Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tisha B'Av 5769

The text below is from yesterday's Haftarah. It is read every year on the Shabbat before Tisha B'av.

Isaiah Chapter 1

1. The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken, I have reared and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
3. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not consider.
4. Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children who are corrupters; they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they have turned backwards.
5. Where should you still be stricken that you revolt again? Every head is sick, and every heart is faint.
6. From the sole of the foot to the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and sores; they have not been pressed, nor bound up, nor softened with oil.
7. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; as for your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as if overthrown by strangers.
8. And the daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, like a besieged city.
9. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a very small remnant, we should have been like Sodom, and we should have been like Gomorrah.
10. Hear the word of the Lord, rulers of Sodom; give ear to the Torah of our God, people of Gomorrah.
11. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? said the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of male goats.
12. When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand, to trample my courts?
13. Bring no more vain offerings; incense of abomination they are to me; as for new moons and sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn meeting.
14. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to me; I am weary of enduring them.
15. And when you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; and, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.
16. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil;
17. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the orphan, plead for the widow.
18. Come now, and let us reason together, said the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
19. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
20. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
21. How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
22. Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water;
23. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loves bribes, and follows after rewards; they judge not the orphans neither does the cause of the widow reach them.
24. Therefore said the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of my adversaries, and avenge me of my enemies;
25. And I will turn my hand upon you, and smelt away your dross as with lye, and take away all your base alloy;
26. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning; afterward you shall be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
27. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those who return to her with righteousness.
To here the Haftarah reading. But the actual text of the chapter continues another few verses. It was removed from the Haftarah reading, I believe, because it was "too scary." Even for theses days before Tisha B'av the early rabbis, who esrablished the Haftarah system, wanted to end on a note of hope.

The prophet however, tells it like it is. And indeed, Judah had to be exiled and to suffer greatly before its repentance and the redemption.

28. And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, and you shall be confounded because of the gardens that you have chosen.
30. For you shall be like an oak whose leave withers, and like a garden that has no water.
31. And the strong shall be as the low, and his work a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

Political commentary about Israel/Palestine? You bet! Is Israel doomed unless it changes it path? Maybe.

Or maybe not. History does not have to repeat itself. And (to borrow wisdom form another great religious tradition) one cannot step into the same river twice.

However, on one point nearly all traditional Jewish sources agree: the last line of the Haftarah.
Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those who return to her with righteousness.
And what is this righteousness, but the application of the same law equally to all inhabitants of the land ("seek judgment") and championing the cause of the weak and powerless ("relieve the oppressed, judge the orphan, plead for the widow.")

If our people's return to Zion is based on power alone, it is a betrayal, not a fulfillment, of the dreams of generations. The "hope of two thousand year" (Hatikvah, shnat alpayim) is not to be a free nation in our land - but to be a redeemed, righteous, and just nation in our own land.

Without that, the land is not anything special, and in any case our hold on it will be tenuous.

This is the lesson of Tisha B'Av.


Anonymous Shmuel said...

We tend to forget the message of Shabbat Hazon all too quickly, sinking as we do into the self-pity of Tish'ah Be'av and the self-indulgence of the Shiv'ah Denehemta - the seven Shabbatot of comfort. By that time we are feeling self-righteous enough to beat our breasts, wear white, prostrate ourselves, and consider ourselves forgiven. Jeshurun has indeed grown fat.

1:46 pm  

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