1. The Talmud states that certain things may not be done in the time of exile, for “the Temple (Bais Hamikdosh) will speedily be rebuilt.” For example, an egg hatched on the first day of Rosh Hashanah would normally be permitted to be eaten on the second day in the times of exile — but not in the times of the Bais Hamikdosh. Our Sages however, decreed that even in the times of exile it may not be eaten, for since “the Temple will speedily be rebuilt,” people will continue to think it may be eaten even then.

Now eating (and all types of worldly matters) is, when done properly in the Torah way, a form of service to G‑d — elevating the sparks of holiness found in the food. Nevertheless, the reason of “the Temple will speedily be rebuilt” is powerful enough to cause a decree against eating (e.g. the egg on the second day), thereby limiting this type of service. Certainly then, the effects of positive spiritual service are extremely powerful. For example, prayer takes the place of the sacrifices; and Torah study of the laws of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Midrash says, is not only accounted by G‑d as if the Jews are engaged in the building of the Temple, but effects that the “building of My house” is not abolished. This is certainly so in regard to the prayers “that the Bais Hamikdosh be rebuilt speedily in our days” and “speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish.”

Since the speedy rebuilding of the Temple follows the great descent of the destruction and subsequent exile, the future Temple will be the ultimate in perfection. Not only will it exceed the second Temple (which lacked 5 things the first Temple possessed) but will be loftier than even the first — for it will be eternal.

The idea of the loftiest heights being reached specifically through a former great descent is expressed in the 15th of Av. It is a greater Yom Tov than any other as our Sages said: “There were no Yomim Tovim for the Jews as the 15th of Av.” Despite the greatness of the 15th of NissanPesach, and that of the 15th of TishreiSukkos, the 15th of Av surpasses them. The reason for this is that the 15th of Av follows the greatest of all descents, Tisha B’Av, and thus it has the distinction of “the superiority of light from previous darkness.” In other words, the 15th of Av converts the bad of Tisha B’Av to good.

The lesson from this for us: Although we are in the darkness of exile, a Jew need not be depressed at his low station, for the 15th of Av teaches us that the ultimate purpose of this darkness is the lofty levels of the future. Thus the 15th of Av gives strength for our deeds in bringing the future revelations.

Ahavas Yisroel is the particular area in which to increase our efforts as a result of the strength given on the 15th of Av. This is expressed in the particular events of the 15th of Av itself: On the 15th of Av, the daughters of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards; they would be dressed in white; and so as not to embarrass anyone who did not own an appropriate dress, every girl, even the rich, would borrow her dress from another. We see then the emphasis on Ahavas Yisroel, to the extent that all borrowed from another, solely to avoid embarrassing anyone. Indeed, Torah calls Ahavas Yisroel “a great principle in Torah,” and, as our Sages said “That which you hate do not do to your friend (the idea of Ahavas Yisroel) is the entire Torah; the rest is its interpretation, go and learn.” That is, the rest of Torah is the explanation and interpretation of Ahavas Yisroel, which gives one the strength to learn and fulfill the rest of Torah (“go and learn”).

Simply put, the greatest and best act a Jew can make in the area of Ahavas Yisroel is to influence another Jew to come closer to Judaism. In other words, Ahavas Yisroel comes to fruition in the other Mitzvah campaigns: education, Torah, tefillin, mezuzah, tzedakah, house full of Jewish books, Shabbos and Yom Tov lights, kashrus, and family purity.

* * *

2. The Talmud, on the words of the Mishnah “there were no Yomim Tovim for Israel as (great as) the 15th of Av and as Yom Kippur,” asks: “it is understandable that Yom Kippur (is such a lofty Yom Tov) for it has pardon and forgiveness, the day on which the latter set of tablets were given; but what is the distinction of the 15th of Av (that no other Yom Tov except Yom Kippur can be compared to it)?” The Talmud then gives several reasons: “It is the day on which the tribe of Binyomim was allowed to come into the community (i.e. owing to a quarrel between the tribe of Binyomim and the other tribes, the latter did not allow Binyomim to marry their daughters); the day on which the tribes were allowed to come together (i.e. formerly, because of inheritance laws, a woman who inherited her father’s property could not marry a man from another tribe. On the 15th of Av, this was abolished); the day on which the dead of the desert ended (i.e. the generation who, because of the sin of the spies, were condemned to die in the desert. Every Tisha B’Av some of them would die; when on the last year no one died on that Tisha B’Av, they waited until the 15th; and then they knew that the decree has been fulfilled and was now ended. Hence they fixed the 15th of Av as a Yom Tov); the day on which Hoshea ben Alah removed the guards that Yerovam ben Navot had placed on the roads so that Israel should not go up (to Yerushalayim) for Yom Tov; the day on which the dead of Betar were permitted to be buried (i.e. the slain Jews in the battle of the city of Betar were not permitted by the Romans to be buried — and on the 15th of Av they were allowed); the day on which they concluded cutting the wood for the altar (since it was holy work, each year they made the day on which it was concluded a Yom Tov — similar to making a festive repast at the conclusion of learning Torah).

