yom Kippur.

Besides the general theme of the 15th of Av which is common to all years, this year possesses several new aspects, new even in relation to last year (5743) when the 15th of Av was then on Monday of parshas Eikev, as this year.

Those new aspects are:

1) This year is a leap year.

2) A new custom, already accepted by and wide-spread in Israel, was instituted this year: the daily study of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah.

These aspects will be elaborated on later.

To return to our main point: Although the reasons for a farbrengen on the 15th of Av are perfectly clear, nevertheless, “one encourages only those who are already on the alert” — i.e., it is our purpose here to stimulate and inspire that the farbrengen be held in the best possible manner.

A gathering of Jews at a farbrengen may take place in several ways. That Jews should actually physically participate is a necessity, for the distinction accruing to a “congregation,” occurs only when ten Jews are actually together in the one place. Similarly; the successively higher distinctions accruing to a hundred, thousand, and ten thousand Jews apply only when these numbers of Jews are actually assembled in one place.

But in addition to physical participation, the most important part of a farbrengen is that all present, who differ one from another in their views, be united with brotherly love “as one man with one heart.” When Jews are united “with one heart,” this unity permeates the entire body of Jewry, just as the heart gives life to all the body’s limbs through the blood. Automatically, unity is also effected in regard to actual deed, since all are united with the same intention, which is the “soul” of the deed.

The purpose of all special events is that they be extended throughout the year. In our case, the special distinction of the 15th of Av — that “There were no festivals for Israel like the 15th of Av” — should be extended throughout the year:

Every day of the year should be an incomparable festival for Israel! This will happen in the future redemption when every day will be of such a lofty level that there will be no special festivals any more since every day will be special. Thus our sages have said (Midrash Mishlei, ch. 9): “All the festivals are destined to be annulled in the future.

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2. Let us now explain the general theme of the 15th of Av, a theme common to all years.

The 15th of Av is one of the times set during the year for the bringing of the wood-offering. In the words of the mishnah (Taanis 4:5): “The wood-festival of the priests and the people [was observed] nine times a year ... On the fifth of Av ... and on the fifteenth of the same month.”

The wood-offering was brought by certain families who donated wood for use on the altar. Different families brought their wood-offering at different times during the year. This emphasizes Ahavas Yisrael: These families donated wood so that those Jews who wished to bring an offering but had no wood, could offer their sacrifices.

In greater depth: An offering is the means whereby man draws close to G‑d. It is a “pleasing odor to G‑d,” a level attained by a Jew about which G‑d testifies, “It is a satisfaction before Me that I commanded and My will was carried out.” If a Jew cannot cause a “pleasing odor to G‑d” because he hasn’t the wood with which to sacrifice the offering, it is by Divine Providence and indicative of that person’s low spiritual state. Possession of wood in abundance, in contrast, symbolizes a high spiritual state.

When, despite his lofty status, a Jew who possesses much wood worries about the Jew who is on such a low spiritual plane that he cannot even bring a sacrifice, and donates wood for his use, it is an expression of brotherly love and unity between Jews.

This expression of Ahavas Yisrael is emphasized particularly from the 15th of Av onward. The Talmud says that the sun’s intensity diminishes from the 15th of Av onward, and therefore from that period no wood was cut for the altar since the wood was not dry. When wood is donated in this period, Ahavas Yisrael is heavily emphasized, for the wood donated cannot be replaced by cutting more wood — and yet, to help another Jew, one still donates this irreplaceable wood.

The 15th of Av is special because it is the beginning of this period. Moreover, the 15th of Av is associated with Ahavas Yisrael for reasons peculiar to this day itself, not just as the beginning of a period. What are those reasons?

Two of the reasons given by the Talmud for the 15th of Av being a festival is because “It is the day on which the tribes were allowed to come together” and “It is the day on which the tribe of Binyamin was allowed to come into the community.” The first reason refers to the fact that formerly, because of inheritance laws, a woman who inherited her father’s property was prohibited from marrying outside her tribe. This was abolished on the 15th of Av. The second reason refers to the case when, because of a bitter controversy between Binyamin and the other tribes, the latter took oath that their daughters would not marry into the tribe of Binyamin. This division between the tribes ceased on the 15th of Av.

Both these reasons emphasize the idea of Ahavas Yisrael on the 15th of Av: Although the tribes could not intermarry for a period of time, and the tribe of Binyamin was forbidden to come into the community, on the 15th of Av “the tribes were allowed to come together” and “the tribe of Binyamin was allowed to come into the community” — which brought about brotherly love (Ahavas Yisrael) and unity between Jews.

