Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Tu BÂ’Av: Why the Celebration?
Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 04:59:46 PM
Number of views: 2343

The Gemara says in Taanis (30b) that no days were more joyous for the Jewish people than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. What was so special about the Fifteenth of Av? There are several opinions in the Gemara. According to one opinion, this was the day on which those, killed in Beitar, were brought to burial. When the Romans slaughtered the people of Beitar, they left their corpses to rot in the sun.,but on the Fifteenth of Av, the Jewish people were given permission to bury Beitar’s dead. Therefore, it was a day of surpassing joy. On that day they instituted the blessing, HaTov VeHaMeitiv in Bircas HaMazon. G-d is called “Good”because He did not allow the corpses to decompose, and He is called “Beneficent”, because G-d induced the Romans to allow the bodies to be buried. This is what the Gemara says. It is a baffling Gemara. Can we even imagine the horrible scene in Beitar? The carnage was unbelievable. Hundreds of thousands of dead literally lined the streets. You are coming upon this catastrophic scene to bury the dead. This was the most joyous day? How could the Gemara consider that day the height of joy?

To understand this perplexing statement, we must put this Gemara into historical context. When did the burial of the dead in Beitar take place? It was 62 years after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, after the people were driven into exile and after the uprising of Bar Kochba was crushed. It was after Rabbi Akiva had proclaimed Bar Kochba to be the Messiah. Every hope, every prospect of relief and redemption had been destroyed by the Roman tyranny and brutality. The Jewish people felt that the Almighty had abandoned them, and that He no longer cared about them, and that they were all alone, deserted and friendless, and they were despondent. Nothing had gone their way. They felt that their situation was hopeless.

When they walked into Beitar to bury the dead, they saw a wonderful miracle. The hundreds of thousands of dead bodies had not decomposed. The air was not filled with the sickly stench of death. Then they realized that G-d had indeed not abandoned them, that He still cared about them. They realized that they had been mistaken, that they were not alone, and they were overcome with joy such as they had not felt in many years.

What is the greatest consolation? The knowledge that we are never alone, that G-d is always there with each and every one of us.

As King David says in Ps.139:8, “If (after I die) I go to heaven, You are there, but even if I go to Hell-Sheol (from the root “shaal” – to ask, where inquiry is made of the dead), You are also there.” G-d never abandons a Jew not even in Hell. This fact is the greatest source of comfort and joy.

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