Former and Latter Rains - Selected Essays

Article Index

VIII. Selected Essays

Issue #6: The Mysterious Golden Calf
by Rabbi Pinchas Winston.

Version Date: July 20, 2000

01. The episode of the golden calf is difficult for a few basic reasons. First of all, how could the Jewish people participate in so grave a sin so close in time to the giving of the Torah. Secondly, how could they commit such a transgression at the foot of Har Sinai? Even, according to the Midrash (and Kabbalah) which states that most Jews did not participate in the actual sin itself, how could they remain idle and allow the Erev Rav to profane the holy name of HaShem without reacting in some way?

02. Equally disquieting is Rashi’s “pshat” explanation of the events leading up to the catastrophe, which must be quoted in entirety:

The people saw that Moshe delayed to return from the mountain, the people (ha-umm always denotes Erev Rav) gathered against Aharon and said to him, “Get up and make us a god to go before us, because we don’t know what happened to this man Moshe who took us up from Egypt!” (Shemot 32:1)

When Moshe went up the mountain he told them that he would return forty days later during the first six hours of the day. They assumed that the day he ascended (7th of Sivan) was to be included in this number (making his return the 16th of Tammuz before noon). In fact, he had said, “after forty days” -- forty days together with its night (that precedes it). Regarding the day he went up, its night was not part of it, since he ascended the morning of the seventh of Sivan. Therefore, the fortieth day fell on the seventeenth of Tammuz. On the sixteenth day of Tammuz, Satan came and threw the world into confusion giving it the appearance of darkness, gloom, and disorder so people should say, “Certainly Moshe is dead, and that is why confusion has come into the world!” He said, “Yes! Moshe is dead, for six hours has already come and he has not returned!” (Rashi)

First of all, says Rashi, it was a simple miscalculation that led to such catastrophic results! What got the Erev Rav up and running was the fact that the people had misunderstood Moshe’s expected time of arrival and seemingly panicked. Second of all, maybe the whole miscalculation was the result of another reason, that reason being the confusion and darkness created by the Satan the day before! There is only one question: WHICH Satan, and WHAT confusion?

This is pshat?

To answer these questions meaningfully, it is important to understand the following information, which will take some time to explain.

03. There is a very famous disagreement in the Talmud that defies understanding. The argument is between Rebi Yehoshua and Rebi Eliezer, and the point of disagreement is the actual month of creation[51]. According to the Rebi Yehoshua, creation (actually the sixth day of creation, the day on which man was created occurred in the month of Nisan; according to Rebi Eliezer, the month of Tishrei (the twenty-fifth day of Elul would be the actual first d y of creation).

First of all, how could such an important point be forgotten, and so soon in history? Second of all, one can assume that Rosh Hashanah has been in Tishrei for an long time; Moshe came down on the first Yom Kippur on the tenth day of Tishrei, so how could Rebi Yehoshua think as he does, and stand so strongly behind his opinion. In the realm of Pshat, it is a question without an answer.

However, in the realm of Kabbalah, the answer is very elegant, and, the starting point is knowing that both opinions can be considered right, when you consider who is doing the arguing – Rebi Eliezer, a student from the School of Shammai, and Rebi Yehoshua, a student of the School of Hillel. As is well known, the School of Shammai tended to be strict in law, and therefore represents a more “Gevurot” approach, and, the School of Hillel tended to be more lenient – a more Chesed-oriented approach. This knowledge will play an important role in understanding how such a disagreement can exist in the first place.

04. Having said this, we can now approach the problem on a deeper level. Even though the Torah recounts the beginning of creation as being from the moment “Bereshit” was first uttered, the truth is, that on y refers to physical creation as know it. Yes, creation came about as “something-from-nothing” (yaish m’ayin), but, there were many stages of creating along the way from the Original Will to create, and, the physical world within which we presently find ourselves.

In fact, even though time began with the word Bereshit, that too is a relative explanation. Compared to what came before the first day of creation, time as we are used to it began only then. However, there was a sense of time before this moment as well, an , the Kabbalists speak about the year that preceded Year One of our history, just like we can speak of roots hidden away in the ground from the entire tree has grown.

