The Importance of Asking the Right Question
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, literally the “Shabbat of the Vision,” named after the opening word of the Haftarah for this week, which is also the first word of the Book of Isaiah. This is the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the fast of the ninth of Av.
Isaiah’s vision describes the sins of the Children of Israel of his time, as well as the destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sins, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).
In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She, that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). In poetic Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word Eicha, which is also the name and first word of the biblical book read on Tisha B’Av, the Book (or scroll) of Lamentations.
This same word, eicha, is also found in the weekly Torah portion, Devarim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. As Moses reviews his longtime experiences with the Children of Israel, he asks: “How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” (Deuteronomy 1:21).
The Jewish tradition encourages us to exclaim “how” many times during the coming days, beginning on Shabbat Chazon and up to Tisha B’Av. When things are going bad, the first step to try to change or counteract the situation is to become aware and ask the right question, “how? how could this happen to me/us?”
Perhaps we should take advantage of this opportunity that the Jewish calendar presents and ask “how” about other things that are happening to us. Particularly in our present time, when we confront the coronavirus pandemic that has radically changed our lives during the past months. It is imperative that we ask “how” very loudly and clearly. The only way to start developing strategies to fight and control this crisis is by asking simple and honest questions. How did this start? How does this virus behave? How could the situation improve? How can we help?
This is the right time to ask the simple and honest questions that we need to ask every time we face a crisis. In Jewish history we have learned that asking these types of questions leads to strategic thinking and to make the best decisions. That is exactly what we need today!