Sunday, August 3, 2014

Shabbat Hazon: Zion will be Redeemed by Justice

It is often said that this week’s Haftarah (Isaiah 1:1-27) which is always read on the Sabbath before Tisha b’Av, relates to the destruction of the Temple rather than the Torah reading. Yet, Isaiah’s vision can actually be seen as relating to the entire book of Deuteronomy, not only this week’s reading. In Deuteronomy, Moses addresses the generation of the wilderness, just before they are to enter the land of Israel. There is no doubt of their legitimate right to the land but he warns and reminds them that their inheritance is not unconditional, rather it is contingent on loyalty to God and adherence to the Torah.

Isaiah refers to the people he addresses as survivors (v. 9), without whom all would be lost, not unlike the founding generation of the State that included many Holocaust survivors. Yet God declares, “Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime (v. 15).” 

Last week, I received many notices asking all Jews everywhere to say the Shema together at a certain time “for the success and protection of our soldiers.” In response to one such invitation I responded, “Drawing strength from an act of togetherness is good and helpful, as is prayer and praying together. However, anything that smacks of theurgy or the idea that a ritual act can change the facts on the ground is dangerous.” Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley answered: “So is pilpul.” I didn’t pursue the matter with him; perhaps he has never met someone like my neighbor who, last time around (two years ago), was convinced that if we all said a specific Psalm exactly at midnight, salvation would come. Life and divine protection are more complicated  than that.

Isaiah is clear: “Though you pray at length, I will not listen… [until you] wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow (vv. 15-17).”

The faithful city Jerusalem is declared a harlot because justice is forgotten, its rulers are rogues and the cases of the weak remain unheard (vv. 21, 23). Yet all is not lost, the people can correct their ways. We, too, must not think that we have an eternal entitlement to this land, regardless of our behavior. Both now, in this difficult time, and surely when it is over, we must turn our urgent attention to righting wrongs and creating a just society for all, for Zion shall be redeemed by Justice, and her returnees in righteousness (v. 25).
7 Av 5774 (2 August 2014)

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