Thoughts on Shabbat Chazon (5779/2019)
[Torah portion: Devarim (Deut. 3:23 – 7:11)]
[I shared the following dvar torah with the congregation on Friday evening 8/9/19, the start of Zippy’s bat mitzvah weekend.]
This Shabbat is traditionally known as Shabbat Chazon – “The Sabbath of Vision” after the first phrase in tomorrow morning’s Haftarah:
א חֲזוֹן, יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶן-אָמוֹץ, אֲשֶׁר חָזָה…
1 The vision (“chazon”) of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he envisioned (“chazah”) concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
ב שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמַיִם וְהַאֲזִינִי אֶרֶץ, כִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר: בָּנִים גִּדַּלְתִּי וְרוֹמַמְתִּי, וְהֵם פָּשְׁעוּ בִי.
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Eternal has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me.
(Isaiah 1: 1-2)
Now, I don’t know how rebellious a child Zippy has or hasn’t been towards her parents in the first 13 years of her life. However, I think it’s safe to say that with regard to her Jewish heritage she has embraced it rather than rebelled from it. All of us here at Temple Israel are so proud of Zippy for her diligence and thoughtfulness and dedication that has brought her and her family to this happy occasion. And I for one have confidence that, to the extent that Zippy may be rebellious in her future life-- it will be righteous rebelliousness on behalf of creating a better world.
As for Isaiah’s vision of the rebellious children of Israel, the reason Zippy will be chanting those particular words in the haftarah tomorrow morning is because the Shabbat of Torah portion Devarim is always the Shabbat immediately preceding the observance of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av. The Mishnah teaches that the 9th of Av was the date of a whole slew of calamities in Jewish history, including the destruction of both the first Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
Shabbat this week falls exactly on the 9th of Av but our tradition is that the joyfulness, peace, thanksgiving and hope of Shabbat trumps the mourning and sadness of Tisha B’Av, so, those who observe Tisha B’Av will not begin doing so until tomorrow evening when Shabbat ends.
And, admittedly, even when it doesn’t coincide with Shabbat, the prescribed sadness of Tisha B’Av doesn’t resonate all that much with many of us.
The Talmud teaches that the second Temple was destroyed because Israelite society of the time was filled with “sinat chinam” (“causeless hatred”) and traditional Jewish liturgy asserts that we were exiled from the Land “mipnei chata’eynu” (“because of our sins.”). That sort of “blame the victim” theology is generally repugnant to many of us.
But nevertheless, when we try to put this all into a contemporary context – isn’t our own American society today engulfed with sinat chinam/ causeless hatred? And, in particular, hatred of would be asylum seekers and migrants fleeing violence and abject poverty in search of a better and safer life here in this country?
Indeed, the images of national calamity and starving refugees that we find in Megillat Eicha/ The Book of Lamentations and in other liturgy of Tisha B’Av – these images resonate this year.
Here’s an excerpt from an article from today’s edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer that my friend and colleague Rabbi Shawn Zevit shared on social media today:,
The article is entitled: “For Jewish Groups In Philly Protesting Trump’s Treatment Of Migrants, The Spiritual Is Political.”
I’ll share a short excerpt:
“As President Donald Trump continues to toughen his policies toward immigrants, particularly those who mass at the southwest border, Jews in the Philadelphia area and across the country are escalating their protests and public actions to levels that, some say, have not been seen since the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
“They’ve become an increasingly visible presence, helmed nationally by such newborn Jewish coalitions as Never Again Action, formed in June, as well as older groups like the human-rights organization T’ruah.
“Many of them will be participating in a Jewish-run vigil at the Liberty Bell on Sunday. It will coincide with the fast of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Holy Temples, and use the fast’s liturgy to raise awareness of the tortured journey of today’s asylum-seekers.”
Here in Minnesota, there will be an action taking place in Elk River on Sunday evening that I plan to attend. What is going to be happening is that at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday, as Tisha B’Av draws to a close, a number of Minnesota and national Jewish groups will be gathering in Elk River, Minnesota, outside the Sherburne County Jail, which is where the largest number of ICE detainees are held in our state while they await trial.
