Beit Midrash

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Shabat Chazon


Rabbi Berel Wein

This Shabat which precedes the day of mourning of Tisha B’Av is traditionally known as Shabat Chazon. The name naturally derives from the opening word of the haftorah from the prophet Yeshayahu that is read on that Shabat in the synagogue. The word "chazon" itself means vision or prophecy. The word itself is one of neutral quality. It can be a positive and optimistically uplifting vision or it can be a scathing prediction of dire events as is represented in this prophecy of Yeshayahu. Thus the word "chazon" itself represents the omnipresent choice that faces humans all of their lives. How shall we view our future? Is it going to be a better world in spite of all present difficulties or are we doomed always to a repetition of failures, disappointments and tragedies? The Torah and Jewish tradition demand of us that we have a "chazon" - a vision of our future, a goal and destination to our journey as a people. However the choice of what type of "chazon" we have for the future is as always completely left to us to decide. Education without concurrent vision being present is an empty pursuit of facts. Education without proper and constructive vision - such as that of Stalin’s Soviet Union and other purely secular standards of schooling that exist in the Jewish world even presently - destroys more than it builds and dooms coming generations to error and defeat. That in essence is the message of the prophet Yeshayahu in this week’s haftorah. Faulty vision while operating an automobile is a lethal prescription for disaster. Faulty vision in nation goals and priorities and in leading a people is many times even more dangerous and lethal.

The prophets of Israel laid out a blueprint for proper vision for the nation. They stressed that proper choices for the future are heavily dependent upon a sense of what has happened to us before. Even though it is foolish if not even bordering on the insane to keep on following policies, ideas and ideologies that have proven to be wrong and harmful, nevertheless the tendency to do so remains strong within the Jewish people. It is difficult in the extreme to admit error and it seems that the greater the error the more difficult it is to face up to it. Politically and diplomatically it seems clear that that the policies of Israel over the past two decades regarding "land for peace" and other such high sounding mantras have proven to be wrong and harmful. Yet no one is willing to own up to these errors and in fact the ideologues that first proposed and implemented them stubbornly cling to them even today in the face of all contrary evidence to their viability. The search for a secular "loaded wagon" has gone on for over a century in Jewish educational life without producing results except for complete ignorance of Judaism and Jewish values and therefore rising rates of assimilation and alienation from the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The inability to articulate a more meaningful vision of Judaism and its value system has crippled generations of Jewish youth and left them stranded in an ocean of hate and despair. Bad vision certainly extracts its toll of woe.

But all is not lost nor should we give in to despair regarding our future. The same prophet Yeshayahu that portrays for us the vision of destruction and sadness in this week’s haftorah reading will follow with seven soaring visions of redemption and hope and success in the forthcoming weeks that will bring us to the High Holy Days. We have the choice of choosing which vision of the prophet we wish to follow and implement. And even though on the surface the choice should be an easy and simple one to make, since switching to the positive one requires that we make fundamental structural changes to our educational and social systems, it will be hard to choose to follow and implement our correct vision. There are the accumulated crusts and layers of apathy, mistakes, vested interests and shortsighted leadership that somehow have to be overcome in order for the greater positive vision to be revealed to the people. It took us some considerable time to get ourselves into our current mess and it will therefore take great patience and perseverance to extricate ourselves from it and abandon bad vision in favor of clearer and brighter one. The Shabat of Chazon crystallizes these choices and their resultant consequences for us. As in everything else in life, the Torah bids us to choose wisely.
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