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The Great Joy of Tu BAb

The Gemara teaches in Masechet Taanit (30b), "There were no greater holidays for Yisrael than Yom Kippur and Tu BAb." The occasion of Tu BAb (the 15th of Ab), which to us appears as a very minor holiday, ranks together with Yom Kippur as one of the two most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar.

The Gemara proceeds to bring several reasons why Tu BAb is an especially joyous day. One reason is because it was on that day when "Kalu Meteh Midbar" the punishment decreed against the generation of the wilderness was completed. As Rashi explains, each year in the desert, on Tisha BAb the day when the sin of the spies occurred a certain number of people from that generation died, as G-d had decreed in the wake of the sin of the spies. In the fortieth year, however, nobody died, and several days later, on Tu BAb, the people realized that the punishment had been competed, and thus Tu BAb marks a special occasion.

After presenting this reason for Tu BAb, the Gemara proceeds add more information, which, at first glance, seems irrelevant to the discussion. The Gemara states, "As the Master said: Until the deaths of the generation of the wilderness were completed, there was no speech [from G-d] to Moshe" meaning, Moshe did not receive prophecy throughout the thirty-eight years during which Beneh Yisrael were punished for the sin of the spies. This is inferred from a verse from Parashat Debarim (2:16) in which Moshe recalls that after the generation of the sin of spies had perished, "G-d spoke to me" implying that during the previous thirty-eight years, until that entire generation had died, G-d did not speak with Moshe.

The question arises, why does all this need to be mentioned? Why did it not suffice for the Gemara to inform us that one of the events celebrated on Tu BAb is the end of the decree against that generation? Why do we also need to be told that God did not speak to Moshe during the interim years? Moreover, the Gemara comments, "As the Master said" implying that this information substantiates the claim being made, that Tu BAb is celebrated because "Kalu Meteh Midbar." How does the fact that G-d did not speak to Moshe during the interim years substantiate this explanation of Tu BAb?

Rashi, commenting on the Gemaras comment that G-d did not speak to Moshe during the interim years, writes, "Therefore it is a Yom Tob." It seems that Rashi understood the Gemara to mean that the primary reason why Tu BAb is a joyous occasion is because prophecy was restored to Moshe Rabbenu. This is what Tu BAb celebrates that after thirty-eight years of distance, G-d once again came to Moshe and spoke to Him. Tu BAb celebrates not just the end of the punishment, but rather the restoration of G-ds connection to the people as expressed through His communication with Moshe Rabbenu.

Further insight into the nature of this day can be gleaned from Rashis subsequent comments, explaining that in truth, G-d did speak to Moshe during the previous thirty-eight years. However, during those years, G-d did not speak to Moshe "Beyihud Ubehiba" in an especially close and affectionate manner. The uniquely intimate quality of Moshes prophecy was absent throughout the thirty-eight years when Beneh Yisrael were being punished for the sin of the spies, and this quality was restored when the punishment was completed. Rashi makes this remark also in his Torah commentary (Debarim 2:16-17).

A number of commentators noted that Rashis comments seem to contradict his own remarks elsewhere, distinguishing between two verbs used for speech Dibbur, and Amira. Rashi writes that Dibbur denotes harsh speech, whereas Amira signifies gentle, pleasant speech. When Moshe recalls G-d speaking to him after the thirty-eighty years ended, he uses the verb "Dibbur" "Vayedaber Hashem Elai Lemor." How can Rashi say that this was the first time G-d spoke to Moshe in a close, affectionate manner, if Moshe describes this prophecy with the verb which refers to harsh speech?

The Keli Yakar (Rav Shlomo Efrayim Luntschitz, Prague, 1550-1619) offers a powerful answer to this question. He writes that people offer uncomfortable criticism specifically to those whom they love. Parents discipline their own children because they love their children and want them to behave properly and learn the right values, and so they criticize and punish their children, but not other children. The verb "Vayedaber" is used here specifically because G-d spoke in a harsh way which is an expression of His great love for His cherished nation. Speaking softly bespeaks apathy and a lack of concern; it is when we truly love somebody that we sometimes need to speak to that person harshly in order to teach and guide him.

It turns out, then, that Tu BAb celebrates this notion of "Dibbur" the recognition that when G-d deals harshly with us, this is, in truth, an expression of His great love for us. Even though it is difficult to see how lifes hardships express love, Tu BAb reminds us to trust in G-ds unlimited kindness and immense love for each and every one of us, even when He treats us harshly.

This is why Tu BAb is celebrated in the month of Ab, following Tisha BAb and the period of mourning for the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and the other calamities that have befallen our nation. The occasion of Tu BAb is a crucial part of the process of Nehama (consolation) that we are to experience during this period, by showing us that G-ds punishments are a function of His great love for us. When we live with this realization, we will be better able to overcome the various different trials and tribulations that life presents us, confident that we are G-ds beloved children and that everything He does is done for our benefit and out of His boundless love for us.

Parashat Vayera: We Never Lose by Following G-ds Will
Parashat Lech Lecha: Receiving the Power to Bless
Parashat Noah: The Complete Sadik
Parashat Bereshit: Producing Biological and Spiritual Children
Sukkot and the War of Gog Umaggog
Parashat Ha'azinu: Calling to G-d in Times of Trouble
Shabbat Shuva- Teshuba & Torah Learning
Rosh Hashana: Reaching the Heavenly Throne, One Step at a Time
Parashat Ki Tabo- The Darkness Before the Light
Parashat Ki Teseh: Strengthening Ourselves in Preparation for Redemption
Parashat Shoftim: Pure, Simple Faith
Parashat Re'eh: Earning a Livelihood Through Joy
Parashat Ekeb: G-ds Eternal Love for His Nation
The Great Joy of Tu BAb
Debarim: The Proper Response to Crisis
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