These six reasons are, in general, really five, for the first two (the tribes were allowed to come together, and the tribe of Binyomim was allowed to come into the community) are one concept. Thus these five reasons for the 15th of Av being a Yom Tov are the counterpart to the five bad things which happened on the 17th of Tammuz, and the five bad things of Tisha B’Av.

Besides these reasons cited by the Talmud, the Mishnah itself specifically says: “There were no Yomim Tovim in Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, when the daughters of Israel went out ... and danced in the vineyards ... “ (which resulted in marriages). There are two ways of interpreting this: 1) The reason for the 15th of Av being such a lofty Yom Tov (as no other Yom Tov except Yom Kippur) is because the daughters of Israel then went out and danced in the vineyards. And the reason why the 15th of Av was chosen as the day for this event was because of the reasons enumerated in the Talmud (“on that day the tribes were allowed to come together” etc), 2) The reason for the 15th of Av being fixed as a Yom Tov was not because then the daughters of Israel went out to dance, but because of the reasons enumerated in the Talmud. And because it was therefore already such a lofty Yom Tov, the daughters of Israel went out to dance then.

We explained previously that the going out of the daughters of Israel in borrowed clothing emphasizes the idea of Ahavas Yisroel. So too with the reasons enumerated in the Talmud: “The day on which the tribes were allowed to come together” and “the day in which the tribe of Binyomim was allowed to come into the community” are both obviously connected with Ahavas Yisroel. Likewise, “the day on which the dead of the desert ceased” and “the day on which the dead of Betar were permitted to be buried” is also a matter of Ahavas Yisroel. In similar fashion, the abolition of the guards to prevent Jews from going to Yerushalayim for the festivals, allowed the ten tribes to unite together with the other two tribes at the time of the festivals — also a matter of Ahavas Yisroel. And the same applies to the reason of “the day they concluded to cut the wood for the altar.” The wood was for the purpose of bringing sacrifices on the altar; and the altar is associated with the idea of Ahavas Yisroel, as our Sages state: “The altar — it removes evil decrees from Israel, and endears Israel to their Father.” Hence we see the central point of the events associated with the 15th of Av is Ahavas Yisroel — and we, correspondingly, must increase in all our efforts in this area.

3. In addition to this, the 15th of Av emphasizes increase in Torah study. The Talmud states that from the 15th of Av on, the nights become longer and the days shorter; and since “the nights were created only for Torah study,” one must increase in learning Torah in the nights.

However, a question arises: The obligation to study Torah is at all times. Whenever one has a free moment, the halachah states, he must utilize it for Torah study. So a paradox seems to exist: If, because the nights are now longer, a person has more free time, he is obligated to use it for Torah study anyway — and it does not fall under the category of increasing in Torah study; and if he has no free time — how can he increase in Torah study? In slightly different words: What difference does it make if the nights are now becoming longer? Increase in Torah study depends on one’s free time, not on the length of the nights; and if he has free time, he is obligated to use it for Torah study, irregardless of whether it is night or day. And if one is freed from Torah study according to halachah because he is engaged in earning a living — how can he be expected to increase in Torah study?

The explanation parallels that of our Sages’ saying that “Hillel obligates the poor; Rabbi Elazor ben Charson obligates the rich.” Hillel was extremely poor and yet studied Torah assiduously; hence a poor person can’t plead poverty as an excuse for neglect of Torah study. Rabbi Elazor ben Charson was extremely rich and yet studied Torah assiduously; hence a wealthy person cannot plead business matters as an excuse for not learning Torah.

But this needs clarification: The halachah is that “every Jew is obligated in Torah study, whether poor or wealthy ...” If so, how can we say that “Hillel obligates the poor” and “Rabbi Elazor ben Charson obligates the rich,” when even without these two, the poor and rich are anyhow obligated by halachah to study Torah.

However, according to halachah, one is not obligated to study Torah such that “You shall eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure ... live a life of deprivation, and toil in the Torah.” Such conduct is mandatory only for those who wish to be pious, beyond the strict letter of the law. According to halachah, one may engage in earning a living so as not to “live a life of deprivation.” Hence it is specifically “Hillel who obligates the poor .. because they did not conduct themselves as piously as he did to suffer deprivation to merit the crown of Torah.”

