Tu B’Av 5772 Part Five
Transcribed by: Transcription for Everyone: But the final stage, the Tu b’Av , is, well, we are about to go into the Land of Israel. We’re not going to have a Moshe Rabbeinu who’s going to give us any direct law, we’re going to have to make decisions on our own, and they did make decisions on their own, they did. They made a decision on their own. Well, G-d, You used this word, this word implied it was only for one generation, we’re taking it to mean — we’re inferring You only meant it for one generation and we have permission to change the law. We have permission to change what You said explicitly; we have permission to change it.
If I experience the whole generation that left Egypt dying, and I experience that Moshe Rabbeinu is going to tragically die before we entered the Land of Israel, and with the death of Moshe Rabbeinu, this sense of this loss of a direct communication with G-d, G-d telling me exactly what to do, but in that process G-d telling us, but you have the freedom to figure it out for yourselves — that’s a Yom Kippur.
That is a Yom Kippur, because remember, what happened on Yom Kippur? We received the second luchos. Who carved the second luchos? Moshe. First luchos, first tablets, were carved by G-d. Second luchos were carved by Moshe because they represent the Oral Law. This is the equal of Yom Kippur. Can you imagine Moshe still alive and the people make a decision on their own and they say this is the way we will apply the law? This was a day in which the people first experienced a sense of being in power to take what G-d said and apply it to their generation.
I had a conversation today with a woman who had reached menopause and there was no longer a need for her to go to the mikveh. The last time she had gone to mikveh was the last time she was ever going to go and she wanted to go through this, figure out some kind of ceremony in which she could go to the mikveh as an important transition from being a woman who was going to the mikveh once a month, into this new stage of life, a postmenopausal woman. And so we spent a few hours working together over a few weeks, doing a whole exercises she should do with her husband, that she should do on her own, and her husband should do on his own, and we figured out a whole process, all within the boundaries of Halacha, of which she could go to the mikveh and do a very powerful — go through this very powerful process so she could prepare herself for a new stage of life.
So she asked me, but if it’s not in the Torah, how could it possibly be true? My answer was; Tu b’Av. Do you know that there are numerous Gemaras like this? There’s a concept in Gemara that’s called makom hinichu lo la’avosav le’hisgader bo. There were many great kings, and even though there were many great kings, they did not — and they fought idol worship and they got rid of the idol worshippers, but everyone of the great kings left a sin out. Whether it was the asheira, the trees that were worshipped as idols, or whether it was a bama, a backyard mizbe’ach, every one of the super kings who cleared out all sorts of sin, left things. And the reason they left things was makom hinichu lo la’avosav lehisgader bo. Every one of these kings understood that if I wiped out all sin, I did everything, my son is going to grow up thinking, so what am I supposed to do? And therefore none of the kings ever finished everything, because they wanted their children, their descendants, to feel that there was more work to be done.
When the Jews made this decision; well G-d, we are inferring from Your words that this law applied only for that one generation and we’re going now to apply the law ourselves, well, they felt they now had something to say. They could respond to situations. They could make decisions. They could take what was there and apply it in new ways. So, whatever was destroyed, absolutely, but even though there was a destruction, meaning everyone was sentenced to die in the desert, they took the approach there is a future and their approach how there is a future was, we will now take the law and apply it in new ways.
It doesn’t mean to change the law that preexisted, it means to take the law and apply it in new ways. When we are too scared, too intimidated, too frightened to take G-d’s law, Halacha, Torah, whatever it is and apply in new and creative ways that speak to every generation, that are responsive to the unique needs of every generation, we are carrying the Tisha b’Av rather than carrying the Tu b’Av.
My father was once at a Torah Umesorah Convention and this used to be the best part of every Torah Umesorah Convention, where all the teachers — it was at one time, the only organization that supported and guided and founded Orthodox Jewish Day Schools in the United States, and they did great things. But they would have an annual convention, and the favorite part of every convention for decades was that everyone would get together and it would be a question-and-answer period with my father, and people would present all the issues they were dealing with and it was freewheeling, and he was creative, and he knew each one of the people there. He would visit their communities so he knew what was going on, and he would say, this is for your community, this is the approach you should take, this is for community, you should not take this approach, but — incredibly creative.
So one of the great or respected rabbis sat in on one of these sessions one of the last years of my father’s life — aand when my father spoke, it was incredible. It was the best question-and-answer period ever. And someone went to this great rabbi afterward and he said, it was incredible and he stood up and he said, yeah, Rabbi Weinberg is brilliant, but I never heard these answers from my Rebbe and therefore they’re not valid.
