Adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society
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The Sidra of Devarim is always read on the Shabbat before the 9th of Av, the date on which both Temples fell. These tragedies are reflected in the choice of Haftorah for the surrounding weeks, those before the 9th of Av expressing prophecies of rebuke for the sins that were the spiritual cause of the destruction; those afterwards conveying messages of comfort and solace. This week’s Haftorah, the famous “Vision” of Isaiah, gives its name to the day—Shabbat Chazon, the “Shabbat of the Vision.” Traditionally, this is read as a powerful indictment of a rebellious people. But, true to the Chassidic tradition of seeing the Divine blessing even in the apparent curse, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, one of the early Chassidic teachers, saw in it a distant “vision” of the Third Temple of Messianic times. The Rebbe traces the connection between this thought and the content of the Sidra of Devarim, the opening of the “repetition of the law” by Moses to the Israelites as they stand on the threshold of their Promised Land.
1. The Shabbat of the Vision
There is a saying of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev1 that this Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon (when we read as the Haftorah, the famous Vision (Chazon) of Isaiah), is a day when we are presented with a vision of the future Third Temple, even though we see it from a great distance.2
And this leads us to understand the connection between the “vision” of the Haftorah, and the Sidra of Devarim, which are always read together on the Shabbat before the 9th of Av.
For, with Devarim begins the “Second Torah”—Moses’ recapitulation of the Torah. And the whole book of Devarim differs from the other four books of the Chumash in being addressed to the generation who were about to enter the Holy Land.3 They needed counsel and caveat in a way that the previous generations did not. For the people who had traveled in the wilderness possessed an immediate knowledge of the Divine4—they had seen G‑d on Sinai. But the succeeding generation, already touched by their responsibilities in the physical world, lost that immediacy, they heard G‑d but did not see Him. They were addressed in the words5 “And now, Israel, listen….”
And the difference between seeing and hearing is this:6 someone who witnesses an event is unshakable in his testimony about it—he has seen it with his own eyes. But one who hears about an event may eventually entertain doubts. Hearing does not confer certainty.
That is why the generation who were to enter Israel, who heard but did not see G‑d, had to be commanded about self-sacrifice and the like, a warning which would have been superfluous to the people of the wilderness.
In one way, then, the later generation lacked the spiritual immediacy of their forebears. But they were, nonetheless, to reach something unattained by their fathers, who were told:7 “You have not, as yet, come to the rest and the inheritance which the L-rd your G‑d has given to you.” Shiloh and Jerusalem8 were reached only by that later generation. For only by the descent into material concerns, the translation of G‑d’s will into practical action, could the fulfillment be reached of “the rest and the inheritance.”
Devarim, in short, tells us of the paradox that through descent comes true uplifting: The highest achievements of the spirit are won in earthly and not heavenly realms.
And this is also the message of the “vision”—even though this Haftorah is read in the “Nine Days” of mourning for the loss of the Temples, nonetheless through the resultant exile will come the true redemption, the vision of which we glimpse (in the words of the Berditchever) in the very moment of our loss.
2. Sadness and Rejoicing
The sense of mourning, of being “in the straits”9 which dominates our consciousness in the Nine Days when we recall the destruction of the Temples, is broken by Shabbat, the day on which joy must prevail.10Indeed, on the Shabbat before the 9th of Av we are bidden to rejoice even more than usual, to remove any possibility that the melancholy of the surrounding days should intrude into the Shabbat spirit.
But the injunction has a deeper meaning. Shabbat is a reflection of the World to Come; and that future redemption will be so complete as to efface all traces of the exiled past. So on this day there is no place for the evocations of exile.
But we go further on this Shabbat than to eliminate sadness—we increase our joy.
For the future redemption will be more spiritually intense than any previous one. If it merely restored the status quo, exile would have been unnecessary. Each exile of the Jews has culminated in new levels of spirituality, for by being scattered, they have been able to redeem and bring into G‑d’s service environments that would otherwise have been untouched by the hand of Torah. And the end-point of this journey—the Time to Come—will be redemption without further exile, a completeness of spirituality that needs no new excursions.
So the Shabbat most connected with exile, the day of the “vision,” sees in its foretaste of the future, the consummation of all exile and its transformation into undisturbed rejoicing. The Shulchan Aruch11 tells us that on this day it is permitted to prepare a feast like that which Solomon made when he was made king: That the anticipation of the future kingdom might give us the strength to turn the sorrows of exile into the joys of redemption.
(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. II pp. 357-359)
1. Cf. Notes of Tzemach Tzedek on Eichah, p. 45.
2. The word used for vision, chazon, indicates a vision from a distance.
3. Cf. Megillah, 31b. Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar, 17c.
4. Pesikta, Parshat Parah, 14:9. Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar, 37b.
6. Cf. supra, pp. 106-7.
8. Megillah, 10a; Zevachim, 119a; Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah, end ch. 1. Cf. Zohar, Part II, 241a, 242a.
10. Tosefot, Moed Katan, 23b (quoting Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot, 2:7). Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah, 1:4. Sifri, Behaalotecha 10:10.
11. Orach Chayim, 552:10.