Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no holidays for Israel like the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. The Gemora offers several reasons for the celebration on the fifteenth of Av. Rabbah bar bar Chanah states in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that this was the day that the last of those who were destined to die in the desert died and that was when Hashem returned to speak to Moshe.

Rashbam cites the words of Chazal which are found in the Yerushalmi and the Medrashim in Eichah. Rabbi Levi said: Each year on the eve of Tishah b’Av, an announcement would be sent throughout the camp, saying: “Go out and dig graves, go out and dig graves.” The people would go out and dig graves and sleep in them. In the morning it would be announced to separate the dead from the living. They would arise and find their number diminished. In the last of the forty years, they did this but found themselves undiminished. They said, “We must have made a mistake in counting. Could it be that the Elders had miscalculated the beginning of the month through a mistaken sighting of the new moon?” They did the same thing on the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, but still no one died. When the moon was full, they said, “It seems that the Holy One has annulled the decree from all of us,” so they made the fifteenth a holiday. They rejoiced at the realization that their entry to Eretz Yisroel was imminent. It was at that time that prophecy returned to Moshe.

Tosfos asks that according to this, they ceased to die on the ninth of Av preceding the last year. Why wasn’t the prophecy returned to Moshe from that year? He answers that since they were still under the impression that the following year, there once again will be thousands of deaths; they were still in a state of sadness and the Shechinah does not rest on one who is not happy. It wasn't until the fifteenth of Av when they came to the realization that there will be no more deaths; that brought about joy and the Shechinah came down to Moshe.

Tosfos states that every year there would be a little more than twenty-one thousand deaths. The deaths over twenty-one thousand totaled fifteen thousand over the duration of the forty years.

The Maharsha and other commentators ask on Tosfos that there were 603,000 people who came out of Egypt, and according to Tosfos, if you make the calculation, it would emerge that over the course of forty years, there will be over eight-hundred thousand deaths.

The Chavos Yair (250) cites from Harav Dovid Oppenheim who explains that any year that Tisha b’Av occurred on Shabbos; there would be no deaths. According to the calendar, it would emerge that there were nine times that this occurred in the Wilderness. It emerges that there were only twenty-eight years that the Bnei Yisroel would die. Multiply twenty-one thousand times twenty-eight and that will total five-hundred and eighty eight thousand. The numbers more than twenty-one thousand, over the course of the forty years equaled fifteen thousand and that is how the 603,000 people died.