New Beginnings: Yom Kippur, Tu B’Av and Tisha B’Av

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This article explores the connection between Tu’B’av, Tisha’Be’Av and Yom Kippur. It is taken from morim-madrichim.org.

A full moon on a summer night. A dry, refreshing breeze caresses the hills. The perfume of ripened fruit floods the air. White, diaphanous dresses play in the moonlight and shadow of flourishing vineyards. Young people laugh and dance, going beyond the city walls in search of love.

According to the Talmud (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Ta’anit 30b-31a), this idyllic scene used to take place every 15 Av on the outskirts of Yerushalayim, only a few days after the fast commemorating the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’Av.

The two days, which appear absolutely irreconcilable, are actually united by more than their closeness in time. What is even more surprising is that this double act is a part of a triple: Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel (Ta’anit 4:8) considered Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av to be a pair, the two happiest days in the Jewish calendar.

The eyes, the heart, explorers, and discovery.

Tisha B’Av is a kind of North Star, a trusted guide to heartfelt love on a path we have a chance to discern on Tu B’Av. How so?

Twelve were the explorers—meraglim–sent out by Moshe. For forty days they remained in Eretz Kna’an before they returned to the desert. Their mission was clear: Latur et ha’aretz (“to discover, to explore the land”) (Num. 13). According to our rabbanim, the final report, and the consequent reaction in the hearts of the people upon hearing it (to weep and complain all night long), determined that the people’s entry into the Promised Land would be postponed by an entire generation (forty years). G_d was imagined as having declared: “These people have cried for no reason at all. I’ll give them a reason to cry on this day for all eternity!” The day on which this happened was identified as 9 Av.

We know that what we see depends on which glass we look through. And the meraglim looked upon the land with eyes and hearts lacking in faith.

The miracles (magnificent and grandiloquent, the exodus from Mitzraim, the crossing of the sea and the desert, the gift of the Torah and manna) were apparently not enough to instill belief.

On the subject of these paradigmatic meraglim, Rashi in his take on the Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15 (“they should not explore by following their hearts” – the heart and the eyes being the agents of the body that lead the body astray), changes its language slightly but significantly, maintaining that “The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body. They introduce it to sin: The eye sees, the heart desires, and the body transgresses.”

And one more factor adds complication to our reflections: Who leads? Do the eyes lead the heart or vice versa? Is it that, within the realm of all existing things and possibilities, we can see only what we desire? Or, do we desire because we pause to see?

Whatever the case, the Torah immediately offers us an antidote. So as not to repeat the errors of our ancestors in the desert, we have reminders: effective, forceful, daily reminders.

On the one hand, the mitzvah puts into perspective the tzitzit, which were given to us immediately after the episode involving the meraglim and which share etymology (latur, taturu), parashah, and semantics with that term.

More specifically, contemplation of the tzitzit symbolizes the opposite path from that leading to the spies’ transgression. It leads to adoption of a perspective nourished by faith, thus enabling us to explore the world fully, not merely with our eyes and the desires of our hearts.

Apparently this is the first tool any successful explorer should have to hand, and Av indicates that it is a conduit to true love: to choices based not only on the sense of sight and on desire but also on the spirit and faith.

The other element of the triplet, as suggested earlier, is Yom Kippur, which shares with Tu B’Av not only profound joy but also the transcendental values represented by this holiday.

Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur lead us to new beginnings that are the fruit of a time of introspection, far from the predominantly material considerations that dominate our lives throughout the rest of the year: one such new beginning is found in our interpersonal relations and the other in the intimacy of our own being.

Even in the midst of this idyllic scene of courtship and seduction on summer nights among vineyards, we are reminded that our vision and desires must be guided by values that transcend them.

None of the girls wore their own gowns. Instead, they submitted to the demand that their white dresses not belong to them but be borrowed, so that none of the men would be tempted to choose a woman on the basis of her social or material circumstances or the fanciness of her attire. And, although this requirement made it perfectly clear what the focus of the male’s attention should be, the women–who imposed the rules governing the scene of seduction–would proclaim: “Do not choose me for my beauty but for the good name of my family and for my respect and fear of G_d.” Don’t choose me on account of what you see, but on account of what I believe in, on account of what constitutes me.

These values are more than attractive items for a woman to carry in her purse, or a man in his pocket. They are reliable signposts providing guidance that points the way home, so that we don’t get lost in tortuous alleyways.

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