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The Talmud (Bab. Ta'anith 26b) tells us that the 15 of Av was a fantastically happy time celebrated with joyous festivals. Why?

One reason given is that the traveling Israelites who left Egypt stopped dying. Since we have a tradition that none of those who left, except for Kalev and Yehoshua', were permitted to enter the land, presumably this is because the last person from that generation finally died. Also, since there were certainly children who left, and since they wandered the wilderness for 40 years, this also tells us that youngest person of that generation died at younger than 40 years (if the person was a newborn when they left, and the 40 years of wandering hadn't ended yet). This does not sound like a great thing to celebrate.

Another reason given is that the tribes were given permission to intermarry. This had to do with land ownership and tribal autonomy. Presumably, then, the land had been fully settled at this point, which allowed the tribes to intermarry without worrying that any land disputes would arise. However, we know that parts of the land never did get properly settled (eg., Eretz HaPelishtim), and even if they had been, this shows that the new immigrants couldn't trust each other. This also does not seem like grounds for celebration.

A third reason given is that the tribe of Binyamin was re-integrated after a bitter civil war. OK, that's good. But their numbers were decimated, and this was really just a concession that they had gone out of bounds and were accepting the terms of their surrender and shame.

Removing roadblocks to Yerushalayim and burying the dead of Beitar, two other reasons given, seem to also be examples of the end of a tragedy, and the final reason given, the conclusion of preparation of the wood (on an annual basis) for the firewood for the Altar, seems like the only event that might warrant an institutional celebration, but it's one that might be done in the city and the confines of the Beith HaMikdash, not necessarily throughout the land.

So what's the real* reason this day is celebrated so joyously?

*Perhaps "underlying" is a better word to use here. Several different versions of this question are floating around in my head; one version wonders if there is some historical or cultural significance to this date that might be explained Aggadically.

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What about HaTov VeHameitiv? We added just one extra blessing in Birkas Hamazon. For what? That we finally buried our murdered? That they didn't decay? It's like adding a blessing after the Holocaust that we were able to rebury our dead? –  Shmuel Brin Jul 22 '13 at 19:46
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Bnei Yissaschar says that the famous Gemara that says that 40 days prior to the creation of a child a Bas Kol goes out and says Bas Ploni L'ploni. Yom Rishon that the world was created was on 25 Elul. 40 days prior is 15 Av. Since the world was created Bshvil Yisroel and we are the bride of Hashem, therefore 40 days prior to the creation, which is 15 Av a Bas Kol went out and said that Bnei Yisroel will be betrothed to Hashem. That is the reason 15 Av was the day that Bnos Yisroel would look for Shiduchim and that is the reason other marriage related items have happened on this day. The celebration is the Simcha of being singled out for Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

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So there was time before Maaseh Vereishit? –  Double AA Jul 22 '13 at 18:36
    
@DoubleAA judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/15156/… –  HodofHod Jul 22 '13 at 19:33
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Also, Tosfos RH 27a: "אומר ר"ת דאלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים ואיכא למימר דבתשרי עלה במחשבה לבראות ולא נברא עד ניסן" –  HodofHod Jul 22 '13 at 19:40
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There is an essay on Chabad.org, based on a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, titled The Day of the Breaking of the Ax.

The moon continually waxes and wanes. Every time the moon disappears (new moon) it is only a prelude to the full moon.

Each month possesses a character and quality uniquely its own, which undergoes a cycle of diminution and growth, concealment and expression, reaching its climax on the 15th of the month.

(although it is not mentioned in this essay, a similar idea is brought by R' Bechaya that Shlomo Hamelech was 15 generations from Avraham, just like the moon is full 15 days after the new moon. -- see here),

Therein lies the specialty of the 15th of Av.

The greater an object’s plunge down a mountainside, the greater the momentum that carries it up the next mountain; the further an arrow is pulled back on the bow, the greater the force that will carry it forward when it is let fly. This basic law of physical nature also governs the flow of lunar time and the spiritual qualities it enfolds: the lower the descent, the loftier the ascent to follow.

