Archive for Shabbat Hazon

Devarim and Shabbat Hazon: Choosing Not to See

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Devarim and Shabbat Hazon

This week there is no confusion about which Torah
portion goes with which haftarah: we’re starting the book of D’varim/
Deuteronomy, which always begins right before Tisha B’av, and is thus
always accompanied by the opening verses of Yeshayahu [Isaiah]. In
fact, since the book of Yeshayahu begins with the word “hazon,” or
“vision,” this Shabbat is often called “Shabbat Hazon,” after the

Before digging into the haftarah, let’s review where we are on the
Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, or the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av,
is the saddest day of of the Jewish year, a day of penitential fasting
marking the destruction of Biblical Jerusalem- a disaster
traditionally understood as arising from the sins and disloyalty of
the Jewish people. For the past two weeks, we’ve read haftarot of
“rebuke” in line with this theme of cosmic moral accountability;
regardless of our personal theology regarding the relationship between
suffering and sin, we can agree that this period in the Jewish
calendar is one of cheshbon nefesh, or “soul-accounting,” and
acknowledging how far we are from our professed ideals, both
individually and communally.

Enter Yeshayahu, who explicitly links the looming overthrow of
Jerusalem with the hypocrisy and selfishness of the people; he
declares that the holiday and new moon offerings are rejected by God
because the people’s hands are “stained with crime.” (Is. 1:14-15)
Twice, the prophet mentions the people’s failure to protect widows and
orphans, two categories of people who would be marginalized in a
patriarchal society. More specifically, Yeshayahu castigates the
leaders not so much for oppressing widows and orphans (that is, the
powerless and marginalized) but for ignoring them:

“Your rulers are rogues
And cronies of thieves,
Every one avid for presents
And greedy for gifts;
They do not judge the case of the orphan,
And the widow’s cause never reaches them.” (1:23)

The Hebrew of the latter verse is clear: “the cause [or case] of the
widow never comes up to them” [lo yavo aleihem].

Now the prophet’s anger makes sense- it is one thing to condemn evil,
but far more common is apathy and willed ignorance. Criminals will
always be with us, and there will always be laws condemning them, but
what about those people who are simply “off the radar screen” of those
who could help? This is the more widespread offense: to choose not to
see, to be too busy to hear, to simply close one’s perceptions to the
cry of those in pain.

This, I believe, is the source of the prophetic sense of moral
outrage: a society where some are not seen, whose case is not heard,
is a society that cannot, by definition, be just or fair. In the week
before Tisha B’Av, when we are mourning the brokenness of the world,
we can ask ourselves: how can I heal that which I may not even see?
What causes are not coming before us as a community? What have I
dismissed through constricted vision?

When we choose to see what we’ve previously not, we give our hearts a
chance to be stirred- and that’s the moment things change.

Shabbat Shalom,


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