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Devarim 5772

Haftarah Parshat Devarim
Shabbat Hazon
(Isaiah 1:1-27)
July 28, 2012
9 Av 5772

The first word of this week’s haftarah lends its name to the special Shabbat which precedes Tisha b’Av, the day of national calamity commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The word “Hazon” means vision and the book of Isaiah is one of only two prophetic books which open with this word. What about this word and what about the opening prophecy of the book of Isaiah make it an appropriate haftarah for this Shabbat? For the one thing, the prophecies found in this haftarah are among the harshest found in the Tanach. God chastises Israel for its wayward behavior with biting words like: “I reared children and brought them up and they have rebelled against Me.” (1:2).

Rabbi Shalom Noach Barazovski (20th century Israel), known by the name of his drashot – Netivot Shalom, challenges the mentality of despair and sadness which prevail on Tisha b”Av. He likens sadness (etzev in Hebrew) with one of the Hebrew words for idolatry (Atzav) and sees this mentality of mourning as antithetical to the spirit of Judaism. Further, he asks, why should one mourn and fast over what was and is no longer? So, then, what are we to make of this tragic day and somber period? He asserts that we mourn over the current situation, namely, that the Temple is not rebuilt and Israel restored because of our sinful behavior which is an eternal problem. (This answer is not unlike the approach taken by some modern liberal religious Zionists who see in Israel’s social failings a relevant reason to take Tisha b’Av seriously.)

Barazovski sees special significance in Shabbat Hazon when it falls on the date of Tisha b’Av like this year since for him, the message of this Shabbat serves as a remedy for the ills of this period. He asserts that the “hazon” of this Shabbat is Israel as God’s children will never be abandoned by God despite His bitterness at Israel’s failings. There is always room for reconciliation. Shabbat, because it directs Israel’s thoughts and behavior toward God, is transformative, moving the nation in the direction of redemption. When Shabbat falls on Tisha b’Av itself, Shabbat, according to Barazovski, neutralizes the mourning aspect of the day and restores the “Divine light” which disappeared with the Temple’s destruction. (This is not unlike the ideas found in Heschel’s The Sabbath.)

Shabbat Hazon, then, is a window of hope in this dark period which will give us the strength to turn our despair into hope

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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