Hence, the month of Av must indeed possess the greatest 15th of them all. For what darker eclipse is there than the one preceding the full moon of Av?

The essay then goes on to explain how each of the events occurring on the 15th of Av mentioned in the Talmud represent an ascent from a previous descent, which is what makes the day so special. (more so than the 15th of Nissan or Tishre, which the Talmud says does not compare to the 15th of Av)

I'm not doing the essay justice at all, please read it inside.


I also read something that I'd have to find a source for, but can perhaps be connected to this thought. The 15th of Av was not the day the decree that the Jews would die in the desert ended. The decree actually ended a year before, the 9th of Av when the last person died.

After that day, the decree was over, they just didn't know it until the following year on the 15th of Av. so the 15th of Av celebrates not the end of the decree, but the revelation of the end of the decree. The knowledge that the decree is over is the happy occasion (the Jews spent the whole year thinking they would die on the following 9th of Av).

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So...similar to Adam's festival after the winter solstice? –  Seth J Jul 22 '13 at 17:04
    
@SethJ: Perhaps similar, but figuratively. (as an aside, here's a link to an essay about Adam's festival - ou.org/jewish_action/11/2012/… ) –  Menachem Jul 22 '13 at 17:09
    
Right, I meant similar motivation. –  Seth J Jul 22 '13 at 17:26
    
@SethJ: Also, Adam celebrated when the days started getting longer (analogous to celebrating on the 2nd or 3rd day of the lunar month), while here we are talking about the completion of the process. –  Menachem Jul 22 '13 at 17:30
    
Right, I got that. Again, I just meant similar motivation. They realized they're not being destroyed as they had feared, so they celebrated. –  Seth J Jul 22 '13 at 17:55
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The day was known as the last day to gather wood for the altars, the atzei ha'maaracha. Anyone familiar with Israel before the UJA knows that wood in the Mideast is a rarity, so there presumably was a large group of men dedicated to gathering the needed wood. The last day was Tu b'Av, because wood needs to age (season) before it will burn well, and after Tu there wasn't enough time before the rainy season. Net result, many men were free of work starting on Tu b'Av. Obviously, these were the least-educated men, and had they not been busy with finding a mate could be a source of problems, their counterpart to our OTD issue today. The girls dancing would logically be also the least desirable, in terms of shidduch material, so likewise there's simcha in getting themn married off. Most logical, only with this understanding of who this was for does the Mishna make sense, because "good" men know not to look for riches or just beauty! Everything fits, but I have absolutely no source for this at all. Still, Occam's razor works.

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Very creative approach. A little rough around the edges, but interesting. –  Seth J Jul 22 '13 at 18:49
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The Hayom Yom for the 15th of Av says:

From my father's notes: The superior quality of 15 Av over the fifteenth of every other month is this: The fifteenth represents the visible completeness (of the moon), but (the moon) is still only a recipient (of light). However, on 15 Av the light is firmly fixed in it, for the ascent is in reverse proportion to the drastic descent of Tisha B'Av...

In other words, the holiday of the 15th of Av is how we recovered from the 9th of Av. In other words, we are celebrating our recovery.

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So...just because we need something to celebrate? And/or like a סיום for שלושים or י"ב חדש? –  Seth J Jul 22 '13 at 19:26
    
@SethJ maybe more like Purim –  Shmuel Brin Jul 22 '13 at 19:29
    
But with Purim we don't mourn the decree anymore. And our salvation then was much more palpable. Here it's little more than anticlimactic relief. –  Seth J Jul 22 '13 at 19:31
    
@SethJ it's Takeh not as big of a day as Purim –  Shmuel Brin Jul 22 '13 at 19:33
    
@SethJ you can ask the same question by any "miracle" celebration. We had a great time under Achashverosh, Haman tried killing us, he failed, we went back to step 1. Why celebrate? What did we gain? Not being killed? Then celebrate every day! –  Shmuel Brin Jul 22 '13 at 19:35
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