The Tisha B’Av That Wasn’t There

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It’s about time.

Megillas Esther is all about time. It’s all over the entire sefer, the whole book is chock-full of times. Everywhere you look in the Megillah, there is another referent to time.

No question about it, time is of importance in the Megillah.


Now, it is time… to play a little game. This is a game of creativity, feel free to use your imagination to fill in ‘the gaps’ with logical conclusions, but extra points are awarded if you can cite some written reference that substantiates your submission with even the barest of hints.

Let’s pretend that you are Achashverosh.

You have conceived your grand and brazen plan to throw a huge public celebration regarding the failure of the implications of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy that God would return the Jewish people to the Land of Israel after 70 years of exile. Yirmiyahu had correctly predicted that the Babylonian supremacy would endure exactly 70 years before God exacted retribution upon that nation[4], but it was not exactly a fait accompli that the second 70-year prophecy—the return to Tzion— would come to fruition. [Also notice, as I am quite sure Achashverosh did, that Yirmiyahu does not exactly foretell the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, he simply prophesies that HaShem will bring His children back to the Land of Israel after 70 years—IF they behave and seek Him out[5], but stops short of explicitly stating the widely perceived understanding that the Beis Hamikdash would indeed be rebuilt at the end of that 70 year interval. Remember as well that Haman is not the only rasha in the Purim story; we know very well that Achashverosh was a more than willing accomplice to Haman’s perfidy[6] regardless of the fact that Mordechai must be very PC as he is penning the Megillah from the king’s palace.]

So you are Achashverosh. Time… to send out the invitations to your sumptuous ball, the ball that celebrates the failure of the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, as implied in Yirmiyahu’s prophecy. Let’s see… How will the invitation read?

Well, Roshey, what’s your real goal?

Your real goal is to stick it to the God of the Jews, and to the Jews themselves— how they have all failed failed failed, and how you have won won won, isn’t it[7]? So every detail in the execution of your grand ball must be squarely aimed at reinforcing that precise focus over and over again.

So let’s see, Where is this gala event to be celebrated? That’s a pretty easy one. Surely on your home turf, your magnificent capital city, Shushan ‘Habira’– ‘The Palace’ (1:5)[8]. No coincidence that the only other edifice in all of Tanach graced with that descriptor is—the Beis Hamikdash itself[9]. After all, Glory has passed eternally from Yerushalayim and now adorns your precincts, doesn’t it Roshey? In fact it is to take place in your personal Royal Palace Gardens (not coincidentally the exact same place where you will go to compose your thoughts nine years later just before you will catch Haman ‘in bed’ with your queen [7:7-8]). [Choose your dagger carefully, make sure the point is razor-sharp, but don’t make the cutting edge of the blade itself too sharp. It’s not supposed to be a painless surgery, is it?]

Next, Roshey, what should the dinnerware look like? Well that’s obvious isn’t it, the words fairly jump off the parchment of the Megillah: V’cheilim mikeilim shonim, chanted in the haunting melody of Eichah; golden vessels, the K’lei hakodesh, sacked from the Beis Hamikdash 70 years earlier[10][Approach your victim, grasping the hilt of your 10 inch bodkin hidden within the folds of your tunic]

Okay Roshey, now for the banquet hall. What kind of decorations?

Well again, the Megillah practically shouts it-“white fine cotton, and turquoise wool, held with cords of fine linen and purple wool (ie the materials of the Mishkan, cf. Sh’mos 36), upon silver rods and marble pillars (amudei SHEISH, cf. the Beis Hamikdash’s pillars of Yachin and Boaz, ‘Ha’amudim ma’aseh SHUSHAN’ [Melachim I, 7:19—How interesting that Achashverosh’s and Shlomo’s edifices seem to reference each other!]… On a pavement [“Ritzphas[11]”!] of variegated marble” (1:6).

In other words, everything decked out like the Azarah of the Beis Hamikdash itself!

[Unsheath your blade, and place its point gently below the fifth rib of your victim, slightly to the left. Smile, always smile, don’t forget to smile]

And the ball’s theme? -Needs to be in keeping with the decorations, doesn’t it. Aha, a costume ball, of course! What a grand idea! The guests can come however they like, as long as they are in a disguise which reflects the Churban‘s theme: no doubt many will choose to be olei regel, pilgrims ascending to the Temple Mount for holiday; others will dress as historical figures– Nevuchadnetzar, Nevuzaradan (well, he eventually converted to Judaism  but not before he did manage to slaughter nearly one million Jews[12] ), Zechariah ben Yehoyada Hakohen, King Tzidkiyahu, Sancheiriv, and I’m sure costumes of Yirmiyahu Hanavi will practically fly off the shelves!

The orchestra? Hmmm, how about 71 master musicians, dressed as levi’im, for your guests’ listening pleasure! But there’s only one Kohen Gadol, and that would beeeeeeeeee— YOU, wouldn’t it Roshey[13]? (“Hmm, we’ll have to get the Royal Tailor to let the waist of the michnasayim out a tad, but the rest of the outfit is loose enough fitting…”)

[Slip the point of your knife ever so slowly under that fifth rib, vibrating just enough so that your victim feels the bite of the slightly dulled blade]

And now for the menu. Our sources don’t exactly tell us, but they do drop a few hints. Allow me to present the following scenario: A waiter, dressed in the bigdei lavan of a kohen hedyot approaches the likeness of Yechezkhel, a patron. “For the appetizer, sir, might I suggest fine Solless flour dumplings baked or fried in any of 5 delicious recipes, all with delectable spices? For the entrée, your choice of lamb, goat, ram or bull, roasted to perfection; or turtledove or pigeon if you prefer lighter fare. We have a wide selection of 70+-year-old wines, (I’m afraid I’ll need some ID sir—not because I suspect that you are ‘under age’, but simply because I am enjoined to ensure that the wine exceeds your honorable self in years [14]direct from the winecellars of the Beis Hamikdash, may I-umm-pour for you[15]? And for dessert, field–ripened bikurim, first-fruits from the Judean hills, freshly picked and trucked in by Achashteran-mule[16] just this morning! What’s that, sir?” intones the kohen-waiter unctuously as he silently bemoans the sudden loss of his gratuity, “Oh, no, I’m so sorry sir, there is no fish platter whatsoever at this banquet!” [Good, Roshey, good! Advance the blade with aaaagoniiiizing slowness directly toward your victim’s heart, and don’t lose your smile, while pink-tinged froth bubbles across his lips]

So that’s a wrap. All we need is the guest list, and the invitations are off! Right, Roshey?

