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SADNESS TAKES A HOLIDAY

by Rabbi Yossi Lew    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Celebrating festivals is familiar to the Jewish people. Whether biblical festivals, such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah, or Sukkot; whether rabbinical ones, such as Purim or Chanukah; whether customary, or "minor" ones, such as Tu B'Shvat (new year for trees) or Lag B'Omer - each festival is celebrated and enjoyed in different ways.

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Celebrating festivals is familiar to the Jewish people. Whether biblical festivals, such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah, or Sukkot; whether rabbinical ones, such as Purim or Chanukah; whether customary, or "minor" ones, such as Tu B'Shvat (new year for trees) or Lag B'Omer - each festival is celebrated and enjoyed in different ways.

According to the Talmud, the greatest celebrations occurred on one of least known and obscure days of the Jewish calendar. The Mishnah (Tractate Ta'anit) states: "There were no greater Yomim Tovim (festivals) for the Jewish people than the 15th day of the month of Av - commemorated this coming Wednesday - and Yom Kippur." This dumbfounding statement is followed by a description of the celebration on those days: Eligible men and women would meet for the possibility of marriage.

Marriage is, indeed, associated with joy. Surely, the excitement of eligible persons meeting must have been tremendous - which explains the cause of happiness and celebration on the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. It does nothing to explain, though, why these particular days were chosen for this activity.

Regarding Yom Kippur one may suggest that the celebration was triggered by the cheerful awareness that everyone is forgiven. It is quite perplexing, however, why the 15th of Av would be chosen as a day of celebration like no other in the year! According to the Kabbalists and mystical teachings, the magnitude of the 15th of Av is in the fact that it occurs on the 15th of the Jewish month. On the 15th day of the Jewish month the moon shines at its fullest capacity. In other words, the 15th of the month signifies wholeness, a completion of sorts. The status of the moon is significant in the life of a Jew, since the Jewish people are compared to the moon, as our sages elaborate in the Midrash. (For example, the waxing and waning of the moon epitomizes the Jewish people who seem to fluctuate in their status, sometimes stronger and sometimes not so strong. They never fully disappear, though, making a comeback at the brink of disappearance - just like the moon).

The 15th of the Hebrew month of Av takes on and conveys added meaning and significance over any other 15th, since it occurs a few days after the calamitous day of Tishah B'Av, the ninth day of Av. On this day, both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, setting into motion the great and dreadful misfortune of exile, from which we hope and pray every day to be imminently extricated. There is not a more painfully sad day such as Tishah B'Av in our calendar. It is for this reason that the celebration on the full moon following this day, the 15th of Av, is so momentous.

By examining the phenomenon of "exile," a clearer explanation can be achieved. The depreciation and degeneration in the statutes of the Jewish people, or exile, cannot be simply looked upon as a punishment for sins. No sin can warrant a prolonged punishment for the 20 centuries it has endured.

Additionally, as this exile is in its final moments, the "punishment" should have been softened long ago, just as a convict's life in jail is improved shortly before being released. The Holocaust and the spiritual decline of our people suggest otherwise. Exile must be understood on a different and deeper level. The Talmud (Tractate Pesachim 87b) compares the exile to planted seeds. A planted field will produce a harvest beyond comparison to the original investment - with one stipulation. The seed, the original "investment," must decompose. The seed will then unleash its enormous potential and produce as much as it does.

Similarly, the descent and negativity of exile provides the circumstances through which a greater ascent can be achieved. For example, the trauma and troubles of exile have compelled the Jewish people to face every given situation, good as well as the opposite. We have remarkably persevered through every circumstance, undoubtedly unleashing untold amounts of spiritual energy. The scattering of the Jewish people to every corner of world, another consequence of the exile, enables every single part of the world to be permeated with G-dliness and holiness.

The incredible work of our people through the exhausting history of the exile has prepared and elevated the atmosphere of the world. We are on the threshold of the days of redemption precisely because of all this effort. Due to the non-ending concealment and suppression of exile, it's difficult at most times to clearly see the effects of our labor; but it's all there, and will be revealed to us with the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah).

With the above in mind it can be explained why the law states that the days of fasting and mourning in our calendars will be transformed into days of happiness, gladness, and festivals after the redemption. The reason these days, which portend and signify sadness and destruction, won't merely be eliminated, is because these selfsame days possess deep and vast reservoirs of goodness and positive energy, which will be fully revealed once the Mashiach comes. (It should be noted that until the redemption, Tishah B'Av, as well as all the other fast days, continue to be sad and bitter reminders of troubles for our people, past and present, and they serve as opportunities to pray and request a Divine conclusion to all tragedy.)

The 15th of the month of Av is the highest point in the month in terms of wholesomeness and fullness, as explained earlier. Since this great ascent in the month comes a few short days after the greatest descent of all days - the day of Tishah B'Av - we can understand and appreciate why the greatest festival of the year was on the 15th of Av. The celebrants were aware that the purpose of the greatest descent of Tishah B'Av is in order to experience the greatest ascent, symbolized by the 15th of Av. Therefore, they filled the day with unbounded joy and celebration, giving hope to themselves and to the rest of the generations, that a great ascent is about to prevail.

As this issue of Torah from Dixie is sponsored in commemoration of the first yahrtzeit of Allen Tenenbaum (on the 16th of Av), may his family, his friends, and all of us in his community - among all Jews - hastily experience the greatest ascent of all: The coming of Mashiach, who will bring an end to all suffering, when, as the prophet Isaiah (25:8) declares: "Death will be eliminated forever, and the tears of sorrow will be wiped away by the Almighty Himself."

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This article is dedicated in loving memory of my friend Allen Tenenbaum, and for the merit of his immediate family, my dear friends: Debra, Brittany, Megan, and Scott Tenenbaum.

Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefilla and program director at Chabad of Georgia. Rabbi Lew also teaches at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy middle school.

You are invited to read more Parshiot Vaetchanan articles.

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