D’var Torah: Shabbat Chazon – Vision and Balance

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 24 July 2020

It is part of human life that we live with tensions; with competing goods pulling us in different directions.  With the challenge of finding balance.

At the moment we are perhaps more sensitive to these tensions than is often the case – aware of new tensions in our lives:

We are aware of the urge to be safe AND the need for a return to life;
We are inspired – by our discovery of quiet, of what our lives can be like with less hustle, the reduction in noise and pollution AND at the same time, we recognise the need for normality, especially economically.

We hold conflicting emotions – relief that we seem over the worst AND awareness of, preparation for, a second wave;
frustration, weariness at our current limitations AND concern of what life would be without them.


In the world of community, we live always with polarities, apparent tensions, such as these, seeking to achieve both/and.  Tradition AND innovation, strong clergy leadership AND strong lay leadership, inreach AND outreach, volunteerism AND professionalism, the special celebration – for us a weekly occurrence – AND the regular rhythms of prayer life.

And now, we have new communal polarities to hold in balance, too: open AND closed: the desire to say yes, to try new things, to be as open as we can be, to be physically together with people AND the reality of our building, the needs of the praying community at a time when we are unable to return to anything like normality;
the desire to involve more people, to innovate in our online services AND the need for online brevity;
the wish to serve, for volunteers and staff alike, the pull of duty AND the need to rest.

Tisha B’Av, is perhaps the exemplary Jewish moment of holding tension.

Mourning for the loss, the trauma of destruction, AND recognition of the extraordinary change that it enabled.
The pull of memorializing AND of hopeful building.

Tisha B’Av is a moment in which we hold competing ideas in balance – rebuke and consolation; hopelessness and ownership of our fate; lament and resilience.

This balance expresses itself today, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av – Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision.

The vision which gives the Shabbat its name is that of Isaiah – the haftarah of rebuke that we will read tomorrow morning.  His vision is one of destruction, caused by the misbehaviour of the people.
It is a powerful warning to us about what happens when we allow the worst in ourselves free rein.  AND at the same time, according to Chasidic tradition, Shabbat Chazon is also the day on which we are granted, subconsciously, another vision – that of a future time.  In their tradition, on Shabbat Chazon we experience also a vision of a third temple.

We hold both at the same time – reliving destruction and rebuke AND encountering a hopeful vision of that which we work towards.

This is a challenge of our moment.
To hold both.  To find the balance between polarities, not to give in to one or the other.

To hold both the challenging reality of now AND the vision of hope.  Not some kind of naïve ‘over by Christmas’ hope, but the knowledge that there is a future which we are working towards, which demands of us that we continue to aspire.

The book of Proverbs states ‘ein chazon yippara am’ – Sometimes, as in the King James bible, it is translated ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’.
But a better translation is ‘where there is no looking to the future, the people become wild, unrestrained’.   When we don’t have that balance, the eye to the better future, we might – out of frustration and pain, lose sense of what really matters and the people we need to be, with long term cost.

On this Shabbat Chazon, may we strive towards both/and – able to hold the difficult polarities of our lives in balance – naming the tensions that we feel, acknowledging our pain and also holding onto the vision of that which is so special to us –that which we can be, that which we can build.