Wait a sec, Roshey, not so fast. You forgot something—something verrrrrry important, indeed. What’s missing from your invitation?

The time, Roshey, the time! What DATE are you inviting your guests for, to start off your slamdunk grand finale, celebrating the non-rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash?

Aww shucks, Roshey, for a thinkin’ man like you that’s the easiest part of all! There’s only one date that will do, better than ANY other day on the Jewish calendar, better than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, any of the pilgrimage holidays, or the minor fasts.

The celebration is to start promptly at sundown—on the night of Tisha b’Av, of course, The ninth of Av, anniversary of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The night decreed as a night of weeping for generations after the generation-of-the-desert indulged in a night of needless self-pity, rejecting a life of intimacy with the Almighty within the Land of Israel. [Oooooo, REEEALLY GOOD ONE, Roshey! SLAM the knife with all your strength right though your victim’s left ventricle, twisting the blade all the while. Back and forth, back and forth. Keep your eyes glued to his face so you don’t miss one moment of his shock, horror, and pain! Let your smile morph slyly into an all-out guffaw…]

How curious! All those dates in the Megillah, some seemingly irrelevant—and yet no mention at all of a date for the party that starts off the whole story–neither in the Megillah, nor in the Midrash or Gemarah. Why would Chaza’l actively suppress such a crucial and central detail?

But they do, don’t they?

SO we don’t know, not for sure. But it’s a hypothesis, and a darn good one. Let’s see if we can develop some independent corroboration for it by relating it to surrounding dates or to statements from the Talmud.


Let’s start by trying to pinpoint the relationship of the first day of Achashverosh’s grand finale weeklong celebration to the only other two fixed times that are established in the Megillah. As we pointed out in our opening paragraph:

While it is true that in the time of the Megillah the Jewish months were set by proclamation of the Sanhedrin on the basis of eyewitness testimony of the new Moon, nevertheless their calendar would have closely paralleled our current “fixed” calendar sanctified by Hillel II in the fourth century CE. Therefore, for the purposes of this discussion we will use the current version of the Jewish calendar.

In none of the time referents included within the Megillah is there any mention whether events take place within a leap year–i.e. a year that contains an interpolated 13th month, Adar II. On the assumption that they do not, then it is a reasonable assumption that the preceding year may have indeed been a leap year. If so, then 180 days before that year’s Tisha b’Av falls out on the sixth day of the previous year’s Adar I. Further, if Tisha b’Av fell on Saturday[17] (as it in fact does in roughly one third of the years), then the actual fast would have been “nidcheh”, i.e. “pushed off” by one day until Sunday, the 10th of Av, secondary to the prohibition against fasting on Shabbos; that would make 180 days prior fall out precisely on the seventh day of Adar I. Again, as noted above, their calendar may not have corresponded precisely to our current calendar, but no matter how you slice it, 180 days prior would have come out very close to the seventh day of Adar.

Well! We know from the Gemarah[18] that the seventh of Adar was a very important date in the evolution of the Purim story:

“…there was cast a pur, that is the lottery…” (3:7). We learned in a braisah: when the pur fell in the month of Adar, [Haman] rejoiced with a great rejoicing, saying ‘the pur fell for me in the month that Moshe died!’ –but he did not know that on the seventh of Adar [Moshe] died AND on the seventh of Adar [Moshe] was born…”[implying that it was not simply a good omen or matter of “luck” that the lot fell when it did, but that HaShem was in charge, consciously directing events!]

Well well well—perhaps Haman was not so smart after all! Perhaps he was simply parroting the same calculation that his royal mentor and role model had made 10 years earlier. Food for thought, but if it is not true then that 180 day interval from Adar 7 to Tisha b’Av seems like a rather striking coincidence, not unlike all of the other “coincidences” that fill the entire Purim story.


On the other side of the start of Achashverosh’s grand finale, we have its dramatic finish, one week later. If the first day of the final celebration was indeed the ninth of Av, then the last day of the celebration falls out on none other than—Tu b’Av, the 15th day of Av.

Tu b’Av is widely understood as a sort of Jewish Valentine’s Day or Sadie Hawkins Day, on the basis of the Mishnah in Ta’anis 26b:

Said Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel: there were not days of Yom Tov in Israel comparable to the 15th of Av and the Day Of Atonement, on which days the daughters of Israel would go out dressed in borrowed white garments (so that those who did not have their own would not be embarrassed), all of which needed ritual purification [to purify them in case they had been worn by a niddah rendering them tamei], and the daughters of Israel would go out and dance in circles in the vineyards. And what would they say? “Young man, set your eyes and see that which you would choose for yourself; don’t place your eyes on physical beauty, rather focus on family issues. ‘False is Grace and vanity is Beauty, rather a woman who fears HaShem—she is praiseworthy’ [(Mishlei 31:30)—this and the next posuk are the last 2 verses of the familiar ‘Eishes Chayil’ sung at Friday night dinnertables worldwide]. And say ‘Regarding the fruits of her hands should you set [your eyes] upon her, and her deeds will praise her within the city gates [i.e. the place of the Beis Din, where matters of marital status were legally confirmed[19]]’ (Mishlei 31:31)”. And in like fashion, he [the young man] would say ‘Go forth and gaze, O daughters of Tzion, upon King Shlomo wearing the crown with which his mother crowned him, on the day of his wedding and on the day of the rejoicing of his heart’ (Shir HaShirim 3:11).”

[Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel understands this posuk as an allusion kavyochol to God:] ‘On the day of His wedding’—this is the giving of the Torah, ‘And on the day of the rejoicing of His heart’—this is the building of the Beis Hamikdash, speedily in our days…

At first blush, that understanding of Tu b’Av certainly seems to apply here too, on multiple levels. By digging her own grave on that day, Vashti opened the playing field for Achashverosh to wed his new wife, Esther, four years later. So in a way, that day was indeed Achashverosh’s “Valentine’s Day”. In addition, don’t forget that Chaza’l point out that there was a re-acceptance of the Torah in the aftermath of the Purim events that was on par with the original acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai[20]. And Esther’s ascendancy certainly did lead to the building of the Beis Hamikdash, authorized by her son, Daryaveish. Those points connect quite nicely with Rabban Shimon’s comments at the end of the Mishnah!

But it actually goes much deeper than that, because Tu b’Av is actually much more than simply a Jewish Valentine’s Day. Let’s try to understand the essence of the day.

The Gemarah [21] fleshes out our understanding of the Mishnah, by revealing other events that took place on that same day. That was the day on which:

What all of these events share in common, and hence what the essence of the day represents, is not so clear from the above Gemarah. In order to fully appreciate that, we need one more piece of information regarding the very first Tu b’Av that is brought down not in the Gemarah, but in Midrash Eichah Rabbah. Says the Midrash, the Slain of Beitar, [and Vashti’s] were not the only graves that were addressed that day:

Said Rabbi Levi: On the day preceding every Tisha b’Av Moshe would bring forth the proclamation throughout the camp “Go forth to dig!” and [the entire camp] would go out and dig graves and sleep in them. In the morning Moshe would bring forth the proclamation “Arise, and separate the dead from the living!”, and they would discover approximately 15,000 missing, [deceased] of the [initial] 600,000. And on the 40th year [of their sojourn in the desert] the last of them did so, and they found themselves complete [without any deceased]. They said “We must have erred in the calculations [of the date]!”, and similarly did they do on the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, and the 14th [of the month]. When [they saw] the full moon [and finally were certain that Tisha b’Av had come and gone without any deaths], they said “It is as if The Holy One Blessed Be He has nullified that decree from upon us” and they returned and made that day a Yom Tov[24]

Therefore, the generation-of-the-desert understood on Tu b’Av that the decree against them had been lifted “early”. The original decree upon the return of the spies was for 40 full years, dating from the sin of B’nei Yisrael’s weeping in response to the spies’ report. “According to the number of the days which you surveyed the land, 40 days, a day per year, a day per year, shall you bear your iniquity, 40 years, shall you know your straying from Me[25]“. However, HaShem in His mercy chose to “back-date” the decree to the time when they first entered the desert after leaving Egypt, thus lopping off almost a year and a half from the punishment.

 Now we can see the whole pattern! Tu b’Av is a day when we appreciate that we have [re-]established connection to, and closeness with the Shechinah—for that is exactly what occurred on this day to:

And finally, it applies equally well to the last day of Achashverosh’s gala celebration—at least to the extent that if one were paying attention and could anticipate future events. The Gemarah[29] entertains the premise that all of B’nei Yisrael were decreed for destruction at the time of their participation in Achashverosh’s celebration:

The students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him “For what reason were the enemies of Israel [i.e. a euphemism for the Jewish people] of that generation guilty of total annihilation?” He told them “You say [the answer to me].” They said to him “Because they received benefit from the feast of that evil one [Achashverosh].”

Thus, according to this understanding in the Gemarah, the heavenly court sat in judgment on that entire generation at the very moment that their representatives in Shushan sat down to party in Achashverosh’s Royal Palace Gardens. And by the end of that celebration on Tu b’Av, it had become clear that the heavenly verdict had been rendered: in effect, “I will make them sweat, but because of their repentance, I will not exterminate them.” As far as HaShem was concerned, it was all over but the shouting, and the rest is simply history. Vashti would be killed, Achashverosh would wed Esther, and the seeds of redemption had already taken root. God weighed whether His stance in the coming years would be one of distance or closeness—and had voted resoundingly for closeness. All at the very beginning of the story, nine years before events came to a head.

It is this day on which we perceive that any Divine Decree distancing us from the Almighty has finally been lifted. A good day for us to approach God with our spiritual shopping lists in hand, full of pleas to bring us closer to Him…


Shopping lists. Spiritual shopping lists.

The davening is chock-full—of ‘shopping lists’. You know what I mean. Phrases in the davening that have multiple repetitive elements. All too commonly our response to such sections is either one of annoyance [Ya’aleh, v’yavo, v’ yagi’a, v’yeira’eh—yeah yeah yeah, why don’t they just get to the point, then this whole exercise would be a lot more efficient!] or simply boredom and inattention […v’yeiratzeh v’yishama—‘be heard’? That reminds me, I have an important presentation at work today…Hmmm, How should I start it off so that I’ll grab their interest….and off you go to the office until you suddenly become cognizant of your lips mouthing …Ha’mevareich es amo Yisrael bashalom.]

