This shabbat is called ‘Shabbat Chazon’, the ‘Shabbat of Vision’. It is the shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, the day of Temple destructions, Jewish exile and wanderings. It is the moment in ancient Israel when all was lost, and Judaism itself faced the threat of extinction. Without our country, our place of worship, and our infrastructure, Judaism needed to redefine or disappear, as did the other nations under the rule of powerful empires – we redefined.
What emerged is the Judaism we recognize today. For 2000 years with no land, our country moved into our texts, and we found our ground there –we took them with us wherever we were cast. Our expanding borders became the growth of discourse and debate, and Jewish borders expanded. The Sages of Temple times watched their world crumble and had the vision to seed the future, even in their darkest moments. The ‘Shabbat of Vision’ is named for the fleeting moment in a difficult Haftarah reading this week when the prophet, after outlining the horrors of loss, states there is a better vision of a world that could be. This shabbat, we honour that better vision.
According to the rabbis in the Talmud, the people of Temple times studied Torah, performed commandments, and enacted good deeds, yet we lost the Temple because of ‘baseless hatred’. All the Torah learning, and seemingly good deeds, were empty because we incubated hate within us that sat on nothing of substance. According to some rabbis, hatred of that kind cannot be contained because it is not aimed at an evil, it is aimed at difference. It is when we normalize hating anyone who is not as we are, not validating us because they are different. Two thousand years ago, our Sages warned us that this would lead to the loss of everything.
At times, it’s hard for us to connect to Jewish history that may not speak to us with relevance today. Ancient Temples, powerful empires, exiles and migrations all seem to sit so far from us, but it’s not the historic moment that Tisha B’Av centres on, it’s the enduring message. One of our greatest modern Jewish thinkers, Rav Kook, once said: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love” —therein lies the vision of this Shabbat –to glimpse a time when difference is not tolerated, but welcomed and embraced.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat — our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.