Op-Ed: Tu B'Av. A Golden Opportunity
Larry DomnitchLarry Domnitch is an educator and the author of "The Cantonists: The Jewish Children´s Army of the Tsar", released by Devora Publishing. He resides in Efrat.
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, the Day of Atonement is a day of hopeful anticipation that favorable judgment will be granted by the Almighty. Tu B'Av, which falls six days after the fast mourning the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, Tisha B’Av, signifies the theme of restoration.
One such event suggestive of this theme occurred during the Israelite Kingdom in Biblical times on Tu B’Av. 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 a destructive split of the ten-tribe 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 most often leave a political leader with a popularity problem.
The ambitious Yeravam seized upon the chance for power.
He approached the young king, and addressed the peoples’ 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 respond in a conciliatory and respectful manner in order to win the people's loyalty. Rechavam unwisely disregarded their council and chose to listen to his own younger advisors who recommended that he respond with callousness and assert his authority.
He harshly told the people, “I shall add to your yoke, my father flagged you with whips and I will flog you with scorpions.”
As a result, 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 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 of-Jerusalem, he prohibited those pilgrimages. 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 altars 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 the people’s continued devotion to the Holy City, Yeravam closed off those roads leading to Jerusalem, and stationed guards to prevent passage.
For generations to come, the people of the Israelite Kingdom traveled to Dan and Beit El where they immersed themselves in the ways of 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.
That gesture had great significance. It could have sparked a national revival; a reconnection of the people to their eternal capital. It could have led 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 generations of journeys to the Temples in the North, the people were immersed in their idolatrous ways and distanced from the spirituality of Jerusalem. The opportunity that had availed itself on that Tu B'Av did not come to fruition.
Hoshea would be the last king of Israel. His rule. which was subject to several invasions. would be dealt its final blow by the Assyria, who would disperse the ten tribes, who were then lost to the Jewish people.