Drash on Parashat Devarim / Shabbat Chazon
Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
Parashat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av. The actual Shabbat is also given a special name; Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of the Vision or the Shabbat of the Prophecy, named after the first word of the Book of Isaiah, from which the Haftarah for this Shabbat is taken.
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up - and they have rebelled against Me! An ox knows its owner, an ass its master’s crib: Israel does not know, My people takes no thought.” (Isaiah 1:2-3). Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, as he could see both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would occur as a result of the people’s wickedness and immorality;
In the Haftarah for Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah cries out; “Eicha hayita l’zonah kiryah …”- “Alas, she has become a harlot, the faithful city that was filled with justice, where righteousness dwelt — but now murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). The word eicha (translated here as “alas”) is also translated as “how”. The prophet Isaiah is lamenting the fall of Jerusalem, once a steadfast champion of virtue and honour, which had descended into chaos and corruption, due to the lack of respect and causeless hatred that existed among the people.
Eichais also the name of the prophetic work that we read on Tisha B’Av (known in English as Lamentations). It begins “Eicha yashvah badad ha’ir rabati am!”- “How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people!”
The term “eicha” is also found in the week’s Torah portion. Devarim begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He recounts their entire history in the wilderness. He asks; “Eicha esa l’vadi tar’chachem u’masa’achem v’rivchem?”- “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering?” (Devarim 1:12). Even Moses lamented the challenges brought on by the Children of Israel.
In Midrash Eicha Rabbah (the midrashic commentary on the book of Eicha), we learn; “There are three who prophesied with the language of "eicha": Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Moses said, "How (eichah) will I carry alone...". Isaiah said, "How (eichah) she has become a harlot..." Jeremiah said, "How (eichah) does she dwell..." Rabbi Levi said: It is compared to a noble woman who had three friends. One saw her in her tranquillity, one saw her in her recklessness, and one saw her in her degenerateness.
Moses saw Israel in their honour, and in their tranquillity, and he said, "How will I carry their burden alone?" Isaiah saw them in their recklessness, and he said "How she has become a harlot...", and Jeremiah saw them in their degenerateness, and he said, "How does she dwell?” (Eicha Rabbah 1:1).
Each of the three (Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah) lamented on what had become, but also reflected on what could have been, and more importantly “how” had the situation come about.
Shabbat Chazon is an opportunity to acknowledge that we are about to commemorate one of the more solemn days in our calendar, and we are obligated to reflect on the national tragedies that occurred, leading to the importance of Tisha B’Av and the significance of the three weeks that precede it. We also have an obligation to lament not only the situations that we as a people have experienced, but also to learn from those situations and seek to improve as individuals and as a people, so that we can help prevent finding ourselves in similar situations in the future. May that be our “chazon”, our vision.