JWR Outlook



Jewish World Review July 12, 2002 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5762

The Sabbath of
Stark Vision


By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | On the Sabbath day that precedes the week in which the fast day of the Ninth of Av occurs -- a fast day which marks the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome in 139 CE, and other tragedies in Jewish history which coincided with that fateful date, a special reading from the Prophets -- a haftorah -- is recited publicly in the synagogue.

The reading is taken from the first chapter of the book of Isaiah and is a scathing indictment of the moral failings of Israel. The reading begins with the word "chazon," vision. It is from this word that the Sabbath itself derives its special name: Shabbes Chazon, the Sabbath of Stark Vision.

Even though the prophecy of Isaiah was annunciated by him in First Temple times, a century before the actual destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians, it remains uncomfortably and eerily relevant to all other times of Jewish and human life as well. The language and words of the prophet have a cruel beauty to them and the list of sins enumerated therein is long. But the central message of the vision is that the L-rd expects us to be loyal to Him, His Torah, and His value system. Tragedy in Jewish history was always traced not only to external factors and hatreds but also to inner failings and disloyalty amongst the Jews themselves.

The rabbis of the Talmud attributed the destruction of the Second Temple, not so much to Roman imperial policy, as to the presence of baseless hatred and demonization of others amongst the Jews themselves. Thus, it is not only the historical event that is being remembered but, just as importantly, the spiritual and social cause for that sad event is also highlighted and emphasized.

This Sabbath is therefore one of subdued joy and of greater introspection than any other Sabbath of the year. It is even mentioned in Halacha --- Jewish Law -- that festive Sabbath clothing should not be worn on this Sabbath.

However, Jewish communal custom remains that even on this Sabbath, as on all other Sabbath days of the year, special Sabbath clothing is nevertheless worn.

During the week of the Ninth of Av (according to Sephardic custom) or even from the first day of Av onwards (according to Ashkenazic custom), Jews refrain from eating meat or poultry and from drinking wine. However, on the Sabbath, even on this semi-somber Sabbath, the traditional Sabbath menu, which includes wine and meat dishes, is maintained. The Sabbath "zemiros" -- liturgical songs sung at the Sabbath table in honor of the Sabbath -- are also sung on this Sabbath as well.

Yet, the reading from the prophet Isaiah, the Haftorah, is sung to the mournful melody of the Book of Lamentations, Megilas Eicha (Lammentations), which itself is recited on the night of the Ninth of Av. The joyful poem, Lecha Dodi, which is otherwise always sung to happy melodies in order to usher in the Sabbath on Friday nights, is sung on this Sabbath to a much more mournful melody. Thus, this Sabbath of Stark Vision, like much of life itself, is made up of different, oftentimes contradictory customs, ceremonies and emotions.

Even though much of this Sabbath contains overtones of foreboding and sadness, it also carries with it hope and comfort. In order to support this more optimistic view of the future -- and Judaism is nothing if not optimistic about mankind's eventual future -- Jewish custom ordains that the public reading of Isaiah's prophecy end with words of comfort taken from one of his later prophecies. It is certainly true that the stark vision of Isaiah has come to pass in spades. But as Rabbi Akiva pointed out long ago in the Talmud, just as the dire prophecies have been fulfilled fully and literally, so too will the prophecies of hope and comfort, peace and serenity all see fulfillment and fruition as well.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2002, Rabbi Berel Wein