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Tu B’Av: Changing Day

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel taught: “Israel had no days as festive as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. (Ta’anit 26b) This was the day that the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to marry into the congregation of Israel.

After the incident of the Concubine of Givah (Judges 19-20) the Jews swore not to give their daughters in marriage to the few surviving members of the tribe of Benjamin. The next generation was released from this oath on the 15th of Av. 

The only biblical reference to the 15th of Av being celebrated as a holiday is in the context of the above story: “They said, Behold, there is a yearly holiday unto God at Shiloh.” (Judges 21:19)  The people referred to this day as a “Holiday unto God”, an unusual expression.

In fact, we only find that description of a festival in one other place: The sin of the Golden Calf. “Aaron saw and built an altar before him. Aaron called out and said, ‘A Holiday unto God tomorrow!” (Exodus 32:5)

Aron expected Moses to return with the Luchot – Tablets – from Mt. Sinai the next day before the people would have an opportunity to worship before the Golden Calf. He truly anticipated the next day – the 17th of Tammuz – to be a “Holiday Unto God”. The people would celebrate God’s gift of the Luchot.

The projected Holiday unto God became a dark and terrible day of tragedy. The people worshipped their idol, the Luchot were shattered and many died. The day of rejoicing became a day of mourning.

Israel had to wait until Yom Kippur – the other day on which the maidens would dance – to celebrate the Second Luchot.

Aaron’s “Holiday Unto God” was a changed day. When the people borrowed Aaron’s phrase to describe the 15th of Av they were referring to it as a day of change and transformation.

The 15th of Av is actually the seventh day of another Changed Day: Tisha B’Av – the 9th of Av. Each of the last 38 of the 40 years in the desert, the people who turned 60 would die on the 9th of Av. The 15th was the seventh and final day of mourning.

Tisha B’Av was a Changed Day during the Second Temple period, when it was a day of celebration over the reconstruction of the Temple that had been destroyed on that day. It changed back into a day of mourning when the Second Temple was destroyed. We expect the 9th of Av to change yet again when the Thrid Temple will be built. The 15th will not be the final day of mourning, but the seventh and final day of a great festival.

The 15th of Av is a celebration of the possibilities of change. We have begun the Seven Weeks’s of Consolation – a period of change and transformation, when we rejoice in our ability to change our ways, our attributes, and our relationships. This process of change begins on the 15th of Av.

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