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Rabbis' Blog

Visions and Messages

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This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon (Vision) because the Haftarah we read during Shabbat services opens with the phrase “Chazon Yashayahu – the vision of Isaiah”. The prophet foretells the defeat of the Jewish kingdom, the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the complete dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. As the anniversary of this devastation will be observed next week on Tisha B’Av, it is an appropriate preview to this sad event.

It is a harsh and traumatic reality but not fatal. After all, after experiencing this type of destruction twice and close to 2,000 years of exile, we are still here to tell the story. So what is the message of this week’s Haftarah? Are we simply crying over lost glory and missed opportunities?

One of the great Chassidic masters, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev provided the following analogy for our current situation. A father once commissioned an expensive suit for his beloved son. The little boy proudly wore the handsome suit all the time. After several hours, he joined his friends playing in the mud and by days end the suit was soiled and torn beyond repair.

The father’s devotion to his son was such that he immediately ordered an even more expensive suit by the tailor and lovingly presented it to his son. Chastened by the previous experience, the boy was extra careful with his clothing and managed to keep the suit intact for a little bit longer than the first one. But a child is a child, and some time later the suit was reduced to rags.

The loving father requested that the tailor prepare a third suit of far superior quality but did not allow his son to wear it. Instead, once in a while he would show it to his son, to motivate him to train himself to be worthy of wearing such a special garment.

We merited to have a Holy Temple in our midst. An edifice that served as a gateway to Heaven and a place of G-dly revelation. Alas, we got carried away with frivolities and became unworthy of containing such divinity. The second time around we lost our moral vision and descended into utter civil war, causing the greatest national tragedies in our history.

This time around, the Third Holy Temple is waiting behind the scenes until we achieve greater spiritual maturity. Each year, on Shabbat Chazon every soul has a “vision” of the Third Holy Temple so that we are motivated to do more. To strengthen our commitment to Torah study and Mitzvah observance with the acute awareness that the redemption of the entire world depends on every good deed.

While the vision of Isaiah reads as a message of doom, Chassidus provides us the inner meaning of this vision. Exile is not G-d’s revenge for our failure to perform as expected. It serves as the catalyst for the ultimate redemption. The message of this Shabbat is one of joyful hope. We are not serving out a sentence. We are preparing for the greatest realities of all time, with the arrival of Moshiach.

As Isaiah concludes, “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness.” May it happen right now!

Inspiration in Defeat

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For three weeks, we commemorate the defeat of our nation with the destruction of the two Holy Temples and the subsequent exiles. In contrast to other ancient civilizations, our dispersion did not result in our assimilation to our host countries. For close to two millennia our heritage of Torah and mitzvoth persevered despite constant persecution, tragedy and challenge.

The Haftarah (portion of the prophets) that we read this week during Shabbat morning services contains the secret to our miraculous endurance. G-d ordained the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) to communicate perhaps the harshest messages to the Jews, rebuking them for forsaking their covenant with G-d and foretelling the impending tragedies to come. The bible records a fascinating exchange between G-d and Yirmiyahu before he received the prophecy of doom (Jeremiah 1:4-10):

And the word of the L-rd came to me, saying: When I had not yet formed you in the womb, I knew you, and when you had not yet emerged from the womb, I had appointed you; a prophet to the nations I made you. And I said, "Alas, O L-rd G-d! Behold, I know not to speak for I am a youth. And the L-rd said to me; Say not, "I am a youth," for wherever I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Fear them not, for I am with you to save you, says the Lord… Behold, I have appointed you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to uproot and to crush, and to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.

Jeremiah feels inadequate to get the job done and he is reassured that he will succeed because G-d is with him.

This powerful message of hope sets the tone for the Jewish experience of exile. Our dispersion is not simply a punishment for our communal iniquities. It is the setting in which we are meant to reach greater spiritual heights and accomplish greater spiritual feats than we were capable of during the Temple era.

It is a difficult mission. Rife with pitfalls and danger zones. Embarking on this journey was a terrifying experience. Therefore, G-d sends us the reassuring message that He is with us throughout. As long as we remain conscious of His presence, nothing can stand in our way.

In our defeat, we became closer to G-d than ever before. It is up to us to tap into this powerful and encouraging reality and to reveal the inherent good within creation through the following our eternal guide, the Torah, and inspiring others to follow suit. We will surely succeed and merit the arrival of Moshiach and the era of ultimate good for all of creation.

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