This week's Haftarah: exhortations before 9 Av
July 25, 2006
Verses 1-27 of the book of Isaiah make up the haftarah for Shabbat Hazon, the last Shabbat before Tisha b'Av. In my post this week for Radical Torah, I chose to focus on this prophetic reading rather than the Torah portion with which it is linked.
Isaiah offers strong words about the emptiness of the Israelite religious practice of his day. With empty rituals (and, worse, with wicked lives), he argues, the Israelites made a mockery of worship. He urges teshuvah, repentance, in a way I find deeply thought-provoking. Here are some of the questions his words raise for me:
What might it mean to devote ourselves to justice and to aid the wronged? Are we feeding the hungry, educating those in need, rehabilitating those incarcerated in our prisons? Do we provide affordable health care? Do our poorest cousins receive high-quality educations like our richest ones do?
Less than a year ago Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans and its environs. Did we do all that we could to protect the people of New Orleans, especially those who didn't have the resources to evacuate in time? Have we since done all we can to rebuild their lives? Do we remember them? What about those in ordinary poverty, here and elsewhere: do we remember them? How do we uphold the rights of the poor and powerless? How do we comfort those whose lives have been torn apart by loss?
Toward the end of my post, I link this Shabbat's reading with the holiday we'll commemorate next week:
The crescent moon of Av is waxing, and Tisha b'Av is almost upon us. Next week we will mourn the destruction of the Temple, once the place where we understood ourselves to be in connection with the Source of All. Tisha b'Av marks the beginning of a historical exile, but more than that I think it points to a fundamental condition of exile from God -- one which, as Isaiah notes, we create ourselves when we allow our observances to be empty, and our lives to be marred with wickedness.
Read the whole thing here: Exhortations and obligations.