But that’s an unfortunate mistake. Chaza’l don’t just draw out the davening to torture you in shul a few moments longer. Rather, every word is carefully crafted to perform a purpose, and there is always a method to their shopping list madness. Sometimes with a bit of focused attention you can catch a glimmer of that purpose, and when you do, your davening takes on a whole ‘nother dimension. The first step is to notice when you stumble upon a repetitive pattern, and then simply count the components of the ‘list’. Often it’s a number you will instantly recognize; perhaps a seven or an eight (especially on Shabbos), or maybe a seven and then kinda sorta an eighth, too (what might that mean?? Va’akmal). Or a three, or five, or ten, or thirteen. Or perhaps a less obvious number, but that gets you thinking along the right lines as to what it is you are really saying…

Let’s illustrate with an example. In the central brachah of the Rosh Chodesh Mussaf Sh’moneh Esrei, we have a shopping list, asking Hashem to renew each New Moon for blessing:

אֱ-לֹ-ֵינוּ וֵא-לֹ-ֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ. חַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ אֶת הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לְטוֹבָה וְלִבְרָכָה. לְשָּׁשֹּׁוֹן וּלְשִּׁמְחָה. לִישׁוּעָה וּלְנֶחָמָה. לְפַרְנָסָה וּלְכַלְכָּלָה. לְחַיִּים וּלְשָׁלוֹם. לִמְחִילַת חֵטְא וְלִסְלִיחַת עָוֹן. (בשנת העיבור עד חודש ניסן וּלְכַפָּרַת פָּשַׁע). כִּי בְעַמְּךָ יִשְּׁרָאֵל בָּחַרְתָּ מִכָּל הָאֻמּוֹת. וְחֻקֵּי רָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים לָהֶם קָבָעְתָּ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה    יְ-ֹוָה. מְקַדֵּשׁ יִשְּׁרָאֵל וְרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים:

What’s all that hoopla about anyway, buried in this brachah sanctifying the renewing of each month of the year?



How many elements?

Twelve. Twelve blessings. Count ‘em, twelve. Except in a leap year. Then it’s thirteen.

Oh. Sudden dawning. Flash of insight. Earth moving. Paradigm shift. Light bulbs. Epiphany. Oh. Why didn’t I ever see that before?

Of course! HaShem presents us with a year full of changing seasons, each t’kufah with its own unique hashpa’ah, each month showcasing its own special brachah to take center stage for that month until ushering in the next. Quite literally A Moveable Feast for all of His children. Since the thirteenth blessing is only present during leap years it obviously corresponds to Adar II, making the first one the brachah of Nissan, and so forth.

So, let’s look at some of the individual months. We all know what the brachah for Adar needs to be, right? Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’Simchah[30]! SIMCHAH sounds like the perfect blessing for Adar!

And—Chaza’l’s answer…

Huh???  S’lichas avon??  Kaparas pasha?? That can’t be right, that sounds like Yom Kippur—Chaza’l must’ve gotten it mixed up with Tishrei!

Oh wait—what did we just say up above? That entire generation was ‘suspended in judgment’ at the time of Achashverosh’s feast and could easily have been earmarked for total destruction on the Thirteenth day of Adar. [What would’ve happened if Haman and Achashverosh would’ve won???] ‘Forgiveness of iniquity’ is exactly what we needed for Adar—and it was that precious blessing which we were indeed granted for that month!!

Yom Kippur — Yom Ki- Purim?

That connection didn’t start with the Ariza’l. Mordechai and the rest of the Men of the Great Assembly who coined the t’fillos— and the name for the holiday of PURIM— they got there some 2000 years earlier!

How about Tammuz and Av, the months of our greatest National tragedies, the months that bracket the sad Bein Hamitzarim period? They must have some pretty bittersweet, muted brachos. Let’s see: Tammuz is the fourth month counting from Nissan making its brachah— Simchah.

Excuse me?? SIMCHAH? !

Chaza’l really goofed that one up!

But a little contemplation brings clarity. Minor epiphany.

There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ month. They’re all good months, filled to the brim, no, overflowing with HaShem’s shefa—straining to burst forth and shower us with brachah every single day of every single month throughout the entire year—our Moveable Feast, remember?

But WE have to be willing to accept those brachos, yearn for them, EARN them. If we don’t, if we reject them, then we don’t get them, the brachos simply pass us by. Our isarusa d’l’tata must be fully receptive to half-way meet HaShem’s ever present isarusa d’l’eila. The ABSENCE of simchah, shared communal and universalistic joy, is—shared communal sadnessaveilus[31]. Aveilus is not a ‘punishment’—it simply is the lack of the brachah that should be there, which HaShem built into the very essence of Tammuz.

And Av?—Yeshu’ah. Of course. By now it’s second nature and not even a surprise. For what is Yeshu’ah but being ne’eneh miziv HaShechinah—nourished by the Presence of God himself? — i.e. it is d’veikus, connection and unity with the Almighty[32]. And Yeshu’ah’s absence? Galus, separation from God. The removal of His abode from our midst.


NOT a punishment! But how bitter. How terribly tragic.

A brief anthropomorphism: every year in late summer, HaShem takes His two most precious Blessings—Simchah and Yeshu’ah—and proudly offers them to Israel His firstborn son[33], with the broadest of smiles, warm as the Sun; gifts for the taking. And year after year, for such a long, long time, He’s received the same reply: “Thanks, Dad, but no thanks… I’m good—just the way I am. Really.”

The broad smile freezes into an icy masque, hiding the hurt and rejection beneath the sparkling façade. God turns aside, his shoulders kavyochol sagging ever so slightly as if they were suddenly burdened with the weight of the entire universe— the universe He Himself had built. Slowly… painfully…, He takes His two precious Blessings, lovingly crafted with great effort and exquisite detail, and places them tenderly back upon the shelf, unused and unappreciated.  A single tear escapes the corner of His right eye, pauses briefly on His cheek before plunging, almost in slow motion, to the shelf below, where it craters the thick dust (the shelf is very dusty after 2000 years). There it joins uncountable myriads of similar pockmarks left from previous years, the whole telling a tale as lonely and barren as the face of the moon[34].

Eichah yosheiv badad.

At the end of a full year’s time, He dusts off those two wonderful Blessings and offers them again in the same spirit of boundless love, a Father who wants nothing but the Best for His son (knowing all the while that the one thing He is utterly powerless to control is His own son’s decision[35]) — in the hope that this time they will meet with a more welcome reception.

That wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. God was supposed to have an intimate and exclusive partner— US! His firstborn nation, His son, Israel, remember?

HaShem BADAD yanchenu v’ein imo eil neichar[36]—“HaShem ALONE will lead them [Israel], and there is not with Him any foreign [idolatrous] power.”

If we but allow HaShem to shower us with the blessings that He pines to give us then no longer will He and Tzion sit separate and alone. Instead they will dwell together in harmony: Vayishkon Yisrael betach BADAD, ein Ya’akov el eretz dagan v’sirosh, af shamav ya’arfu tal[37]—“And Israel ALONE [unique amongst the Nations] will dwell [together with HaShem] in security, the eye of Jacob gazing toward a land of grain and wine, nourished by His [HaShem’s!] heavens dripping with dew [of blessing]”.

Being God must be very lonely and heartbreaking at times, I think. They say it’s lonely at the top. How terribly, terribly lonely it must be at the Very, Very Top…

But so it seems to be, at least for the present.

It is not proper to exit on such a sad note. Chaza’l would never, never allow it. Before we leave the months and their blessings, one last look—at the next month after Av, Elul.

What is Elul’s special brachah?


Certainly we do need consolation in the aftermath of our contemporary Av experience. But, as always, there’s more to it than that. As SR Hirsch points out, nechamah does NOT mean solace or consolation. It can’t possibly. How would you translate the following two p’sukim?

[HaShem witnessing the downward spiritual spiral of Man prior to the Flood, contemplating Man’s destruction]

וַיִּנָּחֶם יְ-וָה כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּב אֶל-לִבּו[38]ֹ:

 [HaShem relenting in His decision to destroy B’nei Yisrael after the golden calf]

וַיִּנָּחֶם יְ-וָֹה עַל-הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לְעַמּו[39]ֹ:

 Rather, the verb nacham means ‘to have a change of heart’. When we accept nechamah after a personal loss, that is exactly what happens. The external reality has not changed; our loss is…still missing. Only our attitude has changed, softened, and now we understand that we can continue our lives in spite of our personal tragedy. Not forgetting about our loss, but carrying it with us, maybe even being strengthened by it.

In the p’sukim above, HaShem, too, kavyochol had a “change of heart” in some fashion, regretting that He had made Man prior to the Mabul, and softening His anger at the eigel hazahav incident, willing to extend opportunity for forgiveness after Moshe’s compelling arguments.

Thus Elul is a month of transition between the months of Av and Tishrei. A month when we can pause, reassess, and perhaps have a change of heart. A month for teshuvah. A month when we can learn from our past mistakes and construct a better future for ourselves, starting anew with Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps HaShem, too, can have a change of heart when He sees our resolve, and create that better future in conjunction with us.


Armed with our new perspective on Av, let’s reexamine the nature of Tu b’Av and Tisha b’Av one last time.

Is Tu b’Av the day when HaShem actually issues His Divine Dispensations for good?

Most assuredly not! For instance, for those dancing maidens it was not really the day when their mates were chosen. According to the Gemarah, that actually occurred years earlier, at the moment of their conception:

Said Rav Yehudah omar Rav : 40 days before the formation of the embryo, a Bas Kol goes out, stating “the daughter of so-and-so is [mated] to so-and-so”[40]

Rather, Tu b’Av was simply the day on which those maidens first became aware of the details of the Divine decree—the decree that had been issued many years earlier.

Similarly this was not the day that The Decree of the generation-of-the-desert was reversed. That must have occurred at some earlier time; rather on Tu b’Av they first appreciated the goodness that HaShem had previously done for them [41].

Tu b’Av, then, is that day on which Man appreciates that he has received a Good Judgment from on High, generally in reversal of a prior Judgment-for-Guilt.

And on which date was that Good Judgment actually issued—both at the end of 38 years in the desert and for the Jews of ancient Persia? Well, there are a number of possibilities. It could have been on Rosh Hashanah. It could have been on Yom Kippur. However, most likely the Decree was issued on Tisha b’Av itself[42]. That embodies a sense of Divine symmetry (remember the Lesson of Moshe’s Birthday?) and that is most in keeping with the sense of the Tisha b’Av/Nacheim addition to our Sh’moneh Esrei—what was destroyed with  fire will be rebuilt with fire:

כִּי אַתָּה יְ-ֹוָה  בָּאֵשׁ הִצַּתָּהּ. וּבָאֵשׁ אַתָּה עָתִיד לִבְנותָהּ. כָּאָמוּר “וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָּהּ נְאֻם יְ-ֹוָה חומַת אֵשׁ סָבִיב וּלְכָבוד אֶהְיֶה בְּתוכָה”  (זכריה ב’:ט’)

What emerges from the synthesis of all these ideas, is that neither is the month of Av a ‘bad’ month, nor is the Day of Tisha b’Av itself a ‘bad’ day, earmarked for punishment. But it is a day when we receive Divine feedback on our choices regarding our collective relationship with God.

Let’s explain. When the spies returned and issued their report, B’nei Yisrael responded with needless weeping, rejecting HaShem’s most gracious offer of the land of K’na’an as a dwelling place for us with the Shechinah in our midst ( a permanent ‘V’shachanti b’socham’[43]!). Hashem’s midah-k’negged-midah response was a future filled with rejection of us, a prophesy of Exile for that day.

However, what would have happened had B’nei Yisrael sided with Yehoshuah and Calev against the other ten spies? Very simply, B’nei Yisrael would have advanced in very short order directly to the Land (thus eliminating most of Sefer Bamidbar from the Chumash!) and we could have lived ‘happily ever after’ in the Promised Land, alongside the Shechinah–i.e. Tisha b’Av would then have been the day that HaShem issued a Good Decree for the Jewish people!

