Tish’a Be-Av as a Festival

  • Rav Gad Eldad
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

YHE-HOLIDAY: SPECIAL  TISHA BE-AV  SHIUR

Yeshivat Har Etzion


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This shiur is dedicated in memory of Dr. William Major z"l.

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Tish'a Be-Av as a Festival

By Rav Gad Eldad

Translated by David Strauss

 

1. Tish'a Be-Av as a Mo'ed (Festival)

The Shulchan Arukh states (Orach Chayyim 559:4):

We do not recite tachanun or selichot on Tish'a Be-Av, nor do we assume a prostrated position during prayer, for it is called a "mo'ed."

Let us examine the reasoning behind this law: Why should Tish'a Be-Av be called a mo'ed? The answer to this question seemingly is to be found in a verse in Zekharya (8:19):

Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fact of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the house of Yehuda; therefore, love the truth and peace.

Thus, we see that in the future, the fasts will turn into feasts. One might have suggested, therefore, that it is on account of the day's festive nature in the future that already today we observe on Tish'a Be-Av some of the laws of the feast days. This, however, is incorrect, for were this so, we should observe these laws not only on Tish'a Be-Av, but also on the other fast days, for they too will eventually turn into feast days!

2. "Wood and stones"

Another explanation may be suggested. The Gemara in Kiddushin (31a) relates that Avimi merited understanding the first verse in Psalm 79. Rashi and Tosafot explain:

"A psalm of Asaf. O God, heathen nations have come into Your inheritance." [Surely] it should have stated: "A lamentation of Asaf."Asaf recited a song because the Holy One, blessed be He, exhausted His anger on the wood and stones of His house, thus leaving a remnant in Israel.

It may be argued that this is the reason that we too "sing a song" and observe some of the laws of feast days on Tish'a Be-Av. This explanation, however, is difficult. Granted that a song should be recited because God exhausted His anger on the wood and stones of the Temple; but certainly this does not justify calling the day of the destruction of the Temple a feast day!

3. The Void is the cause of existence

Midrash Eikha (1) states:

It once happened that a man was ploughing, when one of his oxen lowed. An Arab passed by and asked: "What are you?"

He answered: "I am a Jew."

He said to him: "Unharness your ox and untie your plough" [as a mark of mourning.]

"Why?"

"Because the Temple of the Jews is destroyed."

He inquired: "From where do you know this?"

He answered: "I know it from the lowing of your ox."

While he was conversing with him, the ox lowed again. The Arab said to him: "Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the deliverer of the Jews is born."

The Maharal of Prague explains this midrash as follows (Netzach Yisra'el, chap. 26):

Therefore, when the ox lowed the first time, [the Arab] said that [the Temple] is destroyed, and the second time he said that the Messiah was born. For we have previously said that the destruction of the Temple is the reason for the Messiah's existence… And so when the Temple was destroyed, then it was fitting for the Messiah to come. This is because prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Messiah had no place in the world whatsoever… But when the Temple was destroyed, then there was a potential that had not existed previously. There was a void that is the cause of [his] existence. [1]

This passage may be understood in light of the idea developed there by the Maharal that in order to arrive at something new and more perfect, it is not always possible to repair and improve what already exists. It is sometimes necessary to destroy what currently exists and start from scratch. This will lead to something new, something different in all senses. Thus, "void is the cause of existence." While it is true that without the stage that preceded the perfect construction, the perfect construction could never have been built, that previous stage must be destroyed in order to allow for the building of something new and perfect on its ruins.

Why did the first construction not reach ultimate perfection? The Maharal answers this question in the continuation of the passage:

Just as there was no light at the beginning of Creation, and it was necessary that a world first exist at not so high a level, and then "it went up in sanctity" to a higher level. This is what happened when the light was created, for there was a void in creation, the world being empty and without form, to the point that the world was entirely void. Then light was created to complete creation. Similarly, it is not fitting that the highest level, i.e., the final Temple, exist from the beginning. Rather, we go up in sanctity, and therefore the two previous Temples had to exist… The First Temple was destroyed in order to receive the final existence, just as void precedes every existence…

According to this, we can say that Tish'a Be-Av is called a mo'ed, because the Temple's destruction, as calamitous as it was, already contains within it the cause of a higher and more elevated existence.

4. "A man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare"

We may examine the matter from yet a different angle. The Shulchan Arukh rules (Orach Chayyim 552:7):

It is customary to sit on the ground during the last meal [before Tish'a Be-Av].

The Vilna Gaon explains (s.v. ve'ein tzarikh):

The Terumat ha-Deshen writes that this meal is in place of acute mourning (aninut), as it is stated: "And it is as if his deceased relative were lying before him." And Tish'a Be-Av is in place of mourning (aveilut)….

The idea of Tish'a Be-Av being a mo'ed may be understood against the backdrop of the laws of mourning. A mourner observes the various mourning rites for the first week, month, or year following his relative's passing. If, however, a festival intervenes, the laws of shiv'a and sheloshim are cancelled, as is explained in the third chapter of Mo'ed Katan. There seems to be an essential difference between completing the mourning period and canceling it on account of a festival. The Gemara in Sukka (25b) states:

R. Abba bar Zavda also said in the name of Rav: A mourner is bound by the obligation of sukkaHere he himself is the cause of the discomfort [as opposed to external circumstances, such as inclement weather]; [therefore] it is incumbent upon him to compose his mind [and sit in the sukka].

In general, a mourning period comes to an end, and the deceased "is forgotten from the heart." When mourning is cancelled on account of a mo'ed, this does not happen. The mourning period is not completed later, but it also does not continue. It is cut short because of the necessity to relate to other aspects of one's life.

The idea of Tish'a Be-Av being a mo'ed may be based on a similar principle. Just as the mourning rites for a deceased relative are cut short on account of a mo'ed, so too the laws of mourning the destruction of the Temple are cut short at the end of Tish'a Be-Av. The mourning of the destruction of the Temple is not completed and forgotten; it is cut short. The Jewish people cannot make peace with the destruction, but nevertheless life must go on.

The Gemara (Bava Batra 60b) relates that there were people who refused to accept the destruction of the Temple, and therefore they did not want to continue with their normal lives. They abstained from meat and wine, because the Temple had been destroyed, and the sacrifices and libations had been abolished. R. Yehoshua responded that following their logic, they should abstain from water as well, for the water libation had also ceased. Rabbi Yehoshua explained:

Not to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow has fallen. To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure… The Sages therefore have ordained thus: A man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare.

I argued above that "the Jewish people cannot make peace with the destruction, but nevertheless life must go on." R. Yehoshua's contemporaries, however, questioned this assertion, asking, "Why should we go on?" R. Yehoshua answered that the one is dependent upon the other. The reason that we must go on is that we cannot make peace with what happened. This principle gives new meaning to the Maharal's statement that "void is the cause of existence." We shall not accept the void, but rather shall work to rebuild the ruins, and continue to do so until the spirit of redemption rests upon us from on high.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] See also the Ramban's interesting comments on this midrash (Kitvei ha-Ramban, I, p. 306, nos. 19-39, and the notes found there).