The dates are all there, fifteenth day of Nisan (Pesach), sixth day of Sivan (Shavuot), ninth day of Av (Tisha B’Av), etc., just the events have changed. They are pre-creation events, the spiritual roots of all that will happen throughout the six millennia of history. They are events that must be understood if one is to make sense of history, and such Rashis as the one quoted above. First, though, another introduction.

05. Concepts such as gravity can be expressed in words, that is, conceptually, or, as a mathematical formulae. The difference might be that, as words, all that can be deduced is the effect of this natural force. However, as a formula, not only can the effect of gravity be predicted and calculated, but, the “how” of gravity can also be understood. It works the same way, l’havdil, with G-d’s names as well, specifically the Tetragrammaton Name: yud-heh-vav-heh.

06. As a Name, the Shem Havayah (as it is called) has but one spelling, and alludes to the revelation of G-d that comes about a result of supernatural occurrences, and Divine acts of mercy. However, when Kabbalah wishes to expand an idea, and reveal its inner essence, it does this with the concept of “milui,” which literally means, “filling.” When this is done with the Shem Hovayah, “then there are four spellings of the Divine Name, and each one indicates a different level of light capable of different functions. The four derivations are as follows – from most sublime to least sublime (the numerical value of a group of letters follows in brackets):

yud-vav-dalet (20) -- heh-yud (15) – vav-yud-vav (22) – heh-yud (15) = 72

yud-vav-dalet (20) -- heh-heh (10) – vav-aleph-vav (13) – heh-heh (10) = 63

yud-vav-dalet (20) -- heh-aleph (6) – vav-aleph-vav (13) – heh-aleph (6) = 45

yud-vav-dalet (20) -- heh-yud (15) – vav-yud-vav (22) – heh-yud (15) = 52

*This name only has nine letters to symbolize its incompleteness until Mashiach comes.

In Sha'arei HaK'domos (Book of Introductions), the Arizal goes to great length to show how these names, their derivations, and mutations are Kabbalistic representations tracing the path of G-d's holy and sublime light as it made its way down from total spirituality to the creation of physical creation. In the Zohar, the first verses of the Creation Story are also an expression of the very same idea, and not just a "story."

One of the most unfathomable ideas is that one light can befiltered (constricted) and "adjusted" in countless ways to produce everylast detail of the physical world, with all of its innumerable facets and details. The "general" system of emanation-and-constriction is the Four Names above. And, the totals of each of the Names (72, 63, 45, and 52) canbe viewed as gematriot, or, as a measure of time during which the light "emanated," or, "withdrew" (constricted).

This is the information necessary to resolve the question of the disagreement regarding the beginning of creation, and, eventuall , the questions surrounding the account of the golden calf.

07. For example, the First Emanation of light is said to have lasted 72 "days" (bearing in mind that the quality of time before physical creation was different than it has been since physical creation began). If one counts from the 25th day of Adar (the day on which "creation" began according to Rebi Yehoshua) 72 "days," the result is the sixth day of Sivan -- the day on which G-d spoke to the Jewish people and gave the Ten Commandments 2,449 years later (2448/1313 BCE).

Hence, the very day that Moshe ascended the mountain to receive the rest of the Torah, the seventh day of Sivan, so, too, was it a day before creation of the pulling up of the light of G-d. For, on that day began the period of 63 "days," which, according to Kabbalistic tradition, represented the withdrawing of the light.

The actual withdrawal took place in three stages: forty days, fourteen days, and nine days. Again, counting forty days from the seventh of Sivan, one arrives at the seventeen day of Tammuz, the day on which the golden calf was built. Now, recall Rashi's previously confounding words:

"On the sixteenth day of Tammuz, Satan came and threw the world into confusion giving it the appearance of darkness, gloom, and disorder ' -- perfectly coinciding with the end of the first stage of the withdrawal of G-d's light! However one wants to phrase it, the concept is the same: pre-creation darkness gave rise to post-creation darkness! And not just then, but in EVERY generation. This is why the Tablets were broken that day, and why Shivah Esrai b'Tammuz is a day of infamy in the Jewish calendar, a fast day for the generations until Mashiach's arrival, and the beginning of the famous "Three Weeks" Jews observe with trepidation every summer.

