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07/31/2020 04:01:36 PM


Rabbi Weinberg

PARSHAT D’VARIM, 7/25/2020

A parent is exasperated with a child.  The hot summer months, especially during our COVID conditions only make the situation worse.  The parent rebukes the child for his or her aggressive behavior.   Shortly thereafter, the parent feels bad, maybe even ashamed of his or her response.  

How does a parent accept the responsibility to discipline a child yet maintain a loving relationship with that child?  How do we admonish on the one hand, and communicate love at the same time?  It is not an easy balance to retain but, with time children realize that a parent’s discipline is, in fact an expression of love.  

I want to share with you this morning another expression of love.  This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hazon.  The first word in this morning’s Haftarah is Hazon- it means to see or envision- Hazon Yishaiyahu- the vision of Isaiah introduces our Haftarah this morning.  

Isaiah is frustrated with the Jewish people.  He admonishes them in this morning’s Haftarah with a flourish of examples, deriding them, exposing them and their regrettable ways.  He chastises them, pointing out their foolish ways, unethical practices, and predicts the destruction of their holy city, Jerusalem.  It is an expression of love.  

This Haftarah is the third and final Haftarah in a cycle of three, known as the Haftarot of “Puranuta”.  For each of the past three weeks, the Israelites have been admonished by their leaders, their moral watchmen, their prophets- two in the name of Jeremiah, and one in the name of Isaiah.  Their collective concerns for the future and well-being of the people they love reach a crescendo with this week’s admonition.  

Artfully arranged as the three weeks of rebuke preceding our observance of Tisha b’Av, each Haftarah rises in depth and concern for the illegitimate ways the Israelites are conducting themselves.  This Shabbat, five days before we sit on the ground, recalling the catastrophe of the destruction of our holy Temples in Jerusalem, Isaiah’s expression of remorse reaches its plateau.  

Listen to the language he uses to describe God’s dissatisfaction with the people He loves.

I, God reared children and brought them up,
And they have rebelled against Me!     Can any parent not relate!!!

An ox knows its owner,
An ass recognizes its master’s crib;
But, Israel does not acknowledge Me,
My people have disregarded Me.

Why do you, My people seek further beatings
That you continue to offend, Me?     God wonders.
Every head is ailing,
Every heart is sick.
From head to foot 
No spot is sound.

What need have I of all your sacrifices?
I am satiated with burnt offerings of rams,
And the suet of fatlings,
And blood of bulls;
I have no delight 
In lambs and goats
That you bring before Me.
Who asked that of you?

Trample My courts no more;     In other words, stop bringing your sacrifices to My Temple!
Bringing oblations is futile,
Incense is offensive to Me.
New moons and Shabbatot,
Proclaiming of solemnities,
Assemblies with iniquity,
I cannot abide.

When you lift up your hands in prayer to Me,
I will turn My eyes away from you.
Your hands are stained with crime.

Put your evil doings 
Away from My sight.  
Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

There are few more powerful and passionate pleas found in our tradition.  Isaiah lays it all on the line for the Israelites to grapple with.  But, regrettably they are not ready to change their ways.  In the Biblical mindset, God unleashes his fury on His people by enabling the Babylonians and then the Romans to destroy the very essence of the Israelites’ lifeblood- God’s holy Temple.  And, they have no one to blame but themselves.

This is the introduction to Tisha b’Av.  On Wednesday night, Jewish people across the world will sit on the ground- an expression of mourning- and read the text of Eicha- Lamentations.  For five difficult chapters we will read about the destruction of our holiest city.  We are reminded every year- as if not to forget- of the gloom that defined our people’s existence during the First and Second Temple periods in the aftermath of the destruction.  The pain was visceral.  The spirit of the people gone.

But, just as our hearts are overwhelmed with burden and pain, Isaiah- yes, the same Isaiah who chastises God’s people in this morning’s Haftarah- will console those same people.  While this morning’s Haftarah represented the pinnacle of God’s anger and disappointment, next week’s Haftarah begins with the exquisite language of Isaiah, stating- “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami- My dear people, I, God will comfort you at this terrible moment in your lives.”

Both Haftarot, both poignant expressions by the gifted orator, Isaiah bracket the saddest day on our calendar.  First with rebuke and then with consolation, Isaiah expresses his love and God’s love for the people of Israel.  We, too are instructed that love comes in many different packages.

I want to dedicate a few minutes this morning to recall the life of a monumental leader of our country who expressed his love, unremittingly for the future of the United States of America.  Whether Republican or Democrat, we are compelled to acknowledge visionaries, those who dedicated their lives to serving us, the American public, with integrity, with a conscience, and with a remarkable level of dedication.  Even during the course of rebuke, we hold onto our vision of a better world, a more responsible people, a kinder community- we balance a sense of reality with a vision of the future.  Congressman John Lewis never gave up on his vision for a better world.  

One week ago, Representative Lewis died at the age of 80.  He was known as the conscience of the chamber- having served our country for 33 years in the House of Representatives.  A leading spokesman for the disenfranchised, in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “he prayed with his feet.”

Congressman Lewis will always be remembered for the difference he made in the Civil Rights campaign that changed our country.  Acknowledging that we have much work yet to do, he embraced the successes of his initiatives while keeping his eye on the next set of hurdles.  

His role in the Civil Rights Movement took a dramatic turn when he became one of the original 13 Freedom Riders.  Challenging segregation, he and 12 other black and white individuals demanded integration in the south, riding from Washington D.C to New Orleans.  

He was one of the “Big Six” who organized the 1963 pivotal “March on Washington.”  Speaking from the same dais where Martin Luther King would deliver his “I have a Dream” speech, he was the youngest speaker at the age of 23 to address the expansive crowd.  

With little question, Congressman Lewis will always be remembered for his role on “Bloody Sunday”- March 7, 1965.  Having crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama 600 marchers were met by the Alabama State Police.  In a skirmish with the police, John Lewis suffered a fractured skull but escaped with his life.  Having never forgotten that moment- a permanent scar left a visible sign- he reenacted that walk many times over the course of his life, wholeheartedly committed to maintaining his belief in non-violent protests.  

Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of hope for Americans.  He demonstrated what it means to love an ideal- justice.  He loved his family.  He loved his country.  And, he loved his work.  Ordained as a preacher at a young age, he utilized his gift of speech to energize generations of Americans to stand-up and demand justice, freedom and equality.  

Congressman Lewis, like Isaiah and so many parents dedicated his life to the expression of love.  His love was for justice.  Isaiah’s expression of love took many different forms- both admonishment and consolation- but, undeniably love for the Jewish people.  Parents communicate their love with many different approaches as well- all saying the same thing- our children are precious and because of our love we strive to impart value lessons.   

May our recollection of the difficult moments on our calendar associated with Tisha b’Av remind us that relationships are developed in many different ways.  May we always strive to be honest with each other, maintain our faith in each other, and be ready to stand-up and defend each other when threatened.  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Stefan J Weinberg

Thu, April 15 2021 3 Iyyar 5781