Balance and vehemence

Visionary leadership brings us to better places. So when a particular Shabbat’s identity is associated with ‘vision, ‘ we’re taken aback when a Prophet’s vision is ominous. This week Isaiah’s vision portents doom and destruction. It anticipates of Judaism’s saddest day – the anniversary of the two-time destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple – the loss of a vital touchpoint between God and our People.

Curiously, this might be just the kind of vision today’s challenges demand. We live in times when big problems seem to be getting bigger. When wrongful situations are worsening. Yet it is when we embrace our lowest points that we can be reminded of our resiliency. When we hold ourselves accountable for destructive events, we improve our capacity for constructive ones.

An interesting connection is found between this week’s Torah and Prophetic portions. It relates to justice. The Hebrew word for justice, tzedek, connotes righteousness, tzedaka. The word is entirely absent from the prior Book of Numbers. As we enter the Torah’s final book, it recurs often as is a primary value. “Listen to you fellow, decide justly (tzedek) between the familiar and the stranger. Impartially listen to great and small alike” (Deut. 1:16-17). We also find Isaiah’s distressing message culminate with the resurgence of justice. “Zion shall be redeemed through justice; its penitents with righteousness (tzedaka)” (Is. 1:27). The wayward will not, in the end, overwhelm the good.

How can such a belief be credible?  An answer can be revealed in the Bible’s two different metaphors for justice: 1) a blindfolded woman balancing scales and 2) surging waters. The Torah promotes the first approach. The Prophets sponsor the second, depicting justice rolling down like mighty streams.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “History is a turmoil. Survival and perdition are equally possible. But justice will decide; righteousness will redeem.” 

Destabilizing times require both impartial scales and relentless surging. May balance and vehemence demonstrate that the wanton cannot suppress the good.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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