Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
“Zion shall be redeemed because of her moral justice and her children shall return to her because of her compassionate righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27).
The Shabbat before the bleak day of Tishah B’Av, the fast commemorating the destruction of both Holy Temples, is called Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision. This title is based on the prophetic reading of that day which starts: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz which he saw concerning Judea and Jerusalem …” (Isaiah 1:1).
A “vision” usually refers to a positive sight intensified with a Divine revelation, a manifestation of the Divine presence as when “the elite youth of Israel … envisaged the Almighty” (Exodus 24:11). Likewise, in our liturgy, we pray in the Amidah: “May our eyes envisage Your return to Zion in compassion.”
Isaiah’s vision, however, is one of moral turpitude and religious hypocrisy: “Woe to the sinning nation, people heavy with transgression … My soul despises your festivals … your hands are filled with blood ….”
Where is the positive “vision” of Divine grace?
The answer may be found in last week’s portion, where we read about the journeys of the Israelites through the desert: “And Moses transcribed the places of origin toward their places of destinations and these are the places of destinations toward their places of origin” (Numbers 33:2).
This verse contains an internal contradiction: Where do we ever find a point of destination leading to a point of origin?
If your point of origin is the place where you discovered your personal or national destiny, you must always return to it, no matter how many places you settle along the way, in pursuit of your original destiny.
Israel began her historic journey with Abraham in Hebron, where God charged the first Hebrew with our universal mission: “Through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:13). God, likewise, revealed what it was that Abraham was to teach the world: “I have known him in order that he command his children … to observe the path of the Lord, to do compassionate righteousness and moral justice” (Genesis 18:19).
Temporally, the Hebron experience came before our Babylonian experience, but Hebron and its message — as well as its geographic locus — was always in Israel’s future; the Cave of the Patriarchs is both the fount of Israel’s mission and the guidepost for Israel’s ultimate destiny.
Hence, when Moses makes reference to God’s command that we inherit and conquer the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:8), it is immediately followed by the necessity to establish a proper moral judicial system; and when Moses deals with the rebellion of the scouts, he excludes Caleb from punishment, since he was in favor of conquering the Land of Israel.
What made him stand virtually alone? Our Sages explain that he began the reconnaissance journey with a side trip to Hebron to garner inspiration from the patriarch who established the mission in the first place.
Caleb went back to forge ahead.
The true vision in the first chapter of Isaiah is not the tragedy of Israel’s backsliding or the reality of Israel’s hypocritical sacrifices. The inspiring prophetic vision — is the vision that concludes the prophetic reading, “Zion shall be redeemed because of her moral justice, and her children shall return to her because of her compassionate righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27).
God guarantees that Israel will return to her Abrahamic mission and that she will ultimately arrive at her point of origin. At that time, with the Third Temple, the entire world will be blessed by Israel’s message of a God of moral justice and compassionate righteousness. ■
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the founding chief rabbi of the Israeli settlement of Efrat. This first appeared at ots.org.