SABBATH OF VISION – D’varim – Deut. 1-3:22 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
This week we begin the Book of Deuteronomy, also called in Hebrew Mishneh Torah – “Torah repeated”—consisting of Moses addressing his people and reviewing what they did for the last 40 years and what they learned. Or should have learned. We were there, says Tradition, because our ancestors were there.
This Sabbath is also designated on the calendar as Shabat Khazon – the Sabbath of Vision. Specifically it is the vision of the prophet Isaiah, whose opening chapter forms the Haftorah this week. As our readings and our calendar progress, Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy will be accompanied by Isaiah’s sermons in the Haftorah for the next six weeks. Who was he?
In his book “The Prophets,” my uncle of blessed memory, Rabbi Beryl D. Cohon, described him as the “prince of the prophets, who, perhaps more than any other of the inspired figures of Hebrew prophecy, brought the fire of Heaven down to Earth.” Living in chaotic and corrupt times, “unlike the Greek poets, Isaiah dreamed of a Golden Age in the days to come, not seeing it in the days that were. Towards it mankind is moving, slowly, haltingly, but surely.” A Messianic dream, to be sure, and one whose reality we can help bring.
This week, Isaiah’s opening chapter charges Israel with offenses that bring on and aggravate their suffering. “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s stall, but Israel does not know; My people does not understand.” He denounces sacrificial pageantry alongside corruption. Quoting G-d, he says: “What value to Me are your sacrifices?… When you spread your hands [in prayer] I will hide My eyes from you… Your hands are full of blood!” Coming as it does this year, the day before the fast of Tish’a b’Av – the 9th of the month Av, anniversary of two destructions of the Temple as well as other tragedies in Jewish history – it is traditional to chant whole sections of this Haftorah in the melody of Lamentations – Aikhah. Isaiah sets out his people’s misdeeds, and the resulting destruction, very dramatically. “Your princes are rebellious, friends of thieves. They all love bribes and chase pay-offs. They do not judge for the orphan, and the widow’s cause never comes before them. Therefore, says the L-rd, I will rid Myself of My foes. I will purge your dross… I will restore your judges as they were at first.”
Yet there is hope. Speaking in G-d’s name, Isaiah urges: “Come and let us reason together. If your sins were red like scarlet, they can be as white as snow. … Zion will be redeemed through justice, and her returnees with righteousness.” To which Rashi adds that the “returnees” include both those in Zion who return to justice, and those outside who return to Zion.
Ken y’hee ratzon – So may it be.