Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JUDGES CHAPTER 21
The Book of Judges concludes with a heartening story of national reconciliation and healing which brought the Tribe of Benjamin back within the fold of the Twelve Tribes, and indeed Benjamin went on to provide the first king of Israel - Saul -- as well as Mordechai many generations later.
The behavior of the tribe of Benjamin in trying to protect the perpetrators of the brutal rape-murder of the Concubine in Giv'ah showed that they had strayed way outside the boundaries of the Torah code of civilized behavior. At their national gathering in Mitzpah the other tribes thus put the Benjaminites into NIDUI, which like HEREM is the state of being "driven out," excommunicated from the KAHAL, the Assembly of Israel, just like MAMZERIM (illegitimate children), Moabites, Ammonites and Gibeonites etc. who are not allowed to marry Israelite women (see Radak on Judges 21:1). Since all the Benjaminite women had been killed, there was nobody for the surviving 600 Benjaminites who had fled to Sela HaRimon (ch 20:47) to marry.
Yet the very severity of this sanction, which threatened to wipe out an entire tribe from Israel, aroused a spirit of profound national soul-searching and collective repentance in the whole nation who now gathered at the Sanctuary in Shilo (= Beit El, Metzudas David on v. 2).
"If you want to know the power of the sanction of CHEREM, come and see it in operation in the tribes that avenged the immorality of the tribe of Benjamin. They took a solemn oath that ALL ISRAEL must follow them in prohibiting intermarriage with Benjamin, as it says, 'For the OATH was great' (v. 5). This oath was the CHEREM, and since the men of Yaveish Gil'ad were not with them at the Assembly, they were liable to the death penalty" (Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer).
The town of Yaveish Gil'ad , whose inhabitants failed to attend the national Assembly, was east of the R. Jordan about 30 km south east of Beit She'an, presumably in the territory of Menasheh . The punitive slaughter of all its male inhabitants and all females who were not virgins may seem very shocking, but its practical outcome was to leave 400 girls for the surviving Benjaminites to marry. (The subsequent connection between Benjamin and Yaveish Gil'ad became of crucial importance in the time of King Saul, who with the Prophet Samuel mobilized the whole of Israel to come to the town's rescue when threatened by the Ammonites - I Samuel ch 12). Since there were 600 Benjaminite survivors, after 400 married, 200 were left without wives, leaving the Children of Israel in a quandary since they had sworn not to intermarry with the Benjaminites (Judges 21:16-18).
THE MYSTERY OF TU BE'AV
The resolution of this national crisis came about through the mystery of TU B'AV, the 15 th day of the month of Av, which enters allusively into our text (vv. 19-23). This is the "festival of HaShem in Shilo from year to year." (verse 19; Talmud Taanis 30b). TU BE'AV, whose sanctity the rabbis compared to that of Yom Kippur (Taanis ibid.) had become a national festival since the 40 th year of wandering in the Wilderness. All the men who accepted the slander of the spies about the Land had been condemned to die in the Wilderness, and for that reason throughout the forty years of wandering, the entire nation used to dig graves and sleep in them on the night of the anniversary of the sin, TISHA BE'AV (9 th of Av). Each year some of the condemned generation would die while everyone else would climb out of their graves in the morning and go on living for at least another year. In the fortieth year of wandering they all slept in graves as usual but nobody died. They thought they might have miscalculated the date and slept in graves the following night, and the next. However by 15 th Av, the full moon showed that they had certainly passed the 9 th of Av and no-one had died, indicating that the decree was at an end.
This was why TU BE'AV became a national festival celebrating God's reconciliation with Israel and signifying that His favor was with the new generation. God wants Israel to multiply, and thus TU BE'AV is particularly propitious for ZIVUG - the paring of male and female soul-mates together. TU BE'AV is exactly 40 days before 25 th Elul, the day when Creation began (for man was created on Rosh HaShanah, 1 Tishri, which is the sixth day of Creation). Since "forty days before a child is born, a heavenly voice goes out proclaiming PLONY ("so-and-so") is matched with PLONIS", we may infer that forty days before the start of creation (on TU BE'AV) all the souls are matched with one another.
This is why TU BE'AV was a most propitious time for the remaining 200 Benjaminites to wait in the vineyards around Shilo as the maidens came out to dance, and for each to "snatch" his bride (for "Benjamin is a wolf that snatches." Genesis 49:27, Tanchumah). This way none of the men of Israel violated their oath not to GIVE their daughters to the Benjaminites, for the latter TOOK them for themselves. The rabbis taught that it was TU BE'AV when the Israelites revoked the CHEREM on Benjamin from that time on, darshening the wording of the original oath, "not a man OF US shall give his daughter as a wife to Benjamin" to refer only to those who were actually present but not to their descendants. On the same occasion they also darshened from the verse in Numbers 36:6, "THIS is the matter that God commanded regarding the daughters of Tzelaphchad" that the prohibition of a woman marrying a man from a different tribe to avoid land inherited by women passing from tribe to tribe applied only to that generation (Taanis 30b).
The relaxation of both decrees signified national integration and unity among the Twelve Tribes, and the fact that the girls' dance circle at Shilo could take place safely out in the open in the vineyards around the town without fear of rape despite the absence of the strict separation between males and females that we normally require showed that this was truly a "festival of HaShem" (v. 19), a celebration LISHMOH in holiness and purity at which the new generation of pure, young Israelite men and women could find and link up with their BASHEIRT (destined soul-mate). The gross violation of this norm of purity that had occurred in Giv'ah was thus atoned, and the Book of Judges ends on a note of national reconciliation and healing, with all Israel going to their tribes, families and inheritances.
"In those days there was not a king in Israel and each man would do what was right in his eyes" (Judges 21:25). Through his weave of stories and allegories in this book, the Prophet has left it to us to draw the moral of his reproof and understand why, without a king and without anyone of sufficient stature and authority to tell the people what was truly right instead of what each one THOUGHT to be right, Israel was in need of a prophet on the level of Moses - Samuel - to bring them to a state of repentance and unity fit for the inauguration of their age of national glory.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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