Fourteen days forward one arrives at what would have been Rosh Chodesh Av, pre-creation, the day on which, post-creation, the "Three Weeks" begin and Jews minimize physical pleasures and risks (such as legal cases). It is during this period, Kabbalah tells us, that the "keilim" -- the pre-Sefirot Sefirot -- "broke" on the way to making a physical creation that could support the concept of a free-will.

Nine days further into the pre-creation year, and it is Tisha B'Av, the day on which the spies came back and spoke their evil report on Eretz Yisrael (2449/1312 BCE), condemning the Jewish nation to thirty-nine extra years of exile in the Sinai Desert. It was also the day on which both Temples were later destroyed, first by the Babylonians (3338/423 BCE), and later, by the Romans (3830/70 CE). The exile from Spain is said to have begun on Tisha B'Av in the year 1492, and the previously unimaginable Holocaust of the twentieth century as well.

Who knows how many other terrible disast rs have befallen the Jewish people on the ninth day of Av, hitherto unknown to historians -- because of the darkness that descended on pre-creation creation? The spies left on their journey to view the Holy Land during a period of inherent spiritual darkness, virtually dooming their mission before they even left!

How many other "missions" have failed because of the intrinsic spiritual danger of this 63-day period of spiritual withdrawal?

However, once the sixty-three days ended, the Divine Will determined that it was time for tikun, and the rectification that is always associated with the light of "Forty-Five" begun. This corresponds in the post-creation year to the period of spiritual re-building that spills over into the month of "Elul," which, the rabbis say, is an acronym for "Ani L'dodi v'dodi lee" (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed): "I am for my Beloved, and my Beloved is for Me" (Shir HaShirim 6:3). It is the time of year that G-d descends toward us to make teshuvah easier.

08. The day at which the light of "Forty-Five" leaves us is the twenty-fifth day of Elul -- the day on which Rebi Eliezer said physical creation began, exactly 180 days (72+63+45) since the twenty-fifth day of Adar, the day that Rebi Yehoshua said was the first day of creation.

Hence, though, according to pshat only one opinion can be considered correct, according to Kabbalah, BOTH opinions are right. On the 25th day of pre-creation Adar, the holy light of Ain Sof first emanated along its way to eventually make physical creation, on the 25th day of Elul. And, the Kabbalists point out, the numerical value of the word "chesed" ("kindness") is also equal to 72, which is why the first light of "72" is also called "Ohr HaChesed" -- the "Light of Chesed."

As the Talmud points, the trait of Hillel and his students was the trait of Chesed, loving-kindness. The trait of Shammai and his students was Gevurah -- Strength -- the "light" that is associated with tzimtzum -- "constriction," one of the key elements in making physical creation possible.

The argument between Rebi Yehoshua and Rebi Eliezer was not about the first day of physical creation, but, about what is called the "first day" of creation. For Rebi Yehoshua, a student of Hillel and Chesed viewed the first emanation of light -- the Ohr HaChesed -- the original act of kindness willed to create a world that could eventually give rise to the creation of man, free-will, and the right to the World-to-Come, as the first day of creation. Rebi Eliezer, on the other hand, a man whose heart and mind better related to tzimtzum says not so: creation is what results after the light has been filtered and constricted to form this elaborate and awesome physical universe.

Thus, through the lens of Kabbalah, the previously misunderstood disagreement of Rebi Yehoshua and Rebi Eliezer is resolved. And, along the way, we have come to understand a very difficult Rashi, a problematic historical event, and, the spiritual challenges facing each and every generation.

Elegant, was it not?

By Rabbi Ari Kahn

The Talmud in Megillah teaches:

"Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Shesheth: On the Sabbath of Chol Hamoed, on both Pesach and Succoth we read from scripture "V’ata R’ay" (Shemot 33). The Haftarah on Pesach, "The Dry Bones" (Yechezkel 37) and on Succoth "The day of the arrival of Gog" (Yechezkel 38)" (Megillah 31a)

The passage in the Talmud discusses the appropriate readings for the various Festivals. Generally the text which is read has an intrinsic connection with the day, but in this case no connection is apparent. Over a thousand years ago, this question was asked of Rav Hai Gaon, the leading scholar of his generation. He responded that he was not aware of any intrinsic connection between the scripture read in the Haftarah and these holidays, but continued:

"I have a tradition from the Sages that Resurrection will take place in Nisan, and victory over Gog and Magog, will take place in Tishri; therefore in Nissan we read of the dry bones (which will live) in the Haftarah, and in Tishri we read of the battle of Gog" (Tur Oruch Haim section 490, see Otzar Hagaonim Meggilah pg 64)

This tradition, that resurrection is to take place in Nisan, is the key to a number of passages in the Talmud.

