Parshat Devarim – Shabbat Hazon (Isaiah 1:1-23)
July 29, 2017 / 6 Av 5777
The opening chapter of the book of Isaiah marks the culmination of the three haftarot of admonition (T’lata d’Poranuta). Its first word also lends its name to this special Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha B’Av – Shabbat Hazon, literally, the ‘Shabbat of the Vision’. The book of Isaiah is popularly known for its messages of comfort and consolation but the haftarah for this special Shabbat is anything but comforting. It is a message of chastisement pure and simple, embodying the rabbinic tradition’s emphasis on scoring the nation for its own sin to account for its downfall. Its message is bleak and sobering, challenging the people both for their moral wrongs and for their abandonment of God.
It is hard to “feel the love” with accusations, even when warranted, like those found in Isaiah’s message: “children (banim) I have reared and brought up and they have rebelled against Me” (2); “a seed of evil doers, children (banim) that deal corruptly who have forsaken the Lord” (3). These words of admonition read like an indictment and seem more like a sign of abandonment than an attempt at rapprochement.
The Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Noah Berozovsky, in his drashot Netivot Shalom, saw this boding message as a tremendous challenge. How does one find God in such utter darkness, when the revelation of wrongdoing is so overwhelming that there seems to be no exit and no room for optimism? He found an answer in the following drasha from the Talmud: “As it is taught in a Baraita: ‘You are children of the Lord your God’ (Deut. 14:1); when you behave as children, you are designated children; if you do not behave as children, you are not designated children: this is Rabbi Yehudah’s view. Rabbi Meir said: In both cases you are called children… for it said: a seed of evil doers, children (banim) that deal corruptly’ (Isaiah 1:3)” (Kiddushin 36a)” Berozovsky learns from Rabbi Meir’s interpretation that God as parent loves His children and will not abandon them even when they need to be punished. (See Netivot Shalom Bemidbar p. 197)
The point here is that even in our darkest moments, we are not abandoned. There is hope, light and reason for optimism. It is this tacit faith which has led the Jewish people from strength to strength through all of the dark moments in its history. Darkness does not spell doom when one understands that there is light to be found if only we look.
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.
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