That’s Friday, for those of you who are calendar-challenged. And if you are wondering why we are celebrating anything so close to Tisha B’Av, that happens to be a very spot-on question, especially when one considers that if we would sit shiva, as it were, for the churban, the fifteenth of Av would actually be the last day (day seven) of the shiva! How strange is that!? And add that to the fact that we are not quite sure exactly what we are celebrating, and you have a very enigmatic celebration indeed!

The primary source for the fifteenth of Av being anything out of the ordinary is the Mishnah at the end of Maseches Ta’anis which states, “There have never been such wonderful days for Klal Yisrael comparable to Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av; and those would be the days when eligible women would present themselves as available for shidduch purposes, and they would expound upon the qualities that should be pursued in choosing a partner in life…” The Gemara there goes on to say, “It is certainly understandable that Yom Kippur be considered an extraordinary day, as that is the day when Klal Yisrael achieves atonement for their sins, and it also is the day when Moshe Rabbeinu brought down the second set of luchos from Har Sinai after the Golden Calf fiasco — certainly events about which it is worth being unusually joyous. But what is the fifteenth of Av all about?” The Gemara enumerates a number of historical events which occurred on that date: in the aftermath of the meraglim, the deaths of the people of the generation who left Egypt finally came to an end; the temporary halachah which disallowed different tribes from marrying one another (put into place so as to clarify and solidify each tribe’s portion in Eretz Yisrael) was lifted; the prohibition that had been put into place in the days of the shoftim that no one would marry into the tribe of Binyamin (which was promulgated due to the event of pilegesh b’givah) was eliminated; certain impediments that had been put into place to prevent Bnei Yisrael from making the thrice-yearly pilgrimages to the Beis Hamikdash were removed; the bodies which had been strewn about in the city of Beitar (those killed in the attempted rebellion against Rome) were finally allowed to be brought to rest for burial; and there was a siyum made — no, not a siyum haShas, but a celebratory siyum for the completion of the mitzvah of chopping wood for use on the mizbeach. It certainly behooves us to try to discern some sort of common thread here, and more importantly, to understand the calendric anomaly of such a happy day occurring on the very day that the shiva period for the destruction of theTemple comes to an end.

Now, obviously Yom Kippur rates such distinction, as all of our celebratory days throughout the year would quickly lose their luster if we would not have a Yom Kippur to provide a time for repentance, mending our ways, and achieving atonement. Is there any connection, though, between that auspicious day and the fifteenth of Av, that the Mishnah sees fit to draw them together?

The abovementioned Mishnah concludes in the following fashion: “And so the pasuk teaches us, ‘go out oh daughters of Tzion and rejoice with the King of Peace (Hakadosh Baruch Hu) on His wedding day (i.e. the day of the giving of the Torah) and on the day of His gladness (i.e. the building of the Beis HaMikdash).’ ” Now, it is possible, the commentaries explain, to refer to Yom Kippur as “the day of the giving of the Torah,” as the second set of luchos was given then, as mentioned before. The reference to the building of the Beis Hamikdash can likewise be a reference to Yom Kippur, as the inauguration of the Temple in the days of Shlomo Hamelech included Yom Kippur in the days of festivities. But there does not seem to be any source-reference to the other day the Mishnah speaks of, the fifteenth of Av!

(As I see my word quota quickly dwindling, I see that I will have to get to the nub of this column only next week. That is not entirely inappropriate, as for the next seven weeks we will be reading special haftaros of consolation, called the shiva d’nechemta, in sharp contradistinction to the shalosh d’puranusa, the three haftaros read in the run-up to Tisha B’Av, and so probably any explanation of exactly from where our consolation is indeed to come is congruous and fitting for all of these weeks. And so I will at this time quickly segue into a possible explanation of the phrase “and on the day of the building of the Beis Hamikdash” as it pertains to the fifteenth of Av, so at least in this week’s column there will be a specific Tu B’Av lesson. Rav Tzadok Hakohen writes, based on a Medrash, that the actual date of the building of the Beis Hamikdash Hashlishi will im yirtzeh Hashem be the fifteenth of Av. And indeed one cannot help but be struck by the fact that the fifteenth of Av has become (see the Mishnah above) the day of setting up zivugim — which, of course, is building each person’s bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael, each person’s personal mikdash. )

Rav Tzadok aside, though, the plain meaning of the Mishnah does not seem to have anything to do with Tu B’Av. And the wildly disparate dissimilar events that the Gemara notes just deepens the mystery.

To be continued…