Thus we see that Ahavas Yisrael is expressed on the 15th of Av not just as the beginning of a period, but as a day in its own right.

The stress of Ahavas Yisrael on the 15th of Av explains a puzzling aspect in the wood-offering brought on that day. The mishnah, detailing which family brought their wood-offering on which day, states: “On the fifteenth of the month [of Av], the family of Zattu of the tribe of Yehudah [brought their wood-offering], and with them were the priests and Levites and all those who were unsure of their tribe.”

Why did “the priests and the Levites and all those who were unsure of their tribe” bring a wood-offering on the 15th of Av? The reason behind the bringing of the wood-offering is given in the Talmud: “When the exiles went up [to Eretz Yisrael], they did not find any wood in the storehouse. These [the families enumerated in the mishnah] stood and donated their own wood. The prophets among them made a condition that [in the future] even if the storehouse would be full with wood, these would donate from their own, as written: ‘We have cast lots among the priests, the Levites and the people, for the wood-offering, to bring it to the House of our G‑d, according to our fathers’ houses, at appointed times year by year, to burn upon the altar of the L‑rd our G‑d, as it is written in the Torah.’ ” In other words, the wood-offering was brought by those families which had donated wood when it was sorely needed. Why then did the priests, Levites and those who were unsure of their tribe also join in?

However, the emphasis of Ahavas Yisrael on the 15th of Av (the day when the tribes came together and when Binyamin was allowed to enter the community), was expressed also in the wood-offering brought on this day. Besides the family of Zattu who had donated wood and whose day it was to bring their wood-offering, “the priests and the Levites and those who were unsure of their tribe” also participated — expressing Ahavas Yisrael.

The lesson from all of the above is that special strength is given on the 15th of Av for Jews to act with Ahavas-Yisrael and in unity.

The reason cited above why the 15th of Av is celebrated as a festival — that on it “the tribe of Binyamin was allowed to come into the community” — is connected to the portion of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah learned on the 15th of Av, which deals with the laws of oaths. As noted above, the other tribes, because of a bitter controversy, took oath that their daughters would not marry into the tribe of Binyamin, as written (Shoftim 21:1): “The men [who had gathered] in Mitzpah swore, saying: None of us shall give his daughter to Binyamin for a wife.” To allow the tribe of Binyamin to once again enter the community, an absolution from this oath was needed. The absolution was that the oath taken was “None of us shall Rive his daughter” — us only, not the sons.

According to the laws of oaths, however, the very oath taken by the tribes is suspect. Rambam rules (Laws of Oaths 5:14): “Anyone who swears to violate a commandment ... must fulfill the commandment he swore to violate.” This is the difference between an oath (“shavuoh”) and a vow (“neder”): Vows are binding even when they clash with religious duties, whereas oaths are binding only in matters subject to freedom of choice. The difference, Rambam explains (Laws of Vows 3:7), is that “He who swears binds his person against the object of his oath, while he who vows binds the object of the vow against his person. Consequently, whoever swears to nullify a mitzvah seeks to prohibit his person against this duty; but his person is already bound to fulfill his duty by the oath at Mount Sinai, and an oath cannot take effect where there already is another oath. But one who binds anything against himself by a vow, it is this thing which becomes bound by the vow, and this thing itself was not previously bound by the oath at Mt. Sinai.”

Now, the oath taken by the tribes at Mitzpah, “None of us shall give his daughter to Binyamin for a wife,” is against the command, “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” and is against the integrity of the full complement of the tribes. Since “Anyone who swears to violate a commandment ... must fulfill the commandment he swore to violate” — why did the oath taken by the tribes in violation of a mitzvah have any validity, to the extent that they needed absolution to allow marriage with Binyamin?

Another question: The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the tribes at first believed they could remove Binyamin from the community of Israel, from the verse “Ephraim and Menashe shall be as Reuven and Shimon to me” — that if they removed Binyamin there would still be 12 tribes since Ephraim and Menashe, who are counted as Reuven and Shimon, would make up the deficiency. Afterwards, they deduced that they could not remove Binyamin from another verse: “A nation and a company of nations shall be from you, and kings shall come out of your loins.” The words “Kings shall come out of your loins” refers to Shaul and Ish Boshes who were of the tribe of Binyamin, who were not yet born at the time the oath was taken by the tribes — and if the oath would remain in force, these words could not be fulfilled.

