What if you could travel back in time, not merely to observe, but to rectify the past and reshape the future? The annual observance of Shabbat Chazon, “the Sabbath of Vision,” offers us a symbolic journey of this kind. Far from a mere memorial, it serves as a powerful catalyst for personal and collective transformation. This sabbath, which occurs before the fast of the 9th of Av, embodies more than historical remembrance. It embodies introspection, repentance, and above all, a vision for a future imbued with righteousness, justice, and peace.
The special name of the Sabbath, “the Sabbath of Vision,” is taken from the initial word of the day’s haftarah, or reading from the prophets. Derived from Isaiah 1:1-27, this particular reading is the last in a triad of ‘Haftarot of Affliction’, recited during the solemn Three Weeks. This period, extending from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av, is designated for mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of the holy Temple, a tragedy that indelibly scarred Jewish history.
In this reading, the prophet Isaiah recounts a divine vision. He berates the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem for their disobedience against God, reproaching them for failing to amend their ways despite enduring rebukes and punishments. Vivid and harsh language is used, likening the Jewish people to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. God further expresses disdain for their sacrifices, tainted as they were with pagan customs and accompanied by immoral behavior, and laments the moral degradation of a city once radiant with justice.
However, the haftarah is not entirely cast in the shadows of reproof. Isaiah, shifting to a softer tone, urges his people to sincerely repent and perform acts of charity and kindness towards the vulnerable among them – the needy, the orphans, and the widows. He assures them of bountiful rewards for their obedience and concludes with a hopeful promise of a future redemption: God will restore Israel’s leaders and judges, and “Zion shall be saved in the judgment; Her repentant ones, in the retribution. (Isaiah 1:27)”
As Rabbi Mendel Hirsch underscores, the prophet’s lamentations were not centered on the future destruction of the Temple, but on the deep-rooted causes behind this devastation. This insight refocuses the traditional mourning of Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) from the past to the present.
We should not confine ourselves to mourning the tremendous loss borne by our ancestors – the devastation of our land, the desecration of our holy city, and the ruin of our sacred Temple. Instead, our sorrow should prompt introspection about our current behaviors, attitudes, and practices. We must question the extent to which we have eradicated the destructive habits that led to the exile of our forebears, not once, but twice.
An honest evaluation of our spiritual commitments is imperative. Are our prayers, like the animal sacrifices described by Isaiah, merely lip service, bereft of sincere conviction, and serving as substitutes for genuine devotion? Or, as Rabbi Hirsch poignantly asks, is our contemporary Jewish reality sufficiently infused with spirituality and enriched by the Torah so that it could support the reestablishment of God’s Temple? If the answer to that question is no, we have a lot of soul-searching to do.
Echoing these sentiments, Sivan Rahav-Meir, Israeli media personality and lecturer, urges us to recognize the Sabbath of Vision as an opportunity for expanding our own vision. It compels us to imagine the ultimate redemption, both collective and individual. It is a time to contemplate what is lacking in our world, to acknowledge the spaces left vacant, the troubles we face, the pain we endure, and to hope for better days. Given the many terror attacks that have already occurred in Israel this year, it is tragically easy to empathize with grief and yearn for a rectified world.
She quotes Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s words as a fitting conclusion: “We have begun to speak of great things, among ourselves and in the ears of the entire world, and we have not yet finished. We are still in the middle of our speech.”
The Sabbath of Vision reminds us that Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is not only a day to lament our losses but also a time to recall our potential and responsibilities. It prompts us to remember what is expected of us, thereby transforming our mourning into a catalyst for meaningful change and reconnection with our divine heritage.