It has been taught: R. Eliezer says: In Tishri the world was created; in Tishri the Patriarchs were born; in Tishri the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on New Year, Joseph went forth from prison (Talmud - Rosh HaShana 11a) on New Year the bondage of our ancestors in Egypt ceased; in Nisan they were redeemed and in Nisan they will be redeemed in the time to come. R. Yahoshua (Joshua) says: In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; in Nisan the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on New Year Joseph went forth from prison; on New Year the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt; and in Nisan they will be redeemed in time to come. (Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a)

In this passage we find that two of the great Tannaim, Rabbis Eliezer and Yehoshua, argue not only about biblical chronology but also about eschatology. At the root of this disagreement is the intricate relationship of history and destiny in the view of these great sages. Days have a personality or a charisma of their own, just as people do; therefore the understanding of the past allows us to better understand the future. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua have a fundamental argument regarding when the world came into being, and their differences are interrelated with the question of how the End of Days will shape up.

Tishri is a month of judgment, while Nisan is a month of miracles, as is indicated by its very name ("Nissan", perhaps from the root "nes", miracle). In this context, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua differ over the very nature of existence: Is our life defined primarily by justice or mercy? Tosefot, in their comments to the passage in Tractate Rosh Hashanah, point out that actually both aspects are accurate representations of our existence: Rabbi Eliezer focuses on the thought of creation which came into existence in Tishri, while Rabbi Yehoshua focuses on the actual Creation which took place in Nisan. It is interesting to note that Jewish law reflects the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua, as is evidenced by a relatively obscure law: Birchat Hachama, a blessing on the sun which may be made every twenty-eight years when the sun is in the exact alignment it was at the moment of creation, is pronounced in Nisan[52].

If creation indeed took place in Nisan, thereby establishing the law in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua, then we may conclude that Redemption will also take place in Nisan, as per Rabbi Yehoshua. This is interesting in and of itself, but does not seem connected with our original question regarding Resurrection. The connection is only brought out by an additional passage:

This matter is disputed by Tannaim: R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed; if not, they will not be redeemed. R. Yahoshua (Joshua) said to him, if they do not repent, will they not be redeemed! But the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a king over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman's, whereby Israel shall engage in repentance, and he will thus bring them back to the right path. Another [Baraitha] taught: R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed, as it is written, Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. R. Yahoshua (Joshua) said to him, But is it not written, ye have sold yourselves for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money? Ye have sold yourselves for naught, for idolatry; and ye shall be redeemed without money — without repentance and good deeds. R. Eliezer retorted to R. Yahoshua (Joshua), But is it not written, Return unto me, and I will return unto you? R. Yahoshua (Joshua) rejoined — But is it not written, For I am master over you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion? R. Eliezer replied, But it is written, in returning and rest shall ye be saved. R. Yahoshua (Joshua) replied, But is it not written, Thus saith the Lord, The Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nations abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, (Talmud - Sanhedrin 98a) Melakim (Kings) shall see and arise, princes also shall worship? R. Eliezer countered, But is it not written, if thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me? R. Yahoshua (Joshua) answered, But it is elsewhere written, And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swore by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times and a half’ and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. At this R. Eliezer remained silent. (Sanhedrin 97b-98a)

Again, Rabbi Eliezer’s view of the world is based on merit, on judgment and justice. Redemption is possible only if the Jews deserve it, if they repent. In its conclusion, the Talmud teaches that according to Rabbi Yehoshua, Redemption is unconditional; his statement that G-d would bring a wicked tyrant to persecute us was Rabbi Yehoshua’s understanding of Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion (The Jerusalem Talmud Ta’anith 1:1, reports that it was Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, and not Rabbi Yehoshua’s, that G-d would bring a wicked tyrant on the Jews if they do not repent on their own). In the end of the passage Rabbi Eliezer is silenced by the arguments of Rabbi Yehoshua. Apparently both agree that Redemption will come sooner or later, but Redemption will inevitably come (the Ramban clearly states that in conclusion Rabbi Eliezer concedes to Rabbi Yehoshua, as is indicated by his "silence". See "Sefer HaGeulah" Kitvei Ramban Volume 1 page 277).

