Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Blue Moon and the Festival of the Future Redemption

Photo: Priya Kumar, Oman, August 2012

This year on July 31 - which is also Tu Be'Av [15 Av] -  we will have a blue moon.... the second of two full moons in a calendar month is called a Blue Moon -  the moon was full on July 2, and it will be full again on July 31. An older definition of Blue Moon is that it’s the third of four full moons in a single season. 

A Moon that actually looks blue, however, is a very rare sight and depends on atmospheric particles from a dust storm or erupting volcano.


The 15th of Av is undoubtedly the most mysterious day of the Jewish calendar.

A search of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] reveals no observances or customs for this date, except for the instruction that the tachanun [confession of sins] and similar portions should be omitted from the daily prayers [as is the case with all festive dates], and that beginning on the 15th of Av one should increase one’s study of Torah, since at this time of the year the nights begin to grow longer, and “the night was created for study.” And the Talmud tells us that many years ago the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” on the 15th of Av, and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride.

And this is the day which the Talmud considers the greatest festival of the year, with Yom Kippur (!) a close second!

Indeed, the 15th of Av cannot but be a mystery. As the “full moon” of the tragic month of Av, it is the festival of the future redemption, and thus a day whose essence, by definition, is unknowable to our un-redeemed selves.

Click here to read more essays on Tu B''Av


Anonymous said...

Said Rabi Shimon ben Gamliel: There were no greater festivals for Bnei Yisrael than the 15th of Menachem Av and Yom Kippur. (Talmud, Taanis 26b)

The Talmud goes on to list several joyous events which occurred on the 15th day of the month of Menachem Av:

The dying of the generation of the Exodus ceased. Several months after Bnei Yisrael were freed from Egyptian slavery, the incident of the spies demonstrated their unpreparedness for the task of conquering the land of Canaan and developing it as the Holy Land. Hashem decreed that that entire generation would die out in the desert, and that their children would enter the land in their stead (as recounted in BaMidbar 13 and 14). After 40 years of wandering through the wilderness, the dying finally ended, and a new generation of Jews stood ready to enter the Holy Land. It was the 15th of Menachem Av of the year 2487 from creation (1274 BCE). As long as members of this doomed generation were still alive, Hashem didn’t communicate with Moshe Rabbeinu. As soon as the last of these men died, once again Hashem lovingly communicated with Moshe Rabbeinu.
The tribes of Israel were permitted to intermarry. In order to ensure the orderly division of the Holy Land between the twelve tribes of Israel, restrictions had been placed on marriages between members of two different tribes. A woman who had inherited tribal lands from her father was forbidden to marry out of her tribe, lest her children—members of their father’s tribe—cause the transfer of land from one tribe to another by inheriting her estate (as recounted in BaMidbar 36). This ordinance was binding on the generation that conquered and settled the Holy Land; when the restriction was lifted, on the 15th of Menachem Av, the event was considered a cause for celebration and festivity.
The tribe of Benyamin was permitted to re-enter the community. On this date the tribe of Benyamin, which had been excommunicated for its behavior in the incident of the “Concubine at Giv’ah,” was readmitted into the community of Bnei Yisrael (as related in Shoftim 19–21). This occurred during the judgeship of Othniel ben Kenaz, who led the people of Bnei Yisrael in the years 2533–2573 from creation (1228–1188 BCE).
Hoshea ben Elah opened the roads to Yerushalayim. Upon the division of the Holy Land into two kingdoms following the death of King Shlomo in the year 2964 from creation (797 BCE), Yerovom ben Nevot, ruler of the breakaway northern kingdom of Israel, set up roadblocks to prevent his citizens from making the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim, capital of the southern kingdom of Yehuda. These were finally removed more than 200 years later by Hoshea ben Elah, the last king of the northern kingdom, on the 15th of Menachem Av, 3187 (574 BCE).
The dead of Betar were allowed to be buried. The fortress of Betar was the last holdout of the Bar Kochba rebellion. When Betar fell, on the 9th of Menachem Av, 3893 (133 CE), Bar Kochba and many thousands of Jews were killed; the Romans massacred the survivors of the battle with great cruelty, and would not even allow the Jews to bury their dead. When the dead of Betar were finally brought to burial on the 15th of Menachem Av, 3908 (148 CE), an additional blessing (“Hatov Vehameitiv”) was added to the Grace After Meals in commemoration. [A miracle happened that the bodies stayed whole and did not decay].
“The day of the breaking of the ax.” When the Holy Temple stood in Yerushalayim, the annual cutting of firewood for the altar was concluded on the 15th of Menachem Av. The event was celebrated with feasting and rejoicing (as is the custom upon the conclusion of a holy endeavor), and included a ceremonial breaking of the axes, which gave the day its name.

Yes, it's a small miracle that it's so early.

Neshama said...

Anonymous, thank you so much. I will b'n read this at the Shabbos table. I always like to 'stir the pot' as they say with Torah perspective after my husband gives me the (good) usual rendition of the Parsha.

Neshama said...

Devorah, I'm going to be sticking my head out the window looking for that bluish moon!

Unknown said...

Hi again from a.non.ymous

What Goes Down, Must Come Up

The Talmud states in Tractate Taanis: ”Never were there more joyous days for the Jewish People than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur,“ listing five or six joyous events that occurred on 15 Av throughout history. What is it about the energy of the 15th of Av that attracts so much joy?

The Arizal explains that on the 15th of the month, the moon is at its fullest. The Sages teach that the Jewish People are compared to the moon – so, just as the moon is at its fullest on the 15th of Av, so are the Jewish people. But Passover and Sukkos, too, begin on the 15th of the months of Nissan and Tishrei, respectively. What is so unique about the moon’s fullpoint during the month of Av?

The 15th of Av represents the Jewish people at their fullest – after having fallen to their lowest on the 9th of Av, on Tisha B’av. The purpose of every spiritual descent is only for the sake of the subsequent ascent, and therefore, the greater the descent, the greater the ascent must be. That is why the joy of 15 Av – following the sadness of Tisha B’av – eclipses that of any other day of the year.

Unknown said...

not bluish moon - Jewish Moon