Likewise in the case of Rabbi Elazor ben Char-son: According to halachah, one is permitted to spend time in conducting his business affairs. Rabbi Elazor conducted himself piously, when, despite his immense wealth, he preferred to appoint others to conduct his business affairs while he learned Torah day and night. Therefore “he obligates the rich” who do not conduct themselves piously as he did.

So too in our case: Even when a Jew conducts himself according to halachah, and has fixed times for Torah study, he must still endeavor to “steal” time from his other pursuits (which are halachically permissible) to increase in Torah study. This is the meaning of increasing in Torah study from the 15th of Av on: When a Jew sees that the nights are becoming longer and the days shorter, he knows that it is a directive from Above to increase in Torah study (since the nights were created for Torah study) more than that demanded by halachah — he must ‘steal’ time from his other pursuits to engage in Torah study. It does not mean that he should utilize his free time for Torah study, for that is halachicly mandated. He must “steal” time from those things which Torah allows him to devote time to (e.g. to make a living). Thereby, one “lengthens his life.”

4. The above applies to the 15th of Av every year. In addition, there are further lessons to be derived from the weekly parshah, and particularly from the daily portion of the parshah. This year, the 15th of Av is on the fourth day of parshas Eikev, and there is a readily apparent connection between the two. The idea of the 15th of Av in practical terms is increase in Torah study. This is difficult to understand: The Torah was given on the festival of Shavuos in the month of Sivan, and from it strength is derived to study Torah the entire year. Why then is it on the 15th of Av — more than two months past Shavuos — that we have a special directive to increase in Torah study?

The explanation is found in the name of this weeks’ parshah — “Eikev,” and more particularly in today’s portion. There are two interpretations of the word “eikev.” 1) “Because,” as is its plain meaning in the context of the verse — “It will be, because you will hearken to these judgments and guard them ... G‑d will guard the covenant ...” 2) “Conclusion.” This refers to the conclusion of the era of service mentioned at the end of the previous par-shah (“today, to do them”), meaning the era of the “footsteps of Moshiach.” Thus the verse reads “In the time of the footsteps of Moshiach, you will certainly hearken to these judgments ... “ — for “if not now, when?” As the Rambam rules: “Torah has promised that eventually Israel will do teshuvah at the conclusion of their exile, and immediately they will be redeemed.”

These two interpretations of “eikev” allows us to understand the specific greatness of the 15th of Av: 1) “Because of the preceding great descent of Tisha B’Av, the following ascent on the 15th of Av is correspondingly great — greater than other Yomim Tovim, 2) Since the revelations of the 15th of Av are similar to that of the future time (the interpretation of “footsteps of Moshiach”).

The lesson from the daily portion: It states (Devorim 9:12): “At that time the L‑rd said to me, hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ... and make for yourself an ark of wood, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke, and you put them in the ark.” That is, it talks of the placing of the second set of tablets in the ark after the breaking of the first on the 17th of Tammuz.

This also emphasizes the concept of “Eikev.” Because the breaking of the first tablets was a very great descent, the ascent effected by the second tablets was correspondingly extremely lofty. The second tablets were greater than the first, as stated in Midrash: “G‑d said to Moshe: Do not be distressed about the first tablets, for they only contained the Ten Commandments; whereas the second tablets I am giving you will contain halachos, Mid-rash, Aggadah ... double strength.” This is the connection between the 15th of Av and today’s portion of Chumash: From the 15th of Av on, we increase in Torah study (not just the Ten Commandments, but also “halachos, Midrash, Aggadah” — “double strength”). The increase in Torah study — “double strength” — is the preparation to learning Moshiach’s Torah, the ultimate in Torah study. This is the connection to parshas “Eikev,” which, as we explained, refers to the time of the “footsteps of Moshiach.” Then, “You will certainly hearken to these judgments,” and as the Rambam writes, Israel will do teshuvah at the end of exile and “immediately they will be redeemed” — and merit to learn Moshiach’s Torah.

This is alluded to in today’s portion of Chum-ash: “At that time the L‑rd separated the tribe of Levi ... to stand before the L‑rd to minister to Him ... therefore ... the L‑rd is his inheritance.” The Rambam writes that this refers “not only to the tribe of Levi, but every man ... whose heart moves him ... to stand before the L‑rd to minister to Him and to serve Him ... This person is sanctified as most holy and the L‑rd will be his portion and his inheritance forever.” This means that his service will have nothing to do with worldly matters, but only Torah study — similar to the study of Torah in the future.