Juxtaposing these two Talmudic teachings allows us to draw conclusions regarding the sages’ debate: In Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua argue as to when Creation took place and when the final Redemption will come. If these two arguments are connected, the passage in Tractate Sanhedrin is highly instructive. The argument regarding Redemption, ends with the acquiescence of Rabbi Eliezer, which is consistent with our understanding of the passage in Rosh Hashanah, where the law is also established in accordance with the view of Rabbi Yehoshua. Tosafot’s teaching, which reconciles the two positions by identifying each with a "different" Creation, may be applied to both passages equally: There is no fundamental argument, rather, one passage refers to the idea of Creation while the other refers to the actual Creation.

In other words, do we consider the beginning of the process, or are we concerned with the end result? Rabbi Eliezer focused on the beginning of the process of Creation; therefore he speaks of Tishri, which is the time of Creation in thought, long before anything existed in reality. Similarly, Rabbi Eliezer, when considering Redemption, spoke of the upheaval which will lead to spiritual renaissance. This is the beginning of the process of Redemption. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehoshua focused on the end of the process, the actual Creation. The tradition referred to by Rav Hai Gaon, that resurrection will take place in Nisan, refers to the end of the process of redemption, resurrection.

Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion finds its own expression in the Talmud: The Talmud only uses the phrase "Atchalta d’Geula -"Beginning of the redemption" in one place-

"War is also considered the beginning of the redemption" (Megillah 17b)

Rabbi Eliezer, who looked at the beginning of the process of Creation, considered the beginning of the redemptive process as well: The Haftarah for Chol HaMoed Succoth describes the apocalyptic battle between Gog and Magog ("Armageddon" in English), the beginning of the process of redemption. This epic battle, which Israel is destined to be swept into if they do not repent in due course, is to take place in Tishri, the month in which Succoth is celebrated. Here, then, is the link with the Haftarah which we sought. It is the link between Tishri and the Atchalta d’Geula which Rabbi Eliezer illuminated.

The association of resurrection with Nisan has a number of expressions and implications. One of the teachings which both Rabbis agreed on was the birth of Yitzchak on Pesach. Yitzchak is the first biblical figure who is linked with resurrection. One Midrash describes the connection in the following terms: When Yitzchak was tied down to the altar at the Akeida,

The angels began to cry and their tears fell on the blade, the knife rose up to the neck of Yitzchak, for he (Avraham) could not control it. His (Yitzchak’s) soul departed him. G-d called Michael (the angel) and said "Why are you standing there? Do not allow him to slaughter him" Immediately Michael called out "Avraham, Avraham" …he let go (of the knife) and his soul returned, he (Yitzchak) stood on his feet and pronounced the blessing "Blessed is he who restores life to the dead" (Baruch michayei maytim) (Otzar Midrashim page 146)

According to this Midrash, the first one to utter the blessing on restoration of life was Yitzchak, when his own life was restored. This idea is also consistent with a second teaching. We are taught that the first three blessings of the Amidah are called "Avot". While the other elements of the Amidah vary depending on the day, these three blessings are constants. The first of these blessings, which speaks of G-d’s chesed, is "Magen Avraham", associated with Avraham and the spiritual realm so inseparably associated with him. The second blessing is "Michayei HaMaytim," and is similarly related to Yitzchak. The second blessing starts with "Ata gibor," gevurah being the spiritual attribute associated with Yitzchak and the one which is preserved and expressed three times a day by Jews for millennia. The second blessing of the Amidah is instructive in other ways:

"You are eternally mighty my Lord, the resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save …"

In the winter the phrase which follows is:

"He makes the wind blow and the rain descend, He sustains the living with kindness"

In Israel, in the summer months the subsequent phrase reads :

"Bring down the dew! He sustains the living with kindness"

