A boy once grew up in a noble family. Their home was not extraordinarily large, but it was beautiful. Intricate tapestries and priceless paintings adorned each wall. The shelves were laden with precious sculptures and heirlooms. Hanging from the vaulted ceiling there was their most magnificent possession: a golden chandelier, which cast glorious, shimmering light throughout the home.
One day, their home was ransacked by robbers. Focusing their attention on the most valuable item, they ripped the chandelier from the ceiling. The robbers dragged it off and escaped.
The family was devastated. They boarded up the broken windows and sat in their dark, gloomy room, mourning their tragic loss.
Eventually, the family learned to cope with the lack of light. Yet every so often the boy’s father would exclaim that one day, the light would be restored to their home.
The young boy quickly accepted darkness as his reality. He became adept at relying on his other senses, and his home’s appearance began to fade from memory. After the passing of his parents, the son stopped thinking about the chandelier. After all, there was no realistic hope that it could ever be returned, and besides, he was able to function perfectly well without it.
But one night, he had a dream. He saw himself once again as a small boy in a beautiful room, surrounded in shimmering light and untellable splendor. He suddenly remembered what he had been missing.
Recognizing the Darkness
Between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av, we observe a period of mourning over exile and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
During these three weeks we do not mourn simply that the Temple was once destroyed. Rather, we mourn that the place where the Temple once stood remains desolated and defiled, overrun to this day by Gentiles who embrace a false religion.
The continuing reality of the Temple’s destruction affects our generation just as much as it affected the generation of the apostles. The difference is that our hearts have grown insensitive to the loss. The mourning rituals of the Three Weeks afford us an opportunity to notice the darkness we live in, so that we can do what it takes to restore the light.
While we refrain from mourning on the Sabbath, the message of this somber period still comes to us through the haftarah reading in the synagogue service. For each of the three Sabbaths that occur between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av, the readings from the prophetic books contain stern warnings regarding the destruction of the Temple.
The final Sabbath prior to the fast of Av is known as Shabbat Chazon, or the “Sabbath of Vision.” It gets its name from the haftarah reading, which comes from Isaiah 1:1-27. It begins, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”
Isaiah condemns empty lip service. He insists that Israel’s expressions of worship—sacrificial services, lifting hands in worship and prayer, celebrating festivals, etc.—were worthless. This is because they lacked substantive acts of righteousness, such as seeking justice and providing for the needy. It turns out that the people with the wherewithal to make the world a better place tend to be pretty satisfied with the way it is. They have no idea that they are on a path to destruction.
But the purpose of a prophetic word is never to say, “You are doomed; there is no hope.” In prophecy, bad news is always good news, because it means that something can be still done about it:
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
But this doesn’t happen without action. Isaiah lays out the two choices set before them:
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:19-20)
James insisted that our rebellious, superficially religious behavior amounts to a failure to remember what we once saw:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22-24)
He echoed the words of Isaiah when he wrote:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:22-27)
Catch the Vision
To see the final redemption, we must begin by recognizing what we are missing without it. Shabbat Chazon is an opportunity to glimpse the world as it once was and as it one day can be. It is a chance to recall who we truly are as children of God.
But this is only the first step; its purpose is merely to give us a sense of longing. To hasten the redemption we must heed the words of Isaiah and James and begin to reflect the beauty of Torah in our lives. “Torah observance” does not amount to self-righteous observance of Shabbat and biblical festivals, not even fasting on Tisha B’Av. It means finding the people in this world who are suffering and doing something to help them.
“Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27). May it be soon and in our days.