• Gabbai

Devarim – Humble Introspection

Parshat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat preceding the 9th of Av. The Haftarah reading on this Shabbat is the third of the three Haftarot of affliction. The Prophet Isaiah laments the heartless ritual service performed by the people, service devoid of inner desire to worship the Lord, service empty of human feeling. “Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? …I am satiated with elevation offerings of rams and the choicest of fattened animals… You shall not continue to bring a worthless meal offering – incense of abominations is it unto Me… (Isaiah 1:11-13)

What does Isaiah want from us? Is fulfilling the Mitzvot a small thing? Maintaining a lifestyle both arduous and restrictive – does that amount to nothing in the eyes of G-d? Indeed, Isaiah was addressing observant Jews, not the secular. And it wasn’t enough that they were already bending over backwards to fulfill every letter of the Torah and then some! The whole rhythm of the year – feast, fast, feast, fast… Build a Sukkah, scour the house and all your property for a crumb of chametz. Go to shul every morning and spend 45 minutes wrapped in a talit and tefillin in prayer. Everyone in the world struggles to fit the crockery they need into limited kitchen space and cabinetry. For us, double the crockery, two sets of dishes and silverware – a third set if you want the Shabbat edition – and it all must fit into a standard kitchen space. We check our garments for a mixture of wool and linen in the lining, our mouths water for six hours before we can have the double chocolate fudge ice cream (yes, the one with that is chalav yisrael) just because we didn’t realize at the time that the soup had chicken stock in it.

Our efforts, are they worthless? Our incense, the conversations we are greedy to hear but break off before it develops into lashon hara, G-d does not desire? Our sacrifices, pulling ourselves out of bed, bone weary, because we forgot to daven Maariv, are these really spurned by G-d?

Isaiah’s words are harsh and jarring. Our instinct is to revolt but instead, being good Jews, we stop and look inward, we introspect.

Arduous? Burdensome? Bending over backwards! These terms are themselves the problem. If fulfillment of the Torah feels restrictive and a pain we have a perception issue. Indeed, the sacrifices we make are no less precious than the ultimate sacrifice Abraham was prepared to make. Our effo