The difference between these two phrases seems obvious, the distinction being in the object of our prayer, either rain or dew. There is, however, a more subtle difference. The prayer said in the winter is "He makes the wind blow and the rain (geshem) descend, He sustains the living with kindness". There are some who have a custom of saying Gashem (kamatz, instead of segol). The significance of the punctuation goes way beyond the grammatical: "Geshem" is the form of the word which would appear in the middle of a sentence, whereas "Gashem" indicates the end of the sentence. The alternative readings would indicate whether the second half of the blessing modifies the first, or stands alone. Geshem , rather than Gashem, would indicate that the kindness which is bestowed is the rain itself. The phrase used in the summer is "Moreed hatal," the word tal (dew) punctuated with a kamatz. "Dew" is the end of the sentence, as opposed to a later appearance in the weekday Amidah where the word tal, with a patach, is used in the middle of the sentence.

If the term "Bring down the dew!" is the end of the sentence, then it must modify what immediately preceded it; "You are eternally mighty my Lord, the resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save: Bring down the dew!" Dew is directly connected with resurrection. But what is the nature of this connection? In numerous places in Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar, we see that dew is the catalyst which brings about the Resurrection!

"Dew - tal will be used in the future by the Holy One Blessed be He to bring about Resurrection" (Chagigah 12b)

"After each of the ten Commandments (the people died when G-d spoke) so (G-d) brought dew on them which will be used in the future to resurrect man, and they came back to life" (Shabbat 88b)

"How do we know that Resurrection will only take place via dew?…(Yerushalami Brachot 5:2)

"The dead (bones) which Yechezkel brought back to life-- dew from heaven descended upon them." (Pirkei d Rebbi Eliezer chapter33)

"Dew is a symbol of resurrection" (Tanchuma Toldot section 19)

By means of that dew all will rise from the dust, as it says, "for thy dew is as the dew of lights" (Is. XXVI, 19), these being the supernal lights through which the Almighty will in future pour forth life upon the world. (Zohar, Bereshit, 130b)

Said R. Hiya: ‘And what is more, from the words, "Thy dead ones will live" (Isa. XXVI, 19), it is evident that not only will there be a new creation, but that the very bodies which were dead will rise, for one bone in the body remains intact, not decaying in the earth, and on the Resurrection Day the Holy One will soften it and make it like leaven in dough, and it will rise and expand on all sides, and the whole body and all its members will be formed from it, and then the Holy One will put spirit into it.’ Said R. Eleazar: ‘Assuredly so. And the bone will be softened by the dew, as it says: "Thy dead ones shall live... for thy dew is the dew of plants" (Ibid.).’ (Zohar, Shemot, 28b)

We would expect that the second blessing of the Amidah, the one connected with Yitzchak, the blessing which concludes "Blessed is G-d who brings the dead to life", would naturally make reference to the final Resurrection. If so, when we say "Bring the dew!" our intention should be "Bring the resurrection!"

The prayer for rain is said only in the winter. On Pesach, we begin to ask for tal. At the time of our redemption from Egypt, the time of the birth of Yitzchak, we say this blessing with anticipation of the complete Redemption, the end of the Redemption: Resurrection. This is the full circle of the second blessing of the Amidah and the link between the month of Nissan, the birth of Yitzchak, the Shemot (Exodus) and the result of the Redemption which Rabbi Yehoshua sought to draw in the passage in Tractate Rosh HaShanah.

We started out by noting that different days have different personalities. We are taught that we place an egg on the Seder plate in mourning for the Temple’s destruction. (Mishna Brura 473:23) The Rama states that the reason for eating eggs at the Seder is that the first day of Pesach always falls on the same day of the week as the Ninth of Av (476:2, see Michaber 428:3). This teaching is not merely informing us about a quirk in the calendar; it describes an intrinsic relationship which may seem strange at first glance. How is the day of redemption related to the day of destruction? Both days possess the same charisma or personality. In one, the potential was realized, hence we have Pesach. In the other, the potential was not realized, hence the Ninth of Av. In a similar vein, we are taught that on the day the Temple was destroyed the Messiah will be born (Aggadot Bereshit, Buber edition section 68, see the disputation of the Ramban). In other words, the day of the destruction is also the day of hope for future redemption. For this reason the Prophet Zechariah said:

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 fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the house of Judah; ... (Zechariah 8:19)

The fast of the 5th month is what we refer to as the Ninth of Av, Av being the 5th month. This day will become a time of celebration with the coming of the Messiah. Rav Tzadok haKohen of Lublin made a very brief but important comment on this idea, explaining that when the Messiah comes the Ninth of Av will indeed become a holiday like Pesach and Succoth-- a seven-day festival ending on the Fifteenth of Av (Pri Zaddik, Devarim 20b).

