Michael Bernstein

Having the Vision to See the World Clearly: Entering Shabbat Chazon

Less than two hours into a heralded ceasefire, Hamas killed two soldiers and allegedly kidnapped a third, Hadar Goldin.  For Israelis, Jews and those devoted to Israel, we know the travails we have suffered when a soldier or civilian is abducted.  We think of just a few weeks ago the deep heartache felt after Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaer disappeared and we remember the five years of captivity of Gilad Shalit that ended with a deal releasing more than 1000 Palestinians prisoners, among them convicted mass murderers.  Our enemy also thinks of Gilad Shalit as we know by the reaction how  some Palestinians and others help up three fingers after the boys were kidnapped with signs saying “three Shalits.”  In other words, they know that Israel values the lives and wellbeing of our citizens so much that they may well be able to trade a few Israeli captives for scores of imprisoned terrorists.


John Kerry has condemned Hamas’ act and the United Nations singled out Hamas for condemnation for their alleged act as well.  This is important.  However, much of the reporting I have seen about todays events has led with the idea that the ceasefire has been broken and each side “blamed the other.”  For those who have been watching the media during this conflict it will come as no surprise.  However, the moment stands out in a particularly egregious way when set against the backdrop of a negotiated truce and a perceived opportunity to move ahead.  However, there is nothing gained by ignoring the dire situation on the ground or pretending that that Hamas has any desire to achieve any real peace with Israel.  The attack and abduction comes because of the chance to quell the violence not despite of it.


This week we enter the Shabbat that precedes Tisha B’Av, the day of remembering the destruction of the Temple and the brokenness that persists in the world.  The Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of Vision, after the opening word of the reading from the prophet Isaiah.  Ironically, Isaiah who is most often thought of for his lyrical depictions of the peaceful days when “wolves will lie down with lambs” begins with a vision of destruction and words of sharp admonition.  However, there is a powerful message here.  Peace, in all of its beauty and depth, can not be achieved by closing our eyes to reality or pretending not to see evil.  Palestinians deserve dignity and wellbeing and Israel is called to do what ever is possible to find a path to peace.  But that path simply has no way around a determined and implacable organization that is forthright in its desire to kill Jews and uproot the state of Israel.  Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of Isaiah’s Vision promises that when evil is abandoned there will be justice and redemption.  But it begins by having enough vision not to shield our eyes from seeing clearly.



About the Author
Rabbi Michael Bernstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, Ga. Michael received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1999 and is an alumni of the Rabbis Without Borders second cohort. and was inducted into the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. Michael specializes in Jewish philosophy, especially that of Emmanuel Levinas and focuses on how to see the directives inherent in Jewish tradition as meaningful, ethical, and relevant.
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