A topical question (unrelated to current dafim): Rashi at the end of Taanis brings that every year in the midbar, people used to dig their own graves on the night of Tisha B'Av and go to sleep in them. In the last year, nobody died and they thought they had made a mistake in the calendar, so slept in the graves each night till they saw the full moon and realised that the g'zera had been botel.
Q1: Who dug the graves - only the people who were sixty, or everyone? i.e. did all those included in the g'zera die at age 60, or age at least sixty. (Rashi in Shelach Lecha says they were in the midbar for 40 years so that even those who were 20 at Yetzias Mitzriam would reach 60, but they might have died at different ages over 60). In some places the expression "Poresh haChaim Min HaMeisim" is used to refer to those getting up from the graves in the morning.
Q2: Why was the g'zera botel in the last year - did Hash-m "let off" those who were now 60, or rather that everyone included in the g'zera had actually died in previous years and they did not realise? (If the latter, and if they knew that only those between 20 and 60 at the time of the decree would die, and only those aged 60 dug graves - there would be nobody left to dig graves!)
Mark Bergman, Manchester UK
Mark - we addressed the points you raised in our Insights to the Daf, Ta'anis 30. I include below a copy of the pertinent Insight.
3) THE DAY ON WHICH THE PEOPLE IN THE "MIDBAR" STOPPED DYING
QUESTIONS: One of the things that occurred on the Fifteenth of Av, making it a day of celebration, was that no more Jews in the Midbar died ("Kalu Mesei Midbar"). Rashi cites the Midrash which says that in the Midbar, on every Tish'ah b'Av the people would dig graves for themselves, lie down in them overnight, and the next morning many of them would not arise. In the final year of their sojourn in the Midbar, all of those who went to sleep in their graves on the night of Tish'ah b'Av woke up the next morning. The next night, they continued to go to sleep in the graves, thinking that they had erred in the calculation of the date. They continued doing this until they saw the full moon in the sky and knew that it was the middle of the month, the Fifteenth of Av.
Upon closer examination, this event poses several difficulties.
First, on that year, whoever had been decreed to die had already died. No one who was of age at the time of the sin of the Meraglim (for which it was decreed that all men between 20 and 60 would die and not enter Eretz Yisrael). Why, then, did they think that they had to dig graves?
Second, if no one died that Tish'ah b'Av, and Tish'ah b'Av was the only time that people died, then the last time people died was on the Tish'ah b'Av of the previous year! They should have instituted the day of celebration on the tenth of Av, and not on the Fifteenth of Av, because the last day on which people died was the ninth of Av of the previous year! The Shechinah's Dibur should have come back to Moshe the year before, since Tish'ah b'Av of the previous year was the last time that the Gezeirah applied!
Third, why does the Gemara have to mention that on that day, the Fifteenth of Av, communication between the Shechinah and Moshe Rabeinu was restored? If the celebration of the day is that nobody died, why mention the fact that the Shechinah began speaking again to Moshe Rabeinu?
(a) TOSFOS in Bava Basra (121a, DH Yom sh'Kalu) explains that it is true that the people died only on Tish'ah b'Av. However, even in the fortieth and final year, they also died! The rest of the Jewish people were mourning for their relatives who died on that Tish'ah b'Av. They mourned for seven days, during which time the Shechinah was not dwelling among the people, since the Shechinah dwells only amidst joy, and not amidst mournfulness. Since the Shechinah was not dwelling among the people, Moshe Rabeinu received no communication from it, until the Aveilus was finished. Seven days after Tish'ah b'Av (including Tish'ah b'Av itself, and part of the seventh day, for "Miktzas ha'Yom k'Kulo") -- came out on the Fifteenth of Av!
This is not in agreement with the Yerushalmi cited in Rashi of our Sugya, though.
(b) TOSFOS here cites an explanation that says that even though most of the people died each year on Tish'ah b'Av, there were some people who died on other days of the year. The last day that anyone died was the fourteenth of Av. After the fourteenth, no one died anymore, and therefore the fifteenth became a day of Simchah.
This answer, too, does not agree with the Yerushalmi that Rashi quotes, which says that no one died on Tish'ah b'Av of the last year and they dug graves unnecessarily.
(c) TOSFOS in Bava Basra cites RABEINU TAM who suggests that Hash-m indeed annulled the Gezeirah that they died in the Midbar, and the people who were supposed to die on the last year did not die. That explains why they kept digging graves -- there were still people alive who were decreed to die!
Why did the Shechinah return to Moshe only on the fifteenth of Av, and why is that fact relevant? Furthermore, what is so special about the fifteenth if they stopped dying the year before?
It could be that until the fifteenth of Av, Hash-m had not yet annulled the decree, and they were still destined to die. That is why they had to return to their graves each day. But on the fifteenth of Av, the Shechinah came back to Moshe Rabeinu and that showed that Hash-m had annulled the Gezeirah and pardoned the people. Those who had been decreed to die lived.
(The Yerushalmi says that they knew that the Gezeirah was lifted because they saw the full moon. On that point, our Gemara argues with the Yerushalmi and says that they knew that the Gezeirah was over because the Dibur returned to Moshe.)
However, how can it be that the decree was annulled, and some of the people of that generation lived? The verse says that the only ones left from that generation who lived were Yehoshua and Kalev (Bamidbar 26:65)!
Rabeinu Tam answers as follows. The Gezeirah had been that anyone between the ages of 20 and 60 at the time of the sin of the Meraglim was decreed to die in the Midbar. The Midrash says that each year, those who reached the age of 60 would die, so that at the end of forty years all of the people who were over 20 at the time of the Meraglim would have died. The last year, the only ones who were still alive who thought that they would die (for whom Hash-m annulled the Gezeirah) were those who were exactly 20 at the time of the sin of the Meraglim.
Before Hash-m annulled the Gezeirah, the intent of the Gezeirah was to be inclusive -- anyone between the ages of 20 and 60 was to die, including the 20 year-olds. When Hash-m had mercy and decided to annul the remainder of the Gezeirah, He did not completely annul the Gezeirah; rather, He re-interpreted it: instead of being inclusive of the 20 year-olds, He made it exclusive of the 20 year-olds! Thus, it is correct to say both that the Gezeirah was entirely carried out and no one was left who was included in the Gezeirah, and to say that Hash-m annulled the Gezeirah! Since Yehoshua and Kalev were older than 20 at the time of the Meraglim, they indeed were the only ones who remained of all of those between the ages of 20 (exclusive) and 60 who had to die, had Hash-m not granted them life.
Here is another answer as to why the Jews in the Midbar did not die in the 40th. Year. This answer was answered beautifully, by the Chevroner Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav Simcha Zissel Brody, as is brought down by his Talmid, Rav Aryeh Ralbag, (one of my close Rebbeim.)
It seems that every year,in the Midbar since the Meraglim, the Jews would dig their own graves based on the Takanah, and would daven to Hash-m to "Please let me live..." But, when ever you're davenning isn't 100% - Hash-m doesn't have to answer. Their Tefillos couldn't have been 100% because psychologically, deep down, in the back of their minds was the (natural) thought, that maybe this year it won't be me who dies, but maybe it will be the next door neighbor, or the guy down the block. So since the death could happen to someone else, and maybe not to him, so his Tefillah isn't 100%. But in the 40th year, it was the last year of this Takannah. Now whoever was still alive was going to die - guaranteed! If you were left alive until this last year, and the Takannah is that EVERYONE will die within the 40 years, then this year is the end for those survivors. Now when they davenned to Hash-m to please spare them, they meant it! There was no possibility that some one else would die and not him, no! He was going to die too, and therefore that Tefillah was now 100%. There was no more possibility that he did not need this Tefillah, he knew in his heart that this was the end, and that his Tefillah now was "Ein Od Milvado!"(Only Hash-m can spare him - since there is no possibility of anything else happening that could spare him, now only Hash-m can help!) When you daven to Hash-m, "Ein Od Milvado," it is a 100% Tefillah, so Hash-m answered that 100% Tefilllah and did away with the Takanah in the last year because they davnned Ein Od Milvado in 100% pure Kavanah. And that year since everyone felt that they were going to die, unless Hash-m intervened, Hash-m did intervene, and no one died! Thus the power of a 100% Tefillah and the power of Davenning "Ein Od Milvado!" We should all Daven today as if our Tefillos can only be answered by Hash-m, with no other possibility. We have no idea how far one more Ein Od Milvado can go!