Haftarah Parshat Devarim – Shabbat Hazon (Isaiah 1:1-27)
August 13, 2016 / 9 Av 5776
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hazon, named for the first word of this week’s special haftarah for the Shabbat preceding Tisha b’Av. It is a harsh prophecy, chastising the people for their sinful behavior. The sins noted are, by and large, not sins directed against God, but rather wrongs committed between people. The people are corrupt. The leaders are corrupt and so is the nation as a whole: “The princes are rebellious and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes and followers after rewards. They judge not the fatherless nor does the cause of the widow come to them.” (1:23)
Isaiah did not mince words. He chose the harshest characterizations to jar his people’s consciousness: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah.” (1:10) Rabbi Asher Weiss, the renowned Jerusalem authority, weighs in on the intensity of this critique, in light of a teaching by Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaCohen Heller, author of the Shev Shmatata, an important 19th century halachic treatise, who wrote: “What distinguishes between the sins of Sodom and the horrible rape murder of the concubine at Gibeah (See Judges 19)? Why did the sins of Sodom warrant total obliteration while the horrible sin of the Benjaminites at Gibeah, was punished only with war and blight, with the possibility of living another day?”
Heller explained that what made Sodom’s sins worse was that they were legally mandated. The legal system justified the people’s sin. Their sins were the law of the land and their leaders authorized them. The sins of the people of Gibeah, on the other hand, were against the law. People knew that what they had done was wrong and against societal mores. For the people of Sodom there was no societal way of rectifying the communal behavior since sin was legally warranted. In Gibeah, the sinful behavior was recognizable and not warranted by society. This created the potential for the society to mend its evil ways. (Minhat Asher Sihot al Hamoadim 2, pp. 178-80)
People need to know how easy it is to create a “Sodom” and to justify wrong behavior legally. Just because something is “legal” does not make it right. The sages positioned this haftarah before Tisha b’Av to remind us that societies fall over such things. It behooves us to take this warning very seriously.
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. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: