Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22
This week we not only begin a new book of Torah, but we observe Shabbat Hazon, which is the Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha B’Av.
There is a powerful connection between this parasha, the concept of Shabbat Hazon, which literally means “sabbath of vision,” and the observance of Tisha B’Av. In Devarim, Moses begins his first major speech before his death, and starts off by reminding Israel of the MANY terrible mistakes it made during the forty years of wandering. While this might seem harsh, it is more like tough love – and in an odd way I am reminded of hockey all star Wayne Gretzky. He once quipped that 100% of the shots he doesn’t take, don’t go in. Moses forces us to confront our past deeds, because 100% of time, we cannot learn from the mistakes which we do not acknowledge.
On Tisha B’Av we remember and mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as many other tragedies which befell our people on this date in years past. Yet Tisha B’Av leaves us with a theological dilemma: how could God have allowed the destruction of either Temple, let alone both? In the Talmud we learn that the problem was not God, but us:
Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because three things happened in it: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed … But the Second Temple, in which there was so much Torah study, observance of commandments, and acts of good deeds – why was it destroyed? Because there was senseless hatred inside of it. This teaches you that senseless hatred is equal to the three worst sins in Judaism: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed. [Talmud Bavli, Yoma 9b]
History offers a stern warning to those who learn hatred.
We, a people steeped in history and memory, are ignoring this warning.
Today, the Jewish people is a people divided, and senseless hatred festers in our midst. There is a growing tension between the Diaspora and Israel; there is infighting within the State of Israel about the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Jews and Judaism, and by corollary, the definition of who is a Jew; an increasing number of American Jews have stopped speaking with fellow Jews who do not share their positions on Israel or politics.
On this Sabbath of Vision, let us look to Moses. Let us acknowledge our mistakes that we can learn to be better. Let us seek ways to speak with each other rather than scream at, ignore or avoid those with whom we disagree. Let us acknowledge our differences, and yet seek ways to be one people, here and in our ancient homeland.
For how could we possibly bear to add another calamity to the list, for Tisha B’Av.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras