The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
YHE-HOLIDAY: SPECIAL TISHA BE-AV SHIUR
is dedicated in memory of Dr. William Major z"l.
Be-Av as a Festival
Translated by David Strauss
1. Tish'a Be-Av as
a Mo'ed (Festival)
Arukh states (Orach
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
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
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
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
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
He said to him: "Unharness your ox and untie your plough" [as a mark of
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,
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. 
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
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
It is customary to sit on the
ground during the last meal [before Tish'a
The Vilna Gaon explains
(s.v. ve'ein tzarikh):
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
R. Abba bar Zavda also said in the name of Rav:
A mourner is bound by the obligation of sukka…
Here 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.
 See also the Ramban's
interesting comments on this midrash
I, p. 306, nos. 19-39, and the notes found there).