Tidbits of Torah

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Shabbat Parashat Devarim

Shabbat Chazon

July 29, 2017- 6 Av 5777

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat has a special name: Shabbat Chazon [Vision Sabbath]. It gets its name from the first word of the Haftarah which opens with the words: Chazon Yeshayahu [The vision of Isaiah]. This Haftarah is read each year on the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av [the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av] – the fast day on which we recall with great sadness a series of extremely difficult events in the history of our people. To name just a few of these sad events: on Tisha B’Av we recall the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in ancient times. We also recall that in the year 1290, King Edward I signed the edict compelling his Jewish subjects to leave England on Tisha B’Av. And, in the year 1492, Tisha B’Av was the day of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

Midrash tells us that Tisha B’Av was the day on which our people, heeding the words of the ten nay-saying spies and fearing to go forward into the Promised Land, cried and rebelled against Moses and against God. A version of what transpired on that day in the desert is recounted by Moses in our weekly Torah portion of Devarim [Deuteronomy]. The Sages tied the tears shed by our ancestors in the desert with the tears shed by Jewish people in later generations when great calamities were visited on our people on Tisha B’Av.

Our Sages also tell us that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, at least in part, because of the baseless hatred our people exhibited toward one another. As our Sages saw it, we were so busy baring our fists toward one another that we failed to notice the approaching danger. We failed to work together to take on the very real internal challenges of ethical living, as well as the very real external challenges that we were facing as a people. The result was destruction, pain and loss.

Fasting and remembering on Tisha B’Av might be viewed as a retrospective spiritual exercise.

If so, we might say to ourselves: Perhaps, if there had been fewer fists bared toward our brothers and sisters, we would have done better…Or, perhaps we might say to ourselves: I wonder how God could have let it happen. Perhaps we might take some time to study the teachings of our Sages to try to understand how they grappled with the aftermath of the sad events of the past. We look back. We are saddened. That is the nature of a retrospective spiritual exercise.

However, Tisha B’Av might also be viewed as a prospective (rather than as a retrospective) spiritual exercise! If so, fasting on Tisha B’Av might be seen as forward thinking! How so?

As we fast on Tisha B’Av, we might ask ourselves: Are we any better today at treating one another with respect? Are we still so absorbed with our own “in-fighting” that we ignore external challenges to Israel and/or to Jewish life in our diaspora communities? Most importantly, what can we do to come together in greater understanding and peace?

Our Sages saw Tisha B’Av as a day of great sadness, but they also saw it as a day with tremendous redemptive possibility for the future.

Perhaps the slogan of Tisha B’Av this year (Monday night through Tuesday after nightfall) might be: Fast Forward: Fewer Fists.

Let us remember that fervor and faith can combine beneficially with respect and with resolve. Together, fervor and faith, respect and resolve can help us come closer to true tikkun olam – the vision of our prophets in which internal and external cooperation and peace guide and inspire our lives individually and communally!

May this Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon [Vision Shabbat], and the days to come, bring us closer to the fulfillment of the the vision of our prophets for ourselves, for Israel and for all good people everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror