"Ah, sinful nation" Isaiah" 1:4

By Dr Annette Boeckler, July 31, 2014

In a competitive society, we are supposed to focus on success and strength. It is unlikely that someone would succeed thinking: "I'm a sinful person, I'm weighed down by iniquity, I usually act perversely, my head is full with sickness, my heart with infirmity, from the sole of the foot to the head nothing is right" - the unsparing self-criticism encouraged by this haftarah.

Haftarat Chazon ("Vision") is the last of three haftarot of admonition between the 17th of Tammuz and Tishah b'Av, which begins on Monday night. Verses 2 to 15 and 20 to 23 are chanted in the melody of Eichah, Lamentations (as is 1:12 of the sidrah) to set the tone for this week. Haftarot are, like medicine, bitter but they heal. The healing power lies in the fact that the prophet laments not the catastrophe but the causes that led to it. Our liturgical mourning this week, too, should not dwell on the past destruction of the Temple but rather on our Jewish situation today. Would our time and place be a worthy environment for God's presence in our midst? Are we obscuring this vision?

Interestingly this week's haftarah is taken from the book of Isaiah, the very book that will provide the seven most comforting haftarot of consolation to be read after Tishah b'Av, leading to Rosh Hashanah. However, not only the name of the book but also the text of this week's haftarah contains sparks of hope. These special haftarot are the beginning of the long way towards Yom Kippur, bolstered by the belief that God will not abandon us whatever we are, that therefore we, too, can renew Judaism, as our ancestors did in past times.

Last updated: 1:15pm, July 31 2014