This idea needs to be explained. We are taught in the Mishna that the happiest times of the year were the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur:

R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: there never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of Av and the day of atonement. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem used to walk out in white garments which they borrowed in order not to put to shame any one who had none... The daughters of Jerusalem came out and danced in the vineyards exclaiming at the same time, young man, lift up thine eyes and see what thou choosest for thyself. Do not set thine eyes on beauty but set thine eyes on [good] family. Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the lord, she shall be praised. (Mishna Ta’anith 4:8).

Yom Kippur is a solemn day; why was it considered joyful? On this day, during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, the people saw the Kohen Gadol exit the Holy of Holies safely. They witnessed an absolute indication of their total exoneration before G-d. Their joy was therefore understandable. But what is the significance of the Fifteenth of Av? Tosafot in Ta’anith 30b cites a bizarre Midrash:

R. Levi said: On every eve of the ninth of Av Moses used to send a herald throughout the camp and announce, ‘Go out to dig graves’; and they used to go out and dig graves in which they slept. On the morrow he sent out a herald to announce, ‘Arise and separate the dead from the living.’ They would then stand up and find themselves in round figures 15,000 short of 600,000. In the last of the forty years, they acted similarly and found themselves in undiminished numerical strength. They said, ‘It appears that we erred in our calculation’; so they acted similarly on the nights of the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th. When the moon was full they said, ‘It seems that the Holy One, blessed be He, has annulled that decree from us all’; so they proceeded to make [the fifteenth] a holiday. (Midrash Rabbah - Eichah (Lamentations) Prologue XXXIII)

In the desert, as a result of the sin of the spies which took place on the 9th of Av, the entire generation was to die. Each year for the next forty years the people would dig graves and lie in them on the Ninth of Av. In the morning the town crier would say "The living are to separate (get up)", leaving the dead behind. In the 40th year no one died. The people assumed that they had erred in the counting, and the following day must be the Ninth, so they entered the graves again. The following morning again no one had died. They repeated this procedure until the 15th of the month, at which point, seeing the full moon, they realized that the decree was over.

My understanding of the Midrash, and the teaching of Rav Tzadok, is as follows: The Ninth of Av has the same potential as Pesach. Instead of realizing its potential it became a symbol of destruction and failure of the Jewish people. The Ninth of Av will one day become a holiday commemorating the coming of the Messiah who is born on that day. The last day of this holiday will be the Fifteenth of Av, the day when the Jews arise from the grave, confident of life, realizing that the decree of death is over, forever.

If the first day of Pesach is parallel to Tisha B’Av, perhaps the Fifteenth of Av may be paralleled with the Seventh Day of Pesach. On the Seventh Day of Pesach, the Jews stood between the Sea and an army of Egyptians. They thought there was no hope; they thought they were dead. But G-d performed a miracle and turned the water into dry land, thereby saving them from certain death. On the Fifteenth of Av, the Jews left their graves, and witnessed G-d’s mercy.

When the Jews left Egypt they had three goals: 1. To leave Egypt, 2. To receive the Torah 3. To build the Temple. In the Ramban’s Introduction to the Book of Shemot he explains that Shemot is the book of redemption, but the book can not end after leaving Egypt nor after the receiving of the Torah. The book does not end until the Mishkan-Temple is built. Pesach marks the celebration of leaving Egypt, but it can not be seen in a vacuum. On Pesach we immediately begin counting the days until the Torah is given at Sinai. But receiving the Torah is not an end in and of itself. Receiving the Torah means living the Torah, following its statutes, taking the ideals described in the Torah and turning them into a wonderful reality. The reality of living the Torah necessarily leads to the Messianic Age, and culminates in the end of this Age - Resurrection. For this reason, on the Shabbat of Chol Hamoed we read the description of how dry bones shall live, for the bones coming to life are the culmination of the Redemption begun on Pesach.

"You are eternally mighty my Lord, the resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save: Bring down the dew!"

© Copyright Rabbi Ari Kahn