By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
BaHaB is observed on the Monday, Thursday, and Monday after the Shabbos after the Rosh Chodesh after Pesach. It is also observed after Sukkos following the same formula. The word BaHaB is an acronym of letters where the Gematria is 2,5,2 referring to the second day of the week, the fifth day of the week, and the second day of the week again. It is not observed, for some reason, after Shavuos.
Many people not only recite Selichos during these three days, but they also fast. The reason why it is the Monday following the Shabbos after the Rosh Chodesh after the holiday is to give the shul an opportunity to “Bentch BaHaB” – to bless those people that will be observing this custom. It is done the previous Shabbos by the Chazan after the Torah reading and before Mussaf.
But what exactly are the reasons for this practice?
A quick look at the commentators reveals no less than six different reasons.
The Baalei Tosfos (Kiddushin 81a s.v. “Sakva”) explain that during the Yom Tov – there is mixing that occurs when men and women both attend the Rabbi’s drasha.
The Maharil explains that feasting and joyous occasions are opportunities, infortunately, for people to sin.
The Eliyahu Rabbah explains that the Slichos and the fasting on BaHaB is to atone for violations of Chol HaMoed that occurred on these two holidays. It is forbidden to perform Malacha, work, on the intermediate days of the holidays, unless it fits into one of five exceptions. Unfortunately, many people are in violation of this law and just go about their business with no change.
Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe, the author of the Levush, provides a different reason. He writes that this is the period that there are changes in the weather and people are apt to get sick. The purpose of the BaHaB is to pray for the welfare of our people that they not get sick.
The Raavyah, also known as the Avi Ezri, cited in the Mordechai (Tractate Taanis #629) provides an entirely different explanation. He states that it has nothing to do with Teshuvah or penance. His opinion is that the fasts were initiated on account of the harvests. We are fasting and praying that the weather should not adversely affect them.
Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a brilliant author and Talmud professor at Bar Illan University (and a graduate of Yeshiva Kol Torah), suggests an entirely different explanation. He writes that there were actually two different customs of fasting that somehow got combined together. He suggests that the BaHaB after Passover has nothing to do with Passover but rather commemorates the fasts of Esther. They just could not be held during the month of Nissan, so they were pushed off to the month of Iyar. He suggests that Meseches Sofrim 17:2 clearly indicates this.
So what about the fast after Sukkos? There he agrees with the Raavyah that it was initially a harvest oriented fast. According to Rabbi Sperber, the reason why it was not initiated on Shavuos is thus clear.
Most of the reasons for BaHaB are concerned with either the physical or spiritual welfare of the nation of Israel. May we all merit to increased health and spirituality during this time. Amain.