י״ד בתמוז ה׳תשע״ד (July 12, 2014)

Ta’anit 31a-b: And Then They Danced

Massekhet Ta’anit closes with a discussion of one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendarT”u B’Av, the 15th of Av. This is the day on which the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to the dance in the vineyards in borrowed white clothing (so that girls who were poor would not be embarrassed), calling out to the young men suggesting that they choose wives from among them.

The Ge’onim explain that this tradition is an outgrowth of the story at the end of Sefer Shoftim (see Chapter 21) where wives were found for the remnants of the tribe of Binyamin, which had almost been wiped out. The commentaries explain that this custom was instituted specifically for young women who were having trouble finding a suitable match, and through this system, young men would choose to meet and marry them.

As a segue from the story of the young women dancing in the vineyards, the Massekhet closes with a description of the righteous individuals who, at the end of days, will dance in a circle around God and point at Him, fulfilling the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (25:9) “And it shall be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us. This is the Lord, for whom we waited. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’”

This event is understood by the commentaries as referring to a mystical event rather than a physical one. Rabbeinu Behaye understands the circle of dancing as symbolizing something with no end, i.e. the abundance of goodness that the righteous will enjoy in the World-to-Come. The Alshikh writes that, in the future, all will be on a level of prophesy, as indicated by the ability to perceive and “point” at God, which is, in essence, a deeper knowledge and understanding of the secrets of the Torah. Furthermore, this idea is hinted to in a passage in Sefer Yirmiyahu (31:13) that connects the dance of young women to that of the elders.

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