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Tisha b’Av transformations

THE pinnacle of the pain and sorrow we remember during The Three Weeks is on Tisha b’Av, this coming week on Tuesday.

But before we enter that day of grief and mourning we always experience “Shabbat Chazon,” the Shabbat of Vision.

This Sabbath’s name pays homage to the Haftorah, the Prophetic reading we chant tomorrow, beginning with the famous words, “Chazon Yeshayahu, the vision of Isaiah      . . . ” Hence the name, a Shabbat of Vision.

Isaiah’s vision is one of children who have forsaken their parents, of a people that has forsaken its  G-d. And of course, a vision of the mournful destruction of Jerusalem.

It is a painful vision. Yet, Shabbat Chazon gives us the opportunity to visualize.

True, Isaiah visualizes the desolation and destruction, but is that all we are to visualize on the Sabbath preceding Tisha b’Av? We may visualize like Rabbi Akiva did. When he saw the desolation on the Temple Mount, when he saw foxes crawling through the debris, he was encouraged, for if the prophecies of destruction came true, so would the prophecies of rebuilding. Thus was Rabbi Akiva’s courageously optimistic vision.

Read also the IJN editorial on Tisha b’Av

If there is Isaiah’s vision of a destroyed temple, what is the vision we can counteract it with? Perhaps that is part of this Shabbat of Vision. Before we embrace the sadness and pain, we have the opportunity to enter the day against the backdrop of a hopeful vision, one of renewal and possibility.

THE sense of vision, the sense of sight, is a powerful one.

Sometimes, if we can visualize something, this can become the reality we keep an eye on as an inspiration for change. Sometimes it is scary to do that. It is easier to stay with the familiar status quo, even with a difficult vision like Isaiah’s. At least we know it, as hard as it is. We have learned to navigate it, and there is some strange degree of convenience to that. Visualizing the unknown can be daunting, even if it is an ultimate vision of rebirth and rebuilding.

When we allow ourselves to see, to visualize, we are connecting with another reality. Almost in an intimate way. One of the strongest symbols of our eyes as a way of connecting  is that of two people in love gazing into each other’s eyes. Seeing becomes connecting.

On Shabbat Chazon we see the vision of destruction, but we can also take the opportunity to visualize the opposite of every negative vision and prophecy, and bring some hope and connection in our relationship with G-d by aspiring to a strong Jewish future.

On Shabbat Chazon we can visualize the golden Temple rebuilt — the receptacle for the Divine Presence in this world, a physical point of connection on this earth between us, the finite, and G-d the infinite. It is possible! That is what Shabbat Chazon grants us: a day within the darkness of this period that allows us to dream, to wish, to see, to dare to visualize the outline of the future Holy Temple, the Bet Hamikdash.

Year in and year out we go through the motions of the Three Weeks and of Tisha b’Av. Each year of the non-rebuilt Temple becomes another layer in our consciousness of distance from achieving the vision, this dream of the Jewish people. The vision becomes weaker and weaker in time. Each year makes it harder to really envision, to really see, the possibility of a fully rebuilt Jerusalem. The Three weeks and Tisha b’Av just becomes a ritual after a while.

But then comes Shabbat Chazon with the opportunity to open our eyes and become our very own visionaries. To imagine the transformation we seek in the prayers that we say almost mechanically  throughout the years about  the coming of Mashiach, about seeing the Temple rebuilt.

All those prayers, all those whispers of the generations come together and coalesce on Tisha b’Av.

At the conclusion of every book in the Torah, we chant in unison chazak chazak ve-nitchazek, “may we be strong and strengthened.”

Last Shabbat we concluded the book of Numbers. The next book is Devarim (Deuteronomy), “words.”

This book primarily consists of Moses’ farewell to the Jewish people. It is the book of Moses’ words. He is speaking, teaching and talking throughout the book. The Sabbath of Vision and the opening of Devarim are are experienced in tandem.

Isn’t it strange? Of all things, remember how Moses resisted accepting the leadership of the Jewish people because he complained to G-d that he was not a man of words? And he wasn’t. And yet here he is now, a man of words! Although it is still somewhat of a struggle for him to speak, he has been transformed. He went from “I am not a man of words” to . . . Devarim, words.

The Sabbath of “words” is the inspiration to the Shabbat of Vision. The vision is the devastating vision of Isaiah, but we can also visualize a redeeming, transformative vision because things can change. As they did for Moses.

Things can change for the Jewish people.

The first step we can all take in actualizing this is in our mind’s eye: to envision the Temple standing in Jerusalem one day.

Until that happens, the other connecting point between Shabbat Chazon and the opening of Deuteronomy is the sadness that Moses coped with, knowing he would never enter the promised land.

This is the emotion of this Three Week period culminating in Tisha b’Av.

This is much of the emotion of the book of Deuteronomy — living with the unfulfilled dreams we each carry as individuals and as a people, and coming to terms with them.

Then Shabbat Chazon gives us back our eyes back and teaches us to try and see alternative realities and possibilities, redemptive counterpoints and visions.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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