A Time for Us
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This Shabbat we begin the reading of the fifth and last book of the Torah, Sefer Devarim, Deuteronomy. This Shabbat has a specific name, Shabbat Chazon, or the Shabbat of the Vision. Shabbat Chazon takes its name from the Haftarah that is read on this Shabbat immediately prior to the fast of Tisha B’Av, from the words of rebuke and doom coming from the prophet Isaiah.
This Shabbat is traditionally considered a sad one, perhaps the saddest Shabbat of the year. This is because it is the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the day on which we remember the destruction of the two Temples of Jerusalem and many other calamities that befell the Jewish people throughout its history.
One Hasidic master in particular, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman (Ukraine, 1820-1883, the first Rebbe of the Sadigura Hasidic dynasty) considered Shabbat Chazon to be a particularly important Shabbat. He explained that this Shabbat can be compared to a man sitting alone in a dark room. Suddenly, a friend comes with a lit candle. The person who was sitting in the dark is extremely appreciative of the nice light that abruptly brightens his room. The same thing happens when we are experiencing the three weeks of semi-mourning that end with the fast of Tisha B’Av. When the sad period is about to reach its climax, on Tisha B’Av, we enjoy the light of the last Shabbat before it. As we all know, when things go bad, we really appreciate having a good moment.
Although this explanation was given specifically for Shabbat Chazon, I would argue that this is the nature of Shabbat in general. After a week of work, pressures and worries, we always can enjoy the beautiful light of Shabbat at the end of the week. Through prayers, meals, rest and good company, we are able to relax and recharge our energies for another week of creative labor.
This week in particular, I am sure many of us are waiting to enjoy Shabbat and appreciate the blessings we have in our lives. Not only because it is the Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av, but also because this was a particularly sad week for all the good people who live in this country. The two mass shootings that occurred last weekend left a scar in our souls. It is hard to accept we live alongside people who hate others so much that they only long to eliminate them. We are overwhelmed by the hate and the gun violence that is hurting the heart of this nation.
Many of us are realizing that we will have to work hard to defeat hate and violence, and that we will have to put forth our best efforts in order to once again enjoy a society of peace, respect and love. We will need to gather our best energies to succeed, and Shabbat is a wonderful opportunity for us to start renewing those energies.
As we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and as we mourn the lives lost during the mass shooting last weekend, I invite you to take Shabbat seriously this week. Make time to stop, to pray, to connect to your soul, to connect to your family, your friends, and to connect with God. Take a pause, relax and enjoy the day. You and I will need a lot of energy to try to improve what needs to be improved in our society. Shabbat is definitely a good source of healing and comfort for us all.