Shabbat Parshat Eikev - 5759
Chodesh Av and Menachem Av -
"Chodesh Av," the Month of Av, is referred to in the Bible as the "Fifth Month," counting from Nisan, the "First Month." There is a Biblical reference in BaMidbar (33:38), where we find "And Aharon the Priest went up to Hor HaHar at the command of G-d, and he died there in the fortieth year after the Jewish People had left Egypt, in the fifth month, on the first of the month." This tragedy, the death of Aharon, was perhaps a signal that this month would be a month of tragedy throughout most of Jewish History.
The name "Av" itself, like all the other names of months in the Hebrew Calendar, "came up" with the Jewish People on their return to the Land of Israel from their Exile in Babylonia. The name of "Menachem Av" is also used. A possible explanation of that name is as follows: "Menachem" in Hebrew means the Comforter; "Av" means "Father." In the name "Menachem Av," "The One Who comforts, the Av," could refer to Hashem, Who is called the Father, and Who is the only One Who has the ability to comfort the Jewish People for all the tragedies that we have suffered in this month.
Some use the name "Av" through the Ninth of Av; afterwards, when comfort is appropriate, the name "Menachem Av" is used.
Another meaningful interpretation of the name "Menachem Av" is that the word "Av" is spelled "Alef, Bet." The Prophet Yirmiyahu, an eye-witness to the destruction of the Temple, Yerushalayim and its population, describes those events in Megillat Eichah, in tears. He builds the structure of the Megillah on the "Alef-Bet," meaning not only that it is written in Hebrew, but also that the structure of the chapters themselves is built on the "Alef-Bet."
This is so in the sense that in the first two of the five chapters as well as the last two, the first verse begins with an "Alef," the second with "Bet," the third with "Gimel," and so on. And the middle chapter is built on the structure of a triple "Alef-Bet;" that is, "Alef, Alef, Alef," "Bet, Bet, Bet," "Gimel, Gimel, Gimel," and so on. It is as if the Holy Language of the Holy People comes to comfort them on the loss of their Holy Temple and the Holy City of Yerushalayim.
Yet another meaningful interpretation of the name "Menachem Av" is that it is a valid description of Jewish History that at the darkest times, when there seems to be no hope for the future, a ray of light is found. And more often than not, the way out of despair is found by Jewish women, and involves the secret of Jewish marriage, whereby the One Who designed the human soul made it such that each "neshamah," has a companion, which it requires for its completion and happiness.
That is why we bless every "Chata" and "Kallah," bridegroom and bride, that they find the same happiness as did the Original Couple, Adam and Chavah, in "Gan Eden." And that is why Miriams advice to her father, Amram, in the bleakest time of bondage and degradation in Egypt, when the Egyptians were tossing Jewish baby boys into the Nile, to re-marry Yocheved, the mother of Moshe, was so crucial.
And that is also why the last Mishnah in Taanit says, "There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom HaKippurim, for on those days, the daughters of Yerushalayim would go out in borrowed white clothing, and dance in the vineyards located in the outskirts of the city. And everyone who didnt have a wife would go there."
"And what would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and choose wisely. Dont look only at physical beauty - look rather at the family - For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A G-d - fearing woman is the one to be praised. (Mishlei 31:30)"
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU