Rosh Chodesh (start of the month) is a time of joy and heightened spiritual focus, singing Hallel in the morning in gladness and praise, while not saying Tachnun, the portion that focuses on sorrow and repentance for sin. The Nine Days, meanwhile, is customarily observed by decreasing joy, such as not listening to music, avoiding meat and wine, or only shopping for necessities. Given that the start of the Nine Days begins on Rosh Chodesh Av, this should raise an obvious question.
The Mishna states, “as Av enters, we diminish joy,” emphasizing the shift from joyous celebration to a more somber mindset. Rosh Chodesh Av also carries a solemn significance. It serves as the starting point for the period known as the Nine Days, a time of intensified mourning and sorrow for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, both the First and Second Temples.
For Ashkenazi Jews, the restrictions of the Nine Days, which include abstaining from certain joyous activities and refraining from consuming meat and wine, generally begin on Rosh Chodesh Av. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, commence these restrictions on the second day of the month which is one week before Tisha B’av (the 9th of Av), the saddest day of the year. It is worth noting that Rosh Chodesh Av is one of the two months when fasting is not forbidden on Rosh Chodesh, indicating its unique status. Normally days of joy like a holiday, Shabbat or Rosh Chodesh, fasting, repentance and other mourning-related activities are prohibited.
Moreover, Rosh Chodesh Av holds another significant observance as it coincides with the Yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Aharon HaKohen, the brother of Moses. This is the only Yahrzeit explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Interestingly, the mention of Aharon’s Yahrzeit is recorded not in Parshat Chukat, where we read about his passing, but in the Torah portion of Mas’ei, which is read on the Shabbat closest to Rosh Chodesh Av.
So, Why is Rosh Chodesh Av Not Mournful?
While Rosh Chodesh Av ushers in a period of mourning and reflection, it is important to recognize that Rosh Chodesh itself is a time of joy and hope, symbolizing the commemoration of the Beit HaMikdash, not solely its destruction. Tisha B’av itself is with a kernel of hope, as it is believed Moshiach will reveal himself and begin an era of peace including the completion of the Third Temple. Even amidst the mournful nature of the first third of Av, it is essential to keep in mind that after the tenth day of the month, the tone shifts towards consolation and the promise of a brighter future in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Av was not designated to be a time of sorrow; it became that way from a series of disasters, days like Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat still keeping their intrinsic joyous qualities.
Rosh Chodesh Av encapsulates a mix of conflicting emotions. This juxtaposition is not contradictory but rather a reflection of the complexity of Jewish life and history. It is a testament to the ability of the Jewish people to find the bright side even in the midst of sad times and to never forget the somber notes during moments of happiness. This ability to hold both joy and sorrow in our hearts is a testament to the resilience and depth of the Jewish spirit.