SHABBAT CHAZON

The Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, is called Shabbat Chazon – the Shabbat of foretelling – as we read the Haftara portion from the prophecy of Isaiah (1:1-27), as the final of the “three of affliction,” readings.

Rabbis points out, the prophet does not lament because the Bet HaMikdash (The Temple in Jerusalem) was destroyed; rather he laments over the underlying causes of that destruction.

This annual lesson must serve to focus the national mourning of Tisha B’Av not to the past, but to the present.

It is not enough to bemoan the great loss suffered by our people with the destruction of our Land, our Holy City, and our Holy Temple. We must use our mourning as a way of initiating an examination of our present-day feelings, thoughts and deeds.

What have we done to eliminate the attitudes and practices that thousands of years ago sent our ancestors into exile – not once, but twice?

How have we improved our approach to the divine service as a way of life, a life devoted to duty rather that a substitute for it?

Are our verbal offerings, like the animal-offerings described by the prophet merely perfunctorily performed rituals, never internalized, never spoken from the heart, just from the lips and outward?

And, as Rabbis put it, “is our Jewish contemporary present already so deeply imbued with the Jewish spirit, so filled with the Jewish way of thinking, with knowledge of the all-comprising and deep contents of the torah that it could form a worthy environment for a temple of G-d to be erected in our midst? does not the gulf between Israel and its G-d yawn perhaps wider than ever?”

This Shabbat is the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftorah on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftorah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21) . “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).

This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. D’varim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha – How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.