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The Happiest Holidays   
            
Rabbi Aharon Liberman

Yom Kippur, surely the most solemn and holy day of the Jewish year, is revered by almost every single Jew. No matter what his background or personal level of religious observance, almost every Jew observes Yom Kippur to some extent, whether by fasting or merely attending Kol Nidrei. Indeed, in most parts of Israel it is rare to see a car driving on the highway.

However, this solemn image of Yom Kippur is called into question by the Mishnah which declares that “there were no greater festivals for the Jewish people than Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of the month of Av” This description is perplexing on two counts. Firstly, what does Tu B’Av commemorate, and what could it possibly have in common with Yom Kippur? Who’s ever heard of Tu B’Av? What about Succot, which is called “the time of our rejoicing?”  What about Purim? Secondly, why is Yom Kippur listed as one of the “greatest festivals”? Granted, it is almost universally respected by Jews more than most other holidays, and it is quite an inspirational day, but is fasting and spending the whole day in synagogue really Judaism’s idea of the ultimate in holiday celebration?

Let’s start by learning what occurred on the original Tu B’Av in the desert.  Following the sin of the spies, on the ninth, Tishah, of Av, Hashem decreed that the Jewish people would wander the desert for forty years, not entering the Promised Land until the entire generation had perished. Every subsequent Tishah B’Av for the next forty years, the men would dig and go to sleep in their own graves, and in the morning, those who had survived buried those who had not. This continued until finally one year nobody died. Assuming that they had miscalculated the date of the ninth of Av, the people continued to repeat this grim process until the full moon shone forth on the fifteenth of Av, thus proving that Tishah B’Av had certainly passed without a single death. As we can well imagine, this day was heralded with tremendous celebration due to their awareness that the Divine decree had been lifted.

Yet, there was more to Tu B’Av than simple relief. The Talmud relates that during the entire period in which Klal Yisrael wandered in the desert until the plague finally subsided, Hashem had totally severed communication with Moses. Therefore, not only did Tu B’Av commemorate the end of a tragic decree, but perhaps more importantly, it was the day upon which our relationship with Hashem was born anew. By giving credence to the evil report of the spies we had denied our connection with Hashem and with the Land of Israel, and thus, measure for measure, Hashem, distanced Himself from us and delayed our arrival in the land until finally, on Tu B’Av we were reunited with our Creator and prepared to embark upon the conquest of the Land of Israel. Hence the Mishna’s reckoning of Tu B’Av as one of our greatest holidays, for on it we rediscovered these two most precious relationships.

How does this relate to Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur is also a celebration of making amends. After the sin of the golden calf, Hashem removed His presence from the Jewish people. The tablets of the Law were broken, and Hashem would communicate with Moses only in his tent, outside of the Israelite camp. Then finally, after a long process of prayer and repentance, Hashem’s anger subsided on Rosh Chodesh Elul. Moses was invited to prepare a new set of tablets, and to ascend Mount Sinai to complete the reconciliation process. It was on Yom Kippur, forty days later, that he descended from the mountain with the second tablets and the news that Hashem had forgiven His people. Not only was Moses then able to return his tent to the midst of the camp, but Hashem even expressed the desire to “pitch” His own tent, the Tabernacle, inside the camp. Thus, Yom Kippur became an eternal day of forgiveness and closeness to Hashem. Indeed, it is the only day on which a human being is permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies, the location on earth where Hashem’s presence is most strongly felt.

It’s no wonder then that the Mishna calls Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av the happiest days of the year, for it was on these occasions that we successfully repaired our relationship with Hashem. Through the mitzvah of building the Tabernacle, the conquest of the Land of Israel, and the eventual construction of the Holy Temple, we were actually drawn closer to Hashem than ever before. This Yom Kippur let us remember that there is a lot more involved in this special day than fasting and seemingly endless prayer; it is our chance on both a personal and national level to reconnect with Hashem, and thus, the ultimate time for rejoicing and celebration.