Shabbat Hazon and erev Tisha B’Av: a Shabbat of Vision

This is a Shabbat of vision, and of the center falling apart. Although it would be easier, more poetic, to see a vision rising from destruction, life these days is not so lyrical. Rather, on this Shabbat, the last before Tisha B’Av, the vision we contemplate is of destruction, misery and death:

עַל מֶה תֻכּוּ עוֹד, תּוֹסִיפוּ סָרָה; כָּל-רֹאשׁ לָחֳלִי, וְכָל-לֵבָב דַּוָּי.

What blow will fall next, as more and more violence and corruption is unleashed in the land? If the nation were a body, the whole head would be sick, and the whole heart faint;

מִכַּף-רֶגֶל וְעַד-רֹאשׁ אֵין-בּוֹ מְתֹם, פֶּצַע וְחַבּוּרָה וּמַכָּה טְרִיָּה; לֹא-זֹרוּ וְלֹא חֻבָּשׁוּ, וְלֹא רֻכְּכָה בַּשָּׁמֶן.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and festering sores: they have not been treated, not bandaged nor soothed with medication.

אַרְצְכֶם שְׁמָמָה, עָרֵיכֶם שְׂרֻפוֹת אֵשׁ; אַדְמַתְכֶם, לְנֶגְדְּכֶם זָרִים אֹכְלִים אֹתָהּ, וּשְׁמָמָה, כְּמַהְפֵּכַת זָרִים.

Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by floods. (Isaiah 1.5-7)

 

On the heels of this Shabbat, on which we are meant to face the very real horrors of our society, the Jewish people moves into the fast day of Tisha B’Av. This date commemorates the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans and the Exile of the Jewish people into statelessness wandering. On this date we remember what statelessness meant to us: the mass slaughter of pogroms, expulsions, and crusades, and the every day humiliations and persecutions of living in a society that did not recognize Jews as equals, or even as human.

Once upon a time not so many years ago I was told that Tisha B’Av is no longer relevant; it’s hard, after all, to feel the pain of past destruction when there is a State of Israel today, and, well, the weather is so nice. Who can relate when there’s a brilliant blue sky overhead?

The vision of this Shabbat Hazon answers: bring your eyes down from the blue sky to behold the earth beneath; listen to Isaiah; see that, although the Jews live in relative peace and safety, our task is to work for freedom for all. We must still hear the ancient words of the Torah, echoed through Pesakh Haggadah: proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants (Lev.25.10) 

On this Tisha B’Av we gather not only to mourn what was, but also to learn from it: to ask how did we get here, and what shall we do now with what we know? We come together to remember who we are, to empower ourselves through our tradition’s wisdom, and to plan our shared path forward into action for racial justice. Because there are still those who experience slaughter, expulsions, and crusades, and the everyday humiliations and persecutions of living in a society that does not recognize them as equals, or even as human. Because “them” is us, and if we do not remember and act upon that truth, we will never turn away from Isaiah’s horrific vision of what is and toward the consolation of what might yet be.

How to think about engaging as a self-aware Jew in the 21st century, yet so much a part of all that has come before us, here today? As part of the learning and thinking we all must do, I invite you to consider this brilliant offering:

https://medium.com/@YotamMarom/toward-the-next-jewish-rebellion-bed5082c52fc#.35uv3ux8q

And remember that none of us is alone in this struggle. We are not only here to comfort each other, though: our shared strength is only blessed when we use it to do justice. Thus we summon the last utterance of the Prophet Isaiah: “Zion will be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.” (Isaiah 1.27).

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