So now we see that on Tisha b’Av the Jewish people’s status vis-à-vis God can undergo re-evaluation and change—either for closeness (as in Shushan and the 40th year in the desert) or for distance (as in the 2nd year in the desert)— based upon our own responses. It is a day when God presents us with a choice, and our isarusa d’l’tata actually sets the tone for HaShem’s isarusa d’l’eila. It is a fitting day for HaShem to issue a New Decree, rescinding the one currently in place—IF we but signal Him that such is our true desire.


To sum up, we have postulated that there is an intimate but hidden connection between Purim and Tisha b’Av and tried to validate that by exploring the implications of connected dates. We’ve also shown how that dovetails with an important insight into the davening in general, and illustrated the principle with an example from within the Rosh Chodesh Mussaf. But did we fabricate the whole thing out of thin air? Nothing but smoke and mirrors?

I don’t think so. We are all very familiar with two famous dicta of Chaza’l, Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’Simchah and Mishenichnas Av m’ma’atim b’Simchah. But what we may forget and may not see— is that the Gemarah speaks them in one breath, inseparable[44]:

Said Rav Yehudah the son of Rav Sh’muel bar Shilas, in the name of Rav: Just as we reduce rejoicing when Av enters, correspondingly so do we amplify rejoicing when Adar enters.

Thus, Rav Yehudah omar Rav indeed brings into focus that Tisha b’Av and Purim are directly connected, flip sides of the same coin, although without precisely defining their relationship!

In the process of our exposition, we have hopefully come to view the ninth, the fifteenth and the entire month of Av in a different light. Moreover, we have postulated that God kavyochol had already decided His response at Achashverosh’s party in Shushan, long before events actually played out. That is why the narrative of that celebration introduces the Megillah. A theme that is entirely in keeping with the ‘Aneinu’ addition to our Sh’moneh Esrei, said on every single fast day:

עֲנֵנוּ, יְ-ֹוָה, עֲנֵנוּ, בְּיוֹם צוֹם תַּעֲנִיתֵנוּ, כִּי בְצָרָה גְדוֹלָה אֲנָחְנוּ. אַל תֵּפֶן אֶל רִשְׁעֵנוּ. וְאַל תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנּוּ. וְאַל תִּתְעַלַּם מִתְּחִנָּתֵנוּ. הֱיֵה נָא קָרוֹב לְשַׁוְעָתֵנוּ. יְהִי נָא חַסְדְּךָ לְנַחֲמֵנוּ. טֶרֶם נִקְרָא אֵלֶיךָ עֲנֵנוּ. כַּדָּבָר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר. “וְהָיָה טֶרֶם יִקְרָאוּ וַאֲנִי אֶעֱנֶה, עוֹד הֵם מְדַבְּרִים וַאֲנִי אֶשְׁמָע:”  (ישעיה ס”ה:כ”ד)

כִּי אַתָּה יְ-ֹוָה הָעוֹנֶה בְּעֵת צָרָה. פּוֹדֶה וּמַצִּיל בְּכָל עֵת צָרָה וְצוּקָה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ-ֹוָה. הָעוֹנֶה בְּעֵת צָרָה:[45]

Too bad Achashverosh never learned to daven Sh’moneh Esrei. It might have saved him a great deal of time and effort.

So, did we enjoy Achashverosh’s feast planned for the Ninth of Av, and dig ourselves in deeper, indicting ourselves for that court case that was simultaneously convening up in Heaven?

Or did we join the party under duress— in fear of Achashverosh’s Royal ‘Invitation’[46]? Maybe looking forward to it just a little, but finding as soon as we sat down that the food and drink were ashes in our mouths?—for after all, it was the night of Tisha b’Av, a night of weeping for generations.

I hope it was the latter. Poetic justice if the only one that Achashverosh outwitted was—himself. A ‘crowning’ irony (if you’ll pardon the pun) for the man who would be king.

Achashverosh, you poor sap. When you made your calculations regarding the timing of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy, you fancied yourself quite the expert on time, didn’t you, Roshey? And then you set out to do battle with God.

Presumptuous fool! You never even had a chance. You were beat before you ever got started. You were beat by HaShem, י— ה— ו— ה .   The One Who is Hayah Hoveh V’Yihiyeh, Lord of the seasons and Grand Master of — time…

It’s about time.

What about us? Now?

Hopefully we now understand that the Ninth of Av is not simply a terrible day, a day of punishment. It is a day when we STOP and remember our past mistakes; a day to chart a new future; a day of CHOICE on which breathtaking CHANGE is possible, rocketing us from darkest depths to soaring heights. A spiritual Saturn V booster, the most powerful projectile ever built. No. More like a supernova; a locus of awesome destruction – but also the brightest star in the entire galaxy, an unmatchable beacon radiating unparalleled power!

It’s about time. Time for a change.

No time – like the present.

Nineteen centuries and 45 years since the destruction of the Second Temple.

Twenty four centuries and 35 years since the Shechinah has dwelt among Mankind in the First Temple.

It’s about time, isn’t it…

And so, dear Reader, I ask you– which Tisha b’Av is the one that “wasn’t there”?

Is it the Tisha b’Av that is missing all referents within the Megillah from nearly two and a half millennia ago?

Or is it the Tisha b’Av of this coming year?

Our decision, isn’t it?

It’s about time.

[1]                tractate Megillah 12b:

            עובדי כוכבים שאוכלין ושותין אין מתחילין אלא בדברי תיפלות וכן בסעודתו של אותו רשע …”ויקצף המלך מאד” אמאי דלקה ביה כולי האי אמר רבא שלחה ליה בר אהורייריה דאבא אבא לקבל אלפא חמרא שתי ולא רוי וההוא גברא אשתטי בחמריה מיד “וחמתו בערה בו”

[2]               see also tractate Megillah 12b:

             “ויאמר המלך לחכמים”– מאן חכמים? רבנן. “יודעי העתים”– שיודעין לעבר שנים ולקבוע חדשים

                Our exposition below potentially lends great significance to this cryptic and seemingly inconsequential statement!