The fact that the tribes derived from the verse, “Ephraim and Menashe shall be as Reuven and Shimon to me” that it is possible to remove an entire tribe from Israel, implies that if the oath was not absolved, Binyamin would have ceased from among the tribes of Israel. But this does not seem to fit the facts recounted in Tanach. Even before the oath was absolved, while the tribe of Binyamin still denied women from the other tribes, Binyamin had the means whereby to remain in existence. It is related in Tanach (Shoftim 21:8-15) that the tribes investigated “Which one is there of the tribes of Israel that did not come up to Mitzpah to the L‑rd?” When they discovered that “none from Yavesh-Gilad came to the camp,” they punished them for not participating in the oath, and they gave the women from Yavesh-Gilad to the tribe of Binyamin. Thus, even without absolution of the oath, the tribe of Binyamin could have remained in existence.

The one question answers the other. Since the tribe of Binyamin could stay in existence, albeit in reduced numbers, through the women of Yavesh-Gilad, the oath taken by the other tribes not to allow their daughters to marry Binyamin could have binding force. They would not be wiping out a whole tribe, the opposite of “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” For Binyamin to be whole and complete, however, as all the other tribes, the oath had to be absolved and Binyamin allowed into the community.

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3. We mentioned previously that the 15th of Av this year is special in that it is in a leap year. The concept of a leap year helps resolve a widely-asked question concerning the 15th of Av.

Of the reasons given why the 15th of Av is a festival, two seem to contradict each other. The first reason is that “It is the day on which the generation of the desert ceased to die.” The generation who left Egypt were condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies. On every Tishah BeAv of their forty year sojourn in the desert, some of them would die. In the fortieth year, all remained alive. Thinking they had perhaps erred in the date, they waited until the moon was full on the 15th of Av. When they saw there were still no deaths, they knew the forty year decree was completed, and therefore they celebrated that day as a festival.

According to this reason, it is perfectly understandable why the 15th of Av was set as the date for this festival — for this event happened when the moon was full, on the fifteenth.

A second reason is that “It is the day on which they finished cutting the wood for the altar.” Throughout the summer, wood was chopped for the altar. Because the sun’s heat diminishes from the 15th of Av on, the amount of moisture in the wood increases, rendering the wood unfit for use on the altar (because moisture brings worms, and worm infested wood is unfit for use on the altar).

According to this reason, the festival has nothing to do with the fifteenth of the month, when the moon is full, but with the sun’s seasons and heat.

Thus these two reasons for a festival on the 15th of Av contradict each other: The first reason is connected with the lunar year, whereas the second reason is associated with the solar year. More importantly, according to the second reason, the date of this festival is not associated with the fifteenth of the month specifically (but just that the sun’s heat happens to start diminishing from the fifteenth of Av).

The idea of a leap year, however, partially resolves this question. A leap year, when an extra month is added to the lunar year makes the lunar year (which is normally shorter than the solar year) equal to, and indeed longer than the solar year.

Hence, although the solar and lunar years are independent, with the sun and moon having their own independent rotation and motion, the occasional leap year reconciles the two, making them equal. Thus, Rambam writes, in a 19-year cycle, the solar years exceed the lunar years by only one hour and 485 parts (1 hr = 1080 parts). Further, this excess (1 hr and 485 parts) exists only according to those sages who maintain that the solar year is 365 1/4 days. According to other sages, who are of the opinion that the solar year is slightly less (365 days, 5 hours, 997 parts and 48 secondary parts), there is no excess whatever in the solar years of the 19-year cycle over the lunar years of the cycle. At the end of each such cycle the solar years coincide exactly with the lunar years.

The contradiction between the two reasons for the festival of 15th of Av — that one is connected with the solar year and the other with the lunar year — thus exists only in a regular year. In a leap year, the contradiction is not so strong, for a leap year indicates the equality between the solar and lunar years.

Our other question, however, remains: What connection is there between the fifteenth of the month (when the moon is full) and the fact that the sun’s heat diminishes?

The date of the fifteenth of Av may be viewed in two ways. If one looks at the precise points in time when the moon is full (the first reason for the festival) and when the sun’s heat begins to diminish (the second reason), they are two independent times. But if one looks at the general framework, these two events are not limited to the exact date of the 15th of Av. The moon is full not just on the 15th of the month only, but also on the days before and afterwards: Compared to the rest of the month, there are several days, centered around the fifteenth, when the moon is full. Likewise, the sun’s heat doesn’t begin to diminish precisely on the fifteenth of the month (for it is dependent on the sun’s movements, not the moon), but in a general period centering on this date.

Thus, we can posit that the days before and after the 15th of Av may be considered as one period and concept, during which duration the sun’s heat diminishes and the moon is full.

The lesson from all the above for actual deed (“since deed is paramount”) is that although the 15th of Av is but one day, its concept extends over a number of days, both preceding it and following it. For example, the Talmud says that from the 15th of Av on. when the nights become longer and the days shorter, one should increase in Torah study during the nights. Yet, although the Talmud says this should begin from the 15th of Av, the Bach writes that one should begin learning at night from the ninth of Av (Tishah BeAv) on, since the nights are then long. This shows that the idea of the 15th of Av extends over a number of days, beginning from the ninth.

Indeed, this concept was emphasized the very first time the 15th of Av was celebrated as a festival — when the “generation of the desert ceased to die.” The decree was actually abolished on the ninth of Av, but since they were unsure of it until the fifteenth, it was set as a festival on the day that it was clear that the deaths had ceased.

This leads us to another matter: The joy of the 15th of Av, which is a festival greater than any other, has an effect not just on the coming days, but also on the preceding days, especially Tishah BeAv, since, as we have noted, on the 15th of Av it was made clear that the decree had been abolished already on Tishah BeAv. And, of course, since we live in a time after the forty years of the desert, we already know on Tishah BeAv that the decree is abolished and we do not need to wait until the 15th of Av. Likewise, concerning the other tragic events of Tishah BeAv, we know before the festival of the 15th of Av that Tishah BeAv will be transformed into joy and festivals. Even after Tishah BeAv has passed, and we are still in exile, it is made clear on the 15th of Av that the decree has already been abolished on Tishah BeAv, — and therefore it is a joyous matter. This is to the extent that on Tishah BeAv itself, before it is transformed into a festival, we say “Nachem” (“Consolation”) after midday — i.e., there is consolation and joy on Tishah BeAv itself!

We find a wonderful passage from “Sha’ar HaKavonnos” concerning this. He asks why it is customary on Tishah BeAv at minchah to recite verses of consolation, and to be able to sit on chairs (in contrast to earlier when it is forbidden to sit on a chair), when from the Talmud it sees that the enemy set fire to the Beis HaMikdash on Tishah BeAv toward evening, at the time of minchah — and therefore it would seem that one should mourn more at minchah time than in the morning.

He answers by citing the Talmud which says that at first the enemy slaughtered the Jews, and the Jews thought they would all be killed. When they saw that the enemy set fire to the Beis HaMikdash at minchah time, they “rejoiced exceedingly” and were consoled — for had not G‑d poured out His wrath on the stones and wood of the Beis HaMikdash, there would have been no resisting the enemy. Thus, he concludes, the custom to decrease in mourning at minchah time and to say words of consolation, is a Rood one.

He then gives another reason — that at minchah of Tishah BeAv Mashiach was born, who is called Menachem (“comforter”). [It is for this reason that it is customary to give the name Menachem to a child born on Tishah BeAv.] Similarly, the reason for sanctifying the moon on Motzaei Tishah BeAv is to “inform Israel ... that they are destined to be renewed like it ... and also that on Tishah BeAv Mashiach was born.”

We infer from the above that consolation on Tishah BeAv (after midday) existed on the very day that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed — at that very time they “rejoiced exceedingly” that G‑d poured out His wrath on the stones and spared Israel. So too every year: At minchah of Tishah B t Av we say “Nachem” and sit on chairs — the idea of consolation on Tishah BeAv itself.

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4. The twentieth of Av this year has special significance: it is the fortieth anniversary of the yahrzeit of my father.

“Forty years” is emphasized in this week’s parshah, Eikev, in which the words “these forty years” are stated twice: “You shall remember all the way which the L‑rd your G‑d led you these forty years” (Devarim 8:2), and “Your garment did not grow old upon you and your feet did not swell, these forty years” (Ibid., verse 4). It is said a third time, at the end of parshas Savo (29:4): “I have led you forty years in the wilderness.”

The verse in parshas Savo has more relevance to our subject (the fortieth anniversary of the yahrzeit), for the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 5b) derives from this verse and the preceding one: “The L‑rd has not given you a heart to know ... until this day,” that “One cannot fathom the mind of one’s teacher before forty years.” In the words of Rashi on this verse: “The L‑rd has not given you a heart to know — no man understands thoroughly the knowledge of his teacher, nor the wisdom of his teachings, before forty years; consequently, G‑d was not strict with you until this day.”

Although this is an individual matter concerning myself, it is proper to ensure that together with this individual matter, there should be also an increase in the proper dissemination of Judaism.

In slightly different words: The importance of “forty years,” when one fathoms the mind of one’s teacher, is associated with Torah and mitzvos in general — for G‑d’s knowledge and wisdom is the true concept of “the knowledge of his teacher.” Indeed, “the knowledge of his teacher” talked about in the verse from which this dictum is derived, refers to G‑d’s teachings. Thus, my personal matter concerning fathoming one’s teacher’s mind (regarding) the yahrzeit is associated with Torah and mitzvos in general, G‑d’s knowledge and wisdom.