The description of the event --- which you can find on Facebook – goes on to say:
“Join us in Elk River at 7:30 PM for peaceful, lawful assembly, with a focus on Jewish ritual. We will pray, chant Eicha, and blow the shofar, calling us in to action, advocacy and solidarity, demonstrating publicly that the Jewish community will not turn its back on refugees arriving in our country and our immigrant neighbors already here […]
After a few more logistical details it says…
“The immigrant-led organization United We Dream is asking allies to hold vigils and protests outside Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) office nationwide. On Tisha B’Av (August 11, 2019), NCJW, T’ruah, Bend the Arc, the RAC and J Street are partnering to coordinate Jewish vigils and protests nationwide, demanding an end to this unfolding modern-day catastrophe.”
And on the website for Truah – which is an organization of North American rabbis from all streams of Judaism concerned with human rights issues --- you can find the following background information:
“Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the plight of our refugee ancestors. On this Jewish day of mourning, we cannot ignore the cries of those whose tragedy is right before us, the many immigrants and asylum seekers who are being treated inhumanely by the Trump administration. We need to demonstrate publicly that the Jewish community will not turn its back on refugees arriving in our country and our immigrant neighbors already here.”
The kipah I’m wearing tonight is from El Paso, Texas.
[Reads text on inside of kipah which has the English and Hebrew names and dates for the Bar Mitzvah of Aaron Rosendorf in 2017.]
So, my good friend, New Mexico State University Las Cruces History Professor Neal Rosendorf, the father of Aaron -- whose bar mitzvah I was thrilled to attend in El Paso two years ago --- my good friend Neal was lovingly haranguing me a couple of weeks ago about how absolutely critical it is for all of us to stand up to the cruel, inhumane immigration and asylum policies of our current presidential administration.
I was frankly a little annoyed and exasperated when Neal insisted on texting me photos of harsh conditions in ICE detention camps near El Paso which he himself had photographed.
And I was discomfited when Neal hectored me wanting to make sure that I was reading closely enough all of his many tweets on Twitter on the subject.
And, in the last sentence of a long text message he sent me on July 30th he said, and I quote,
“What are you doing, period, to address the central moral issue of our time?”
And he followed that up the next morning by texting me:
“Nota bene, that last message is meant more as a call to arms than a rebuke – although I will not underplay its pointedly admonitory tone. You have considerable moral authority and convening power, and a concomitant responsibility to deploy them. Join the fight. Lives, and the soul of America, depend on it.”
Okay – so I decided not to respond while I took some time to cool off.
But then, only three days later, came the terrorist attack in El Paso by one of our fellow Americans who decided that shooting up a Walmart in pursuit of an immigrant-free America was a noble cause. The terrorist reportedly claims that his repugnant ideas – which he posted on the internet twenty minutes before committing mass murder --- preceded any policy enactments of the current presidential administration. But the terrorist’s words – decrying a so-called “invasion” on our southern border -- echoed those of our Commander-in-Chief.
So, last Saturday afternoon, once I learned about the shootings in El Paso, I put aside any annoyance I had with my friend Neal and I contacted him to make sure that he and his family were okay
AND to tell him that I appreciated his passion for justice on this issue
AND to assure him that I do in fact speak about the immigration crisis in my work as a rabbi
-- as in fact I am doing in speaking to all of you right now.
Tisha B’Av this year is as relevant as it has ever been because sinat chinam (“causeless hatred”) is running amok just as our tradition teaches was the case in the land of Israel in the year 70 of the common era.
So here in the year 2019 of the common era, let’s counter sinat chinam / causeless hatred – with ahavat chinam --- causeless love ---
Love that requires no justification.
Love of our neighbors and love of the stranger.
The sort of love and compassion that we strive to cultivate in our families and in our communities, including the community that comprises this holy congregation of Temple Israel --- and the worldwide fellowship of Am Yisra’el/ The Jewish people.
Together, as Jews and our allies committed to Tikkun Olam/ the repair of the world, with God’s help, may we achieve that Chazon – that Vision – of Isaiah which Zippy will chant about in her haftarah tomorrow morning:
Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.
"Come, let us reach an understanding,
--declares the Eternal--
Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece."
If, then, you agree and give heed,
You will eat the good things of the earth;
After that you shall be called
City of Righteousness, Faithful City."
© Rabbi David Steinberg
Av 5779/ August 2019
 Yoma 9b
 Isaiah 1: 17-19, 26b