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Tu B’Av: A Golden Opportunity
By Larry Domnitch
Tu B’Av, the fifteenth day of the month of Av, is a day on the calendar which heralds good tidings. The Talmudic sage Shimon Ben Gamliel states that "there were not such fortunate days for the Jews people as much as Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av." (Mishna, Taanit 4:8) Yom Kippur being the Day of Atonement is understandably a day of hopeful anticipation that favorable judgement will be granted by the Almighty. Tu B'Av which falls six days after Tisha B’Av signifies the theme of restoration.
On such event signifying this theme occurred during the Israelite Kingdom in Biblical times on Tu B’Av, when during the reign of an ancient king of Israel, the people were offered the opportunity to reconnect with their spiritual base and the heart of the Jewish people---Jerusalem.
The political ambitions of Yeravam Ben Nevat who reigned over the kingdom of Israel 928-908 BCE, caused the destructive split of the Israelite kingdom from Judea. When Yeravam Ben Nevat participated in a failed revolt against King Solomon, he fled to Egypt and then returned upon hearing of the King’s death.
Solomon’s son, and heir to the throne, Rechavam, levied high taxes to support the nation’s many building projects. High taxation whether in ancient or modern times will often leave a political leader with a popularity problem. The ambitious Yeravam seized the chance for power. He approached the young king, and addressed the people grievances; “Your father made our yoke hard. Now lighten your father’s hard work and his heavy yoke which he placed upon us, and we shall serve you.” Rechavam sought out his father's advisors, who advised that he address them in a conciliatory and respectful manner in order to win their loyalty. Rechavam unwisely disregarded their council and chose to listen to his own younger advisers who recommended that he respond with callous. He harshly told the people, “I shall add to your yoke, my father flogged you with whips and I will flog you with scorpions.” The result was that the ten tribes of Northern Israel seceded from the House of David. The nation was now divided between Judea in the south and the Israelite kingdom of the ten tribes to the north.
As the king of the newly separated kingdom of Israel, Yeravam’s true motives became clear. Well aware that the thrice annual pilgrimage to the capital city of Jerusalem located within the kingdom of Judea would sustain the people’s ties to the Judean capital, he prohibited those pilgrimages. In its place he set up two altars; one in the city of Dan and the other in Beit El, resembling the golden calves fashioned by the Israelites at Mount Sinai. These alters would be used for idolatrous practices as those resembling the heathen practices of the Gentiles around them. Along with establishing Temples in the Northern kingdom, he sought to severe the people’s ties to Jerusalem. Well aware of their continuing commitment to the Holy City, Yeravam closed off those roads leading to Jerusalem, and stationed guards to prevent passage.
For generations to come, the Israelites traveled to Dan and Beit El where they immersed themselves in the ways of idolatry and the heathen. When the king of Israel Hoshea Ben Elah, (732-722 BCE) ascended the throne, he broke ranks with his predecessors and removed the guards posted on the roads, opening Jerusalem to pilgrims from the Northern kingdom. The day this was officially done was Tu B’Av.
Such a move was of great significance. It could have sparked a national revival; a reconnection of the people to their eternal capital. It could have lead to a reunion of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. However, it turned out to be a lost opportunity. The king offered the people the option to go to Jerusalem, but did not mandate its requirement. After decades of journeys to the Temples in the North, the people were immersed in their idolatrous ways and removed from the spirituality of Jerusalem. They did not pursue the opportunity to reconnect with their spiritual base that had become available on Tu B'Av.
Hoshea would be the last king of Israel. His rule which was subject to several invasions would be dealt its final blow by the Assyrians, who would disburse the ten tribes.
from the August 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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