The renowned Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740-1809) once told of a father who had a beautiful suit made for his son. With great excitement the child puts it on and goes out to play, but he runs, falls down and tears the suit. With tears in his eyes he returns to his father to show him what happened.
“I made a mistake, Dad,” he cried. “It will never happen again.”
The father lovingly embraces his dear child and says, “It’s OK, I know it was an accident. Don’t worry; I’ll have a new suit made that’s even more beautiful to replace this one.”
Shortly thereafter a new suit arrives, and as promised, it is more elegant than the first one. Excitedly, the youngster once again proudly tries it on and then goes outside to show it to his friends who are playing. They convince him to join their game, only for him to slip and fall and tear his brand-new suit to shreds once again.
Once again with tears running down his cheeks, he musters the courage to face his father and explain what happened.
The disappointed dad gently hugs his child, and says, “I’ll give you one more chance. I’ll have one more suit made for you, but I will not give it to you right away. It will hang in my closet, until you show me that you are mature enough to deserve it. But in order to show you that I intend to give it to you, periodically I will let you look at it, to see the gift you will receive at the appropriate time.”
This parable, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok teaches, contains a profound mystical insight regarding the Shabbat prior to the 9th of Av. (This year the 9th of Av actually falls on Shabbat, but because of the special sanctity and joy of Shabbat, the mourning and fasting are postponed until the end of Shabbat.) This day commemorates the destruction of our two holy temples in Jerusalem. We were twice given a gift by our father, the king of the universe, but sadly we weren’t mature enough to preserve it. But our father doesn’t give up on us; he tells us that we will get another chance. He’s preparing a third temple more glorious than the first two, but he’s holding it in heaven until we show that we are deserving.
But just as in the story, in order to show us that it’s not a dream or a hopeless fantasy, he allows us to glimpse this great temple on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, known as Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of vision. Classically, it was named after the Haftorah that begins with the word “Chazon,” in which Isaiah laments his bleak vision of the spiritual decline of the Jewish people and the downfall of Jerusalem.
Yet in classic Hassidic fashion, which teaches that every darkness is but a concealment of a greater light to emerge, the rebbe of Berditchev teaches that we can choose to see a different vision. Thus, Isaiah’s tragic vision of destruction can be transformed into one in which we experience the most sublime vision of the future third temple, which is being held for us on this Shabbat.
This theme is expressed in the Torah portion as well. Moses, who is in the final five weeks of his life, begins his last will and testament to the Jewish people. He reminds the nation of all their failings during their 40 years in the desert, but he does so in a gentle and loving way. Just like a devoted father, God merely alludes to the places where troubling events occurred, but he does not explicitly detail the Israelites’ shortcomings.
He informs them, that despite all the many times they turned their backs on God, the Almighty never turned his on them. Throughout the 40 years of wandering in the desert, where they repeatedly rebelled against him, God, in fact, carried them like a parent cradling a child.
Our sages teach that the sadness of these days will be transformed into our happiest ones. We take inspiration from Moses, who begins the portion with a stark vision, yet ends with a vision of redemption. So too, Isaiah begins with a dirge but finishes with a vision of hope and promise. Isaiah concludes, “Zion will be redeemed with justice and all its exiles with righteousness.”
Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi is the spiritual leader of Orthodox Congregation Chevra Thilim in San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.