Further, the number forty is emphasized regarding Torah in general. Rambam writes in his Introduction to Mishneh Torah that, in the chain of tradition in receiving the Torah, there were forty generations from Moshe Rabbeinu to Rav Ashi.

It is therefore now appropriate to propose a matter associated with the study of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. But first, let us analyze a subject in today’s portion of Rambam according to its esoteric interpretation. In Mishneh Torah there are allusions to the esoteric aspect of Torah, as, for example, the beginning of Mishneh Torah, which is “Yesod HaYesodos V’Amud HaChochmos” (“The foundation of foundations and pillar of wisdoms”), the first letters of which form the Name “L‑rd” in Hebrew. The esoteric aspects in Mishneh Torah are only alluded to, however, for Mishneh Torah is a sefer of halachos, legal rulings in the revealed aspect of Torah.

In today’s portion of Mishneh Torah, then, there is an allusion to a matter that may be learned according to its esoteric interpretation; and it is associated also with the unique method of study of Mishneh Torah, which was written “in clear language and terse style, ... without questions and answers.”

The last chapter of today’s portion explains the details of the oaths taken by witnesses. Rambam, in summing up, writes (Laws of Oaths 9:13): “You thus learn that witnesses are not liable for an oath arising from testimony unless the following ten conditions are fulfilled: 1) the plaintiff must request them to testify; ... 10) the oath must be in a language which they understand.”

The esoteric interpretation of this is as follows: It is written (Yeshayahu 43:10): “You are My witnesses,” meaning that the function of Jews is to bear witness to the Name of “L‑rd” — that G‑d was, is, and will be.

Testimony is relevant only when the thing testified to is hidden; testimony about something which is revealed to all is unnecessary. G‑dliness in this world is hidden, and therefore testimony that there is G‑dliness is necessary.

Witness to G‑dliness in the world is borne by beings in this world who are similar to Above, as written: “Let us make man in our image, as our form” — which refers to Jews, whose function is to bear witness to G‑dliness in the world.

This testimony, Rambam says, is achieved through ten conditions — which in the case of Jews refers to the Ten Commandments and the Ten Utterances through which the world was created. Through these things Jews have the power to bear witness

The tenth condition enumerated by Rambam is that “the oath must be in a language which they understand.” This describes the advantage in studying Mishneh Torah. The study of Talmud (Bavli and Yerushalmi), Sifra, Sifri and Tosefta, is not “in a language which they understand” for every Jew.

Because these subjects are full of dialectics and differing interpretations, Rambam writes, one needs “a broad mind, a wise soul and considerable study” to comprehend them, and “then one can learn from them the correct practice as to what is forbidden or permitted, and the other laws of the Torah.

Mishneh Torah, on the other hand, was written “with the view of putting together the clear results obtained from [these works — Talmud, Sifra, etc] ... all in clear language and terse style, so that the entire Oral Law might become systematically known to all, without citing difficulties and solutions ... so that all the rules shall be accessible to small and great.” Thus, the study of Mishneh Torah has an advantage concerning Jews’ testimony about G‑dliness: It is “in a language in testimony about G‑dliness: It is “in which they — all Jews — understand.”

Now is the appropriate place to make a proposal concerning the study of Rambam. Rambam did not cite the sources for his rulings in Mishneh Torah. In one of his responsa he writes that sometimes he has trouble remembering immediately the source for one of his rulings and he must do research to ascertain it. He then writes that he regrets that he didn’t write another work detailing his sources, and that G‑d willing he intends to do it although it will take much work.

In the light of this, it would be a very worthwhile project for the members of the Kollel to collate all the sources for all the rulings in Mishneh Torah, and to publish them as a separate work, thus enabling everyone to quickly and easily find the source for any particular ruling in Mishneh Torah. This should be done with the utmost dispatch.

There are already seforim in existence which cite the sources for Rambam’s rulings, starting with Scriptural verses cited by Rambam himself as the source for the laws in general; later authors cited sources for the particular laws. However, these sources are scattered among many works by many different authors. Thus, the members of Kollel should find all these works, collate all the different sources cited, and publish them in one work, available to everyone.

People who own rare works dealing in this subject should therefore contact those in charge of this project, and let them know they have such a work.

This project, of course, should be carried out in an orderly manner, starting from the beginning of Mishneh Torah (including the Introduction and enumeration of the mitzvos) and working through the whole Mishneh Torah to its end.

It is my strong hope that the Kollel devote itself completely to this project, begin immediately to gather all the sources for Rambam’s rulings, and publish the finished work as soon as possible.