So there is the Tisha b’Av approach, which is I never heard it from my Rebbe, therefore I cannot apply, I cannot make a new type of decision, I cannot be creative. And there’s the Tu b’Av approach. The Tisha b’Av approach does not lead to redemption. The Tu b’Av approach does.
The second opinion in the Gemara is, we say this was the day that the Tribe of Benjamin finally were able to grab their daughters. So we said, come on, why were the girls dancing? Because it was already a holiday. So, what do you mean that it was a holiday, because it was the day they allowed the men of Benjamin to grab their daughters, and therefore because it’s the day they allowed the Tribe of Benjamin to grab their daughters, therefore it’s a day equal to Yom Kippur? Do you realize how incredible this is? It’s unbelievable, it already was a yom tov, it already was a festival and they’re saying, yes, it was a festival, yes the women were already out there dancing, but we’ll make it an even better festival.
They said, we will take our experiences, we will take what happened to us, and we will say that our experience is what makes it a festival now. So they took something that had already been there and they said we will make it better. They used what was there, but by using it, they are saying, we make it better. To just keep something the way it was always observed; well, the women are dancing, it’s very nice, it was already a holiday is okay, but that is not a Tu b’Av approach. He’s saying the Tu b’Av approach is, can I apply it to my generation? Do I know how to use it for my generation? Can I figure out a way to make it real to me? And if I can find a way to make it real to me, then it’s even better than the previous generation because it’s my Tu b’Av, which would mean — just understand, if all we do is try and recreate the way — if I would try and have Tisha b’Av they way it was in Ner Yisroel in 1964, then it’s dead, because it’s just a holiday they way I kept it 50 years ago. If I wanted Simchas Torah to only be the way I experienced Simchas Torah in the old Ner Yisroel, in the early ’60s, it’s dead. That building is gone, it’s been destroyed. There were riots in 1968, wild stuff — I don’t know, you learned about, there were riots. Rodney King was nothing compared to riots in 1968 after Martin Luther King was assassinated.
That was Tisha b’Av, that building’s long gone, but if my objective is to take a day and make it real to me and say, yes, it was great and I will take that greatness and make it better, then my approach to Judaism is no longer the Tisha b’Av approach, it is the Tu b’Av approach, which is; there is a future, a better future. There is something in existence here that’s real to me, I don’t want to recreate the Rosh Hashana experience I experienced as a kid, I want to take a Rosh Hashana experience and make it real to me. I want to take a Yom Kippur experience of the past, not G-d forbid to reject it, not G-d forbid to change the laws, but to say that I appreciate it in a way that’s so real to me, that my experience of it is more important than they way they experienced it in Europe. I’m not trying to recreate Europe. I’m trying to create something that’s real to me.
This is a statement in the Gemara that Tu b’Av, the transition to life of forgiveness and dancing, from a Tisha b’Av, is to never say I want to recreate what once existed, but to find ways to express my Judaism in a manner that will bespeak and speak to me, resonate within me, be real to me in such a way that it has taken on added importance, because it is not just the way it was, but it’s actually the way it is. And when I can experience it the way it is, then it becomes even more powerful than it was just to observe something that was in the past.
The third opinion — by the way, it’s an incredible thing, that the key word, if you look in the verses in Shoftim, at the end of Shoftim, with the story pilegesh b’Giva, the concubine at Giva, when they make their decision of how to figure out ways, so that the Tribe of Benjamin could reenter, the key word in the story is nechama. And we are about to enter the seven weeks of nechama, comfort. And what you have to realize is an enemy is not allowed to come to a shiva house. There are many reasons; one is that I may feel this person’s coming and rejoicing. Ah, look at you, you’re suffering. There are all sorts of reasons, but you can understand why an enemy is not the right person to pay a shiva call, right?
So I’ve got to ask you, how can we speak of G-d as the menachem, the comforter, when at every single Tisha b’Av, the one with whom we were most angry, the one we experienced as an enemy, was G-d. You can give all the answers and you can give all the explanations you want, but so many people — I’m not saying everyone, but so many people experienced G-d as an enemy. Read books about the Holocaust, speak to Holocaust survivors; they experienced G-d as an enemy. How can G-d be the menachem? He’s not allowed. He’s not permitted to comfort people who have suffered a Tisha b’Av. They experienced G-d as an enemy.
