This week, prior to the Ninth of Av, we begin reading Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy. But the special name given to this Sabbath is not related to the Torah reading, but rather to the Haftorah, which is the first 27 verses of the book of Isaiah. It begins with the words “Chazon Yeshayahu ben Amotz,” “The Vision of Isaiah son of Amotz,” and thus this Sabbath is called “Shabbos Chazon,” “the Sabbath of the Vision.”
The vision provided by Isaiah is not an encouraging one. “Children I raised and elevated, and they have sinned against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s trough; Israel does not know, my nation does not consider” [Is. 1:2-3].
The prophet does not, in this passage, speak at length about the punishment for continued wrongdoing. Losing Divine protection is treated as an obvious consequence of Israel moving away from G-d; it is our choice. “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken it” [1:20]. On the contrary, the focus is upon the need to correct ourselves.
What we have seen in the past weeks is not only a spirit of unity in the Jewish nation, but unity behind a positive value. As the Tower of Babel shows us, not all unity is positive. It is not enough to spout platitudes about “Ahavas Yisrael” (love of our fellow Jews) or “Achdus” (unity) as if anything Jews want is ok. That unity must be behind a positive value.
In this case, it is: the protection of Jewish lives. One of the Torah’s greatest precepts is that “you shall live by them [the Commandments],” requiring that G-d’s other laws (with few exceptions) be set aside in order to save a life. No one questions why the IDF Rabbinate told the soldiers in Gaza that they should eat on the Ninth of Av this year.
But similarly, I was pleasantly surprised to read that a popular author from Israel’s extreme left (who moved to a kibbutz because “Tel Aviv wasn’t radical enough”) opened an interview in a German weekly by asking the readers: “what would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?” The question is no surprise, it is one I asked rhetorically myself — the surprise is that someone so far out on the left would ask it, and in so doing assert the truth of Hamas’ crimes against Gazan civilians.
Unity alone is not enough â€“ we must take it in the right direction. That is when “the Lord, HaShem, Master of Legions, Mighty One of Israel” says that “I shall be comforted of my adversaries, and avenge [Myself] from My enemies,” and declares that “I will restore your judges as it was at first, and your advisers as at the start” [1:24,26].
May we soon see the Ninth of Av changed from a day of mourning to one of joy.