Parashat Hashavua for Devarim, Shabbat Chazon 2020

Parashat Hashavua for Devarim, Shabbat Chazon

Rabbi Gary J Robuck
Consulting Rabbi for the Progressive Congregation of the ACT Jewish Community and Beit Or v'Shalom, Brisbane

Two Sides of the Same Coin 

In August of 1983, only one day following our marriage, Jocelyn and I arrived in Jerusalem for a yearlong “honeymoon”.  It was our good fortune to spend the first year of marriage in the holy city as I commenced my rabbinical studies and as Jocelyn immersed herself in Israeli culture; learning Hebrew and beginning what would become a lifetime spent in Jewish communal work. 

It was a magical time and an immersive Jewish experience that we’ve never forgotten.

One of my most enduring memories is of the time surrounding the observance of what is referred to as the “yamim” (days).  Not the High Holy Days, but Yom Hazikaron – the day on which Israel remembers its fallen soldiers and victims of terror and Yom Ha’atzmaut, when Israelis and Israel’s supporters all around the world celebrate the Jewish State’s independence. I recall marveling at the emotional dexterity of my Israeli friends as they moved from deep, entrenched mourning to joy and thanksgiving in just one 48-hour period. 

A look at our “luach” the Jewish calendar, suggests that this season too provides a striking contrast between disaster and reclamation, between hurt and healing.  This Shabbat is called, “Chazon”.  At this time, we not only commence the reading of the Book of Deuteronomy, but we anticipate the arrival of Tisha b’Av next Wednesday which commemorates the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and concomitantly, the disastrous loss of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Israel. 

The haftarah from the Prophet Isaiah, beginning with the word “Chazon” (thus the name), lays bare both the egregious transgressions committed by the people of Judah in violation of their covenantal obligations and God’s exhaustion and disappointment.  Isaiah denounces his people’s spiritual rebellion, depravity and insincere piety. The “hands of Israel” are “stained with crime”, Jerusalem is a “harlot”, and where “righteousness dwelt, now murderers abide”.  It, like the preceding two haftaroth attributed to Jeremiah, is an unrelenting attack and a forceful incrimination of Israel … until it is not.   

No sooner than Isaiah prosecutes his case against Israel he begins his defense, adjuring them to do that which they are enjoined to do: “Put way their evil doings, cease to do evil, learn to do good, devote themselves to justice and to uphold the rights of the orphan and defend the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).  The prophet of Israel offers condemnation but comfort too. At the very end of the haftarah, Isaiah provides a ray of hope in what is an otherwise gloomy account:  “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, her repentant ones with righteousness.”

Both the story of our people’s at times calamitous history and that of the State of Israel reveals two sides of the same coin.  One side depicts injury and shortfall, and the other hope and recovery. The prophet’s admonition this Shabbat, the commemoration of Tisha B’av on Tuesday/Wednesday and the comforting words of the haftarah prophecies to be read over the next weeks all make it clear: The opportunity for renewal is always present, even in darkness; that broad injustices can be followed by justice restored and that even a betrayal of the covenant - our disregard for our faith, our people and our practice - can be reversed and our return desired and awaited by God.   

The spectre of a Temple in ruin need not lead to despair.  For what lies there, as it does in any reversal of fortune we may suffer individually, is the spark of new growth, hope and light.

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