It’s wonderful to say well, the people, they wanted to do teshuva, they wanted to do this — but I got to tell you, not everybody was like that. I once went with Rabbi Zweig, my Rebbe, he was looking for a new house in Miami Beach, we knocked on the door and he was looking from the outside, oh, this house is going to be perfect and so on and so forth, we open the door and the guy looks at us, he doesn’t look Jewish — I mean, he doesn’t look like an observant Jew, he looks at us, there’s no mezuzah on the door, he looks, he sees Rabbi Zweig and he goes, ata vechartanu mikol ho’amim, yeah? Ata vechartanu mikol ho’amim, you choose us from among all the nations, so Rav Zweig said, yeah.
Well then you tell me, why someone who wants us to say ata vechartanu mikol ho’amim would kill my family in the Holocaust. You can’t buy my house, and he slammed the door. I would say that it’s fair to say this person experienced G-d as an enemy. So what’s the pshat that G-d can come and be a menachem?
But we don’t even think about it, because we’ve been so trained that Tisha b’Av means we have to do teshuva.
Audience Member: You still have to believe in G-d.
Rav Simcha Weinberg: We’re told you still have to believe in G-d, but not everyone did. Don’t you think that there had to be a stage in which people who were reintroduced to G-d — and to say well, they didn’t need to, it was understood, it was their sins, read the Bible. The Bible says it isn’t so.
They were very angry. They wanted nothing to do with Judaism after the destruction of the First Temple for sure. After the destruction of the Second Temple they started this new religion called Christianity. I think that’s pretty much an indication that not all of them continue to feel that G-d was — they had to create a whole new way of relating to G-d.
The greatness of Tu b’Av is it is the transition point. Remember that the tribes of Israel lost more men than the Tribe of Benjamin. They kept on losing the battle, first day battle, second day battle, almost 50,000 of their soldiers died, even though they were fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.
So, the world was crashing around them. They were fully justified in being furious with the Tribe of Benjamin. It was a horrible thing that was done in the city of Giva, and it was an even worse thing that the Tribe of Benjamin tried to protect them. I think they were fully justified in kicking them out of the people of Israel. A Givoni is not allowed to marry because they lied to Moshe and they lied to Yehoshua. Come on, and these people, look what they did, and you’re telling me we have to allow them to marry in to Land of Israel? And yet, the perpetrators, the ones who wiped them out, understood, that you reach a point at which you have to decide to go on, to move to the next stage and not to carry it with you — and that process is called nechama.
When it speaks of G-d as being the menachem, the comforter, it doesn’t mean that G-d’s coming and saying, oy, I love you, I hope you’re comforted and so on and so forth. It doesn’t work if it’s your enemy, but if it’s someone who comes in who teaches you and guides you into how to take a entirely new approach and to understand that the past is the past and now you have to go and live in the future, that’s called nechama, because the real definition of the word nechama is to change your mind. As you find at the end of the Parshas Bereishis, vayinachem Hashem, says G-d changed G-d’s mind.
The next opinion we had was that it was the day on which the people finally accepted that they weren’t going to die. So he said okay, nu, what were they stupid? It took them until the 15th of Av and even if it took them to the 15th of Av, still, when they finally figured out the day on which the decree ended was the 9th of Av of the previous year, it wasn’t the 15th of Av — why do we make the day they were finally smart enough to figure it out, almost a week later, that’s the day you make into a holiday? It’s such an unbelievable thing. What’s more important; for suffering to end or to finally fully accept that your suffering is over? Which is harder to do?
Audience: The second.
Rabbi Simcha Weinberg: That’s right. It took them a long time to accept. When people suffer for a long time, even when their suffering is over they don’t feel secure. People have one negative experience after another, no matter how much is changing around them and the people around them are proving themselves to be more reliable and more stable and — here a husband and wife go through a terrible time and then they’re both changing. It takes time for them to transition into the new stage, because it’s not just that the fighting has ended or the misery has ended or the financial distress has ended or the illness has ended, it’s to accept that the suffering is over.
And when they realized, and not just realize but accepted that their suffering was over — and it took them a long time, right? Almost a week. But when they were able to finally accept that their suffering was over, they turned that into a holiday equal to Yom Kippur, because most people walk around with all the negative effect, their negative experiences, their suffering, the way other people treated them, the insults they’ve heard, the way they’ve been hurt, their arguments, their illnesses, their problems with their kids, their financial tzorres — everyone has had one problem or another, and then it’s so hard to make an adjustment and say, okay, the suffering’s over, now I’m going to go back into life and live a whole new way. The day of which you can accept it’s over, now live, that’s a day equal to Yom Kippur.