Haftarah Parshat Devarim
Shabbat Hazon (Isaiah 1:1-27)
July 25, 2015 /9 Av 5775
Shabbat Hazon brings to a culmination the three special haftarot of admonition which precede Tisha b’Av. Despite Isaiah’s reputation as a prophet of consolation, the first chapter of this book is as harsh as it gets in its religious and social critique. The prophet’s words are painful because they cut to the core of the hypocrisy of carrying out insincere religious ritual particularly when those who practice the rites blatantly disregard both belief in God and the practice of His precepts. Isaiah pays particular attention to disregard for Temple ritual carried out under these conditions, as we note in this verse: “That you come to appear before Me (leraot) – who asked this of you, who trample (romes) My courts?” (1:12)
This verse asserts God’s disfavor with those who make pilgrimage to the Temple without religious sincerity but rather simply to be seen. Two words in this verse, in particular, express God’s displeasure. The word “leraot” is the infinitive form of the verb used to express the mitzvah of appearing in the Temple during a pilgrimage, as we note in this verse from the Torah: “Three times a year all of your males shall appear (yeraeh) before the Sovereign, the Lord.” (Exodus 23:17) In addition, the word used for the Temple visit: romes – trample, is anything but a word indicating reverence. Consequently, this sentence is laden with scorn for those who turn a visit to the Lord’s House into an event which is anything but a religious experience.
For the truly religious person, such rejection by God is devastating, as we see in the following Talmudic anecdote: “Rabbi Huna, when he came to these (the above) verses, Yir’eh, Yera’eh (since he was aware of the world play regarding the verses in Exodus and Isaiah), wept. He said: The slave whom his Master longs to see and then becomes estranged from him! For it is written: That you come to appear before Me – who asked this of you, who trample (romes) My courts?” (Hagigah 4b)
The prophet’s purpose is to raise awareness. He wants us to be conscious that our callous behavior and disregard for God and Judaism is the source of our alienation and is ultimately destructive. We read his message before Tisha b’Av to make us aware in a very concrete way of the impact of such behavior and through our awareness and desire to repair ourselves as individuals and as a nation, to restore ourselves and make ourselves what we should be. These changes will allow us to turn to other chapters in Isaiah and to see him as the prophet of reconciliation as we will do in the coming Shabbatot.