[3]                the 13th, 14th and and 15th of Nissan—extending over the first days of Pesach  (Esther Rabbah 8:6)

[4]                Yirmiyahu 25:11-14

[5]                 Yirmiyahu  29:10

[6]               tractate Megillah 11a:

            ויהי בימי אחשורוש אמר רב ויי והי… “אחשורוש” אמר רב ‘אחיו של ראש’ ובן גילו של ראש אחיו של ראש אחיו של נבוכדנצר הרשע שנקרא ‘ראש’ שנאמר “אנת הוא רישא די דהבא”. בן גילו של ראש הוא הרג הוא ביקש להרוג הוא החריב הוא ביקש להחריב… ורבי יוחנן אמר כל שזוכרו אמר אח לראשו. ורבי חנינא אמר שהכל נעשו רשין בימיו שנאמר “וישם המלך אחשורוש מס  הוא אחשורוש” הוא ברשעו מתחילתו ועד סופו. הוא עשו הוא ברשעו מתחילתו ועד סופו, הוא דתן ואבירם הן ברשען מתחילתן ועד סופן, הוא המלך אחז הוא ברשעו מתחילתו ועד סופו


[7]               tractate Megillah 11b; see Gemarah’s discussion of how Achashverosh attempted to retrace Belshatzar’s calculations of the end of Yirmiyahu’s 70 year prophecy “with corrections”.

[8]               according to SR Hirsch, taken from the verbביר, meaning to distinguish a unique structure, related to the wordsבררto cleanse or make bright, and ברה to rejuvenate or restore health. All of those concepts apply to the purpose of the Beis Hamikdash, par excellence.  (This and other references to Hirsch are abstracted from the Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew compiled by Matityahu Clark; Feldheim Publishers, 1999. An excellent resource!)

[9]               Divrei Hayamim I 29:1, 19 by referent to the first Beis Hamikdash, and Nechemiah 2:8, 7:2 with reference to the second Temple; see also  ; Megillat Esther and its Hidden Message, by Rabbi Menachem Leibtag  for initial development of this “Bira” concept.

[10]             tractate Megillah 12a:

            “והשקות בכלי זהב וכלים מכלים שונים” משונים מיבעי ליה. אמר רבא יצתה בת קול ואמרה להם ראשונים כלו מפני כלים ואתם שונים [ושותים] בהם?!!

[11]             cf. mishnayos e.g. Zevachim 2:1, Yuma 1:7, where the flagstones of the Azarah are referred to as  הָרִצְפָּה

[12]             Sanhedrin 96b: Nevuzaradan, Chief Executioner, slew 94 x 10,000= 940,000 Jews over Zechariah’s ‘boiling’ blood.

            נבוזראדן… חזא דמיה דזכריה דהוה קא רתח… אמר… ‘אנא מפייסנא ליה’ אייתי רבנן קטיל עילויה ולא נח. אייתי דרדקי דבי רב קטיל עילויה ולא נח. אייתי פרחי כהונה קטיל עילויה ולא נח. עד די קטל עילויה תשעין וארבעה ריבוא ולא נח. קרב לגביה אמר ‘זכריה זכריה טובים שבהן איבדתים ניחא לך דאיקטלינהו לכולהו?’ מיד נח. הרהר תשובה בדעתיה אמר ‘מה הם שלא איבדו אלא נפש אחת כך ההוא גברא מה תיהוי עליה?’ ערק שדר פורטיתא לביתיה ואיתגייר

[13]             Cf. our current practice in celebrating Purim! Tractate Megillah 12a in fact hints to a costume party theme:

            “בהראותו את עושר  כבוד מלכותו” א”ר יוסי בר חנינא מלמד שלבש בגדי כהונה. כתיב הכא “יקר  תפארת גדולתו” וכתיב התם “לכבוד ולתפארת

[14]             tractate Megillah 12a:                                   “ויין מלכות רב” אמר רב מלמד שכל אחד ואחד השקהו יין שגדול הימנו בשנים

[15]             tractate Megillah 12a; Rashi below fills in the connection to wine poured for the Mizbei’ach and more directly links the menu of Achashverosh’s Banquet to the ‘menu’ inside the Beis Hamikdash :

                 “והשתיה  כדת (אין אונס)” מאי “כדת” א”ר חנן משום ר”מ ‘כדת של תורה’. מה דת של תורה אכילה מרובה משתיה אף סעודתו של אותו רשע אכילה מרובה משתיה

                See Rashi: כדת של תורה. אכילת מזבח מרובה משתיה פר ושלשה עשרונים סולת לאכילה ונסך חצי ההין:

[16]             Megillas Esther  8:10, 14

[17]             בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי כְּטוֹב  לֵב-הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיָּיִן a (1:10) – tractate Megillah 12a and Esther Rabbah (3:11) state that the seventh day of the party’s finale was Shabbos— indicating  that the FIRST day must have been Sunday, and according to our postulate that could have been either the 9th or the 10th of Av!

[18]             tractate Megillah 13b

[19]             cf.  Rus 4:1-2, 11, and D’varim 16:18. Also, Rashi entitled ולוט ישב בשער סדום, B’reishis 19:1

[20]             tractate Shabbos 88a:

            ,’יתיצבו בתחתית ההר’ א”ר אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב”ה עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם ‘אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם’ א”ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא אמר רבא אעפ”כ הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב ‘קימו וקבלו היהודים’ קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר

[21]             tractate Ta’anis 30b

[22]             related to the word  נִדָּה –distance, separation! [SR Hirsch]

[23]             Shoftim 21:15-23

[24]             Eichah Rabbah, Pesichta 33

[25]             Bamidbar 14:34

[26]             see Rabeinu Bachai, D’varim 2:16-17:

                ויהי כאשר תמו כל אנשי המלחמה וגו’ וידבר ה’ אלי לאמר. ע”ד הפשט כאשר נודע לישראל בבירור שתמו כל אנשי המלחמה למות מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה, אז נתיחד אלי הדבור וצוה הקב”ה אותנו שנעבור גבול מואב. ודעת רז”ל שלא נתיחד הדבור עם משה עד שכלו מתי מדבר, כי מעלתו של משה בשביל ישראל היתה, ישראל היו נזופין כל ל”ח שנה והיום שנודע להם זה ט”ו באב היה כשנתמלאה הלבנה כדאיתא במסכת תענית, והיה היום ההוא גדול אצל ישראל בשמחה גדולה שבו ידעו בבטול הגזרה, גם אצל האיש משה גדול מאד בחזרת הנבואה אליו שבו נתיחד לו הדבור. ומה שלא נתיחד עמו מיד כשכלתה הגזרה בעשירי, לפי שהיה מתאבל משה על הגזרה שבעה ימים מן הט’ עד ט”ו, ואין הנבואה שורה מתוך עצבות אלא מתוך שמחה, ומטעם זה לא נתיחד עמו עד ט”ו, ומעתה יהיו הכל שמחים כאחד, משה ובני ישראל. ולכך לא מצינו לשון וידבר מששלח משה מרגלים עד כאן אלא לשון ויאמר, לפי שלא התנבא מתוך אספקלריא המאירה. ובכאן גלו לנו חכמי האמת מעלת לשון וידבר על לשון ויאמר, ומזה אמרו וידבר ה’ אלי, אלי היה הדבור, כלומר עכשיו בדבור ולא קודם לכן אלא באמירה. ומזה תבין דבר ירמיה שאמר (ירמיה א) ואומר אהה ה’ אלהים הנה לא ידעתי דבר כי נער אנכי, יאמר שלא השיג מעלת הדבור שהוא אספקלריא המאירה אלא אספקלריא שאינה מאירה, ולכך הזכיר אחר שם אל”ף דל”ת, יו”ד ה”א אחריו, שהיא אספקלריא שאינה מאירה, מדת הדין שבה הרחמים, והיא השגת הנביאים כלן, ולכך סמך לו מיד (שם פסוק ז) ויאמר ה’ אלי:

                See also Rashi on Vayikra 1:1 entitled לאמר  , and D’varim 2:17 entitled וידבר ה’ אלי וגו’

[27]             tractate Sotah 17a (and see Rashi!):   דריש רבי עקיבא: איש ואשה זכו שכינה ביניהן לא זכו אש אוכלתן

[28]             see tractate Chagigah 12b which states that prior to a neshamah’s descent into a human body, it dwelt previously in Aravos, the highest of the 7 heavens [in the presence of  HaShem, per the quoted pasuk]:

            ‘ערבות’ שבו צדק משפט וצדקה גנזי חיים וגנזי שלום וגנזי ברכה ונשמתן של צדיקים ורוחות ונשמות שעתיד להיבראות וטל שעתיד הקב”ה להחיות בו מתים… רוחות ונשמות שעתיד להיבראות דכתיב “כי רוח  מלפני יעטוף ונשמות אני עשיתי”

[29]             tractate Megillah 12a

[30]             tractate Ta’anis 29b

[31]                אבל – to mourn; to destroy; to lack Wholeness  (B…B… BUT!!!). Related to the word  בלה – to decay [SR Hirsch]

[32]                ישע  — to save or grant essence of existence; related  to שעע — to care for or smooth out; and שעה  — to turn and direct attention to; and שוע  —to entreat for help against a threat.  Hence all related to HaShem’s supportive attention in granting continued existence. [SR Hirsch]

[33]             Sh’mos 4:22    וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה כֹּה אָמַר י-ֹוָה  בְּנִי בְכֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל:

[34]             cf. Eichah Rabbah Pesichta 24 for a slightly different midrashic image of God weeping over the Churban

[35]             tractate Megillah 25a:      אמר רבי חנינא הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים

[36]             Devarim 22:12

[37]             Devarim 23:28

[38]             B’reishis 6:6

[39]             Sh’mos 32:14

[40]             tractate Sotah 2a, and Sanhedrin 22a. In order to arrive at the calculation of ‘the moment of conception’, it is necessary to combine this dictum with that of the Mishnah in tractate Nidah 30a.

[41]             Nevertheless Tu b’Av has profound importance and what they ‘received’ on that day was not a bit trivial. The awareness that one is the beneficiary of a precious gift from another party is central to any relationship, especially relationship with the Almighty! See tractate Shabbos 10b:

            ואמר רבא בר מחסיא אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב הנותן מתנה לחבירו צריך להודיעו שנאמר “לדעת כי אני ה’ מקדשכם”. תניא נמי הכי: “לדעת כי אני ה’ מקדשכם” א”ל הקב”ה למשה ‘מתנה טובה יש לי בבית גנזי ושבת שמה ואני מבקש ליתנה לישראל, לך והודיעם’. מכאן ארשב”ג הנותן פת לתינוק צריך להודיע … איני? והאמר רב חמא (בר) חנינא הנותן מתנה לחבירו א”צ להודיעו שנאמר “ומשה לא ידע כי קרן עור פניו בדברו אתו” לא קשיא הא במילתא דעבידא לאגלויי הא במילתא דלא עבידא לאגלויי. והא שבת דעבידא לגלויי! מתן שכרה לא עביד לגלויי.

[42]               See also Rabeinu Bachai referenced in note 26, implying that the Gezeirah of the Desert was reversed on Tisha b’Av!

[43]             Sh’mos 25:8; also 29:45. An offer that was repeated throughout the N’vi’im—M’lachim I 6:13, Yirmiyahu 7:7, Yechezkhel 43:9, Zechariah 2:14-15, 8:3!