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Taste of Haftarah: Hazon

Our final haftarah of this three-week period of reflection and grief begins with Isaiah’s hazon (vision)—thus earning the title “Shabbat Hazon.” As in the case of the haftarot of the two weeks prior, the prophet criticizes and rebukes the community for their rejection of God’s will. Noteworthy in Isaiah’s prophetic criticism, is his stark juxtaposition of performative ritual action to the deeper work of justice. 

לָמָּה־לִּ֤י רֹב־זִבְחֵיכֶם֙ יֹאמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה שָׂבַ֛עְתִּי עֹל֥וֹת אֵילִ֖ים וְחֵ֣לֶב מְרִיאִ֑ים וְדַ֨ם פָּרִ֧ים וּכְבָשִׂ֛ים וְעַתּוּדִ֖ים לֹ֥א חָפָֽצְתִּי׃כִּ֣י תָבֹ֔אוּ לֵרָא֖וֹת פָּנָ֑י מִי־בִקֵּ֥שׁ זֹ֛את מִיֶּדְכֶ֖ם רְמֹ֥ס חֲצֵרָֽי׃ לֹ֣א תוֹסִ֗יפוּ הָבִיא֙ מִנְחַת־שָׁ֔וְא קְטֹ֧רֶת תּוֹעֵבָ֛ה הִ֖יא לִ֑י חֹ֤דֶשׁ וְשַׁבָּת֙ קְרֹ֣א מִקְרָ֔א לֹא־אוּכַ֥ל אָ֖וֶן וַעֲצָרָֽה׃ חָדְשֵׁיכֶ֤ם וּמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם֙ שָׂנְאָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֔י הָי֥וּ עָלַ֖י לָטֹ֑רַח נִלְאֵ֖יתִי נְשֹֽׂא׃    

“What need have I of all your sacrifices?” Says the LORD. “I am sated with burnt offerings of rams, And suet of fatlings, And blood of bulls; And I have no delight In lambs and he-goats. … Bringing oblations is futile, Incense is offensive to Me. New moon and sabbath, Proclaiming of solemnities, Assemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide.

—Isaiah 1:11-1

Through the prophet, God rejects the previously proscribed Shabbat and festival sacrifices, should they be void of meaning and motivation behind such offerings. Rather, the plea to and demand on the people is that they may instead shift their energy and attention to the work of social justice:

לִמְד֥וּ הֵיטֵ֛ב דִּרְשׁ֥וּ מִשְׁפָּ֖ט אַשְּׁר֣וּ חָמ֑וֹץ שִׁפְט֣וּ יָת֔וֹם רִ֖יבוּ אַלְמָנָֽה׃ 

Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice;  Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.

—Isaiah 1:17

It is no coincidence that these are among the final words of the prophets read before Tisha Be’Av. Indeed, this coming week we will dive into the book of Eikha—a Biblical text that laments tremendous loss; loss not only of the Temple and its centrality in Jerusalem, but of a mutual understanding and love between the people and the Divine. The Talmud interprets the destruction of the Temple as commemorated on Tisha Be’Av as caused by rampant sinat hinam, or baseless hatred (BT Yoma 9b). Isaiah reminds us that a remedy for such hatred is the work of righting that which is wrong, helping those who are most in need, and doing the work of justice in the world. 

This Shabbat Hazon, may we too become privy to Isaiah’s vision of a future; one predicated on putting our ritual work into the context of justice work—prayer in the context of action—holiness in the context of community.