Devarim – Sincerity
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Chazon due to the first word of the Haftarah, the opening of the book of Isaiah. This is the final of the three Haftarot of destruction. The first two were appropriately selected from Jeremiah, “the prophet of doom.” Jeremiah’s warnings were a last attempt to save the nation of Israel from exile and destruction. Alas, the people did not wish to hear, and Jeremiah became an outcast, failing to move his people to change their ways. Isaiah lived over a century before the destruction of the First Temple. The book begins by noting that his prophecy spanned four kings of Judea, concluding in the time of the righteous king Hezekiah.
Isaiah’s opening words are a shocking avalanche of abuse, a tirade of castigation. He lashes out mercilessly in a crushing indictment of his people. “Woe, O sinful nation, people heavy with sin, offspring of evil, destructive children; they have forsaken the Lord, they have angered the Holy One of Israel, they have strayed backwards.” (Isaiah 1:4)
Isaiah continues, describing Israel as a cripple, with lesions afflicting its body from head to toe, its lands and cities are consumed and devoured, overturned by strangers. The prophet likens Judea to Sodom and Gomorrah, calling its leaders princes of Sodom.
Despite Isaiah’s beginning chapter of harsh criticism, he is better known as the prophet of consolation. Following these three Haftarot depicting tragedy and destruction, we read seven consecutive Haftarot of consolation and hope. All seven of the subsequent Haftarot of consolation are selected from the book of Isaiah. What criticism does the wise prophet of consolation have for his people? Unlike his successor Jeremiah, Isaiah does not direct his arrows toward the defectors and apathetic Jews of his time. He does not level admonishment at those who have abandoned their faith and who ignore their heritage. His focus is rather on the core of observant Jews, those who adhere to the faith and perform the rituals.