Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
Last week, The Times of Israel published an article entitled, “Why I’m not fasting on Tisha B’Av this year.” The title arises out of the fact that this year, Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, falls on Shabbat. If a fast day (other than Yom Kippur) falls on Shabbat, the fast is delayed. This year, the fast of Tisha B’Av will take place Sunday, July 29.
So, if we are not fasting on Tisha B’Av this year, what should we do?
One answer comes from the sacred texts we read this week. The Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha B’Av (this year it coincides with the actual date) is called Shabbat Hazon, after the first word of the haftara portion for this day. The portion, which opens the Book of Isaiah, prophesies the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem as a result of the people’s iniquity, infidelity to God and false reliance on ritual sacrifices.
The “Etz Chayim” Torah commentary states, “Three separate pronouncements of doom and disaster make up this haftarah. Viewed as a whole, the three speeches present the inverse of what a society should value: the betrayal of covenantal loyalty, the perversion of ritual, and the blindness of moral vision.”
Of course, the teshuva, repentance, of the people would save them.
“Hazon” means vision, and the vision described in this passage from Isaiah is bleak, the people and the land are suffering:
Every head is ailing
And every heart is sick…
Your land is a waste,
Your cities burnt down.
(Isaiah 1: 5, 7)
When members of society as a whole are distracted from a moral life of principles and values, when Jews disconnect from Torah, then we are all weakened. Just as it was true in the time of the prophet, it is true in our day as well. When we stop to consider the wars, oppression, violence, corruption, hunger and poverty-related disease that exist in our world today, we lament. Every head is ailing and every heart is sick.
But at the end of the passage, we are reminded that we can turn things around:
Wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil doings
Away from My sight.
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourself to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.
What will we do this Tisha B’Av when we cannot fast and on the following day when we do observe the fast? One answer: Let’s start with visioning what our world could look like, if only we learned to do good and devoted ourselves to justice.
Another answer emerges from our history and the history of Tisha B’Av in particular. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) explains that the destruction of the First Temple was due to the Jewish nation’s violation of the three cardinal sins: idol worship, murder and sexual immorality. At the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, however, the Jews were occupied with Torah and good deeds. Why then, asked the rabbinic sages, was the Second Temple destroyed? The conclusion presented in the Talmud was that, though they did occupy themselves with Torah, nevertheless there was “baseless hatred — sinat chinam” for one another. The lesson is plain: baseless hatred is equivalent to the three sins of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed.
According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s first chief rabbi, the second Temple, destroyed by sinat chinam, senseless hatred, will only be rebuilt by ahavat chinam, love without reason.
On this Shabbat, and on Tisha B’Av, may each of us take a few moments to imagine what would happen if we started to practice ahavat chinam — in our homes, in our synagogues and in our communities. And then, let’s begin.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)