Category Archives: The Three Weeks

Devarim / Chazon

The Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the last of the Three Weeks is called Shabbat Chazon, after the Haftarah that is read that week, which begins with the words, “Chazon Yeshayahu”.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat Chazon

It always falls out on Parshat Devarim. One of the connections is the word, “Eicha”, which appears in the Parsha, in the Haftarah, and on Tisha B’Av itself. More about that here.

Another connection is a reference to Sedom and Amorra, but that is for another time.

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Devarim / Chazon – Eicha?!

On Tisha B’Av, we read Megillat Eicha, lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. On the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, known as Shabbat Chazon, we read two other Eichas, one in the Parsha and the other in the Haftarah.

In Parshat Devarim, as Moshe Rabbeinu reviews the history of the Jewish People, the very first topic he talks about is justice. Moshe knew that as their leader, the ultimate responsibility of providing justice was his, and he shares some of his worries about implementing it properly:

וָאֹמַר אֲלֵכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר לֹא אוּכַל לְבַדִּי שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם:
ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם הִרְבָּה אֶתְכֶם וְהִנְּכֶם הַיּוֹם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם לָרֹב:
אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם וְרִיבְכֶם:
הָבוּ לָכֶם אֲנָשִׁים חֲכָמִים וּנְבֹנִים וִידֻעִים לְשִׁבְטֵיכֶם וַאֲשִׂימֵם בְּרָאשֵׁיכֶם:

I said to you at that time, saying, I will not be able to bear you alone.
Hashem, your G-d, has multiplied you;
now you are today as many as the stars in the heavens…
How could I bear alone, your bothering, your burdens, and your conflicts?
Get yourselves some men, wise and understanding and well known to your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads. (Devarim 1:9-13)

If the Jewish People were a small group of people, than Moshe could handle their case load on his own. If they were a harmonious, amicable people, then despite their size, Moshe could handle the case load on his own. But Moshe Rabbeinu himself describes the Jewish People as quarrelsome and litigious. It is not possible to have a single address for all their disputes, and Moshe has no choice but to look for people who could be trusted to serve as judges. He then describes the Torah’s expectations of justice:

וָאֲצַוֶּה אֶת שֹׁפְטֵיכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר
שָׁמֹעַ בֵּין אֲחֵיכֶם וּשְׁפַטְתֶּם צֶדֶק
בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין אָחִיו וּבֵין גֵּרוֹ:
לֹא תַכִּירוּ פָנִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט
כַּקָּטֹן כַּגָּדֹל תִּשְׁמָעוּן
לֹא תָגוּרוּ מִפְּנֵי אִישׁ …
I instructed your judges at that time, saying,
Hear what is between your brothers and judge righteously,
between a man and his brother, and between a convert.
Do not show favoritism in court,
listen to the great and small alike;
do not fear any man… (Devarim 1: 16-17)

The expectations are high: honesty, impartiality, equal standing before the law regardless of social standing and connections. But for the Torah, this is just a starting point. Rashi explains that these commandments are not about the court case itself – not showing favoritism in court has already been commanded, it is obvious, it is a given. These commandments are for the people appointing the judges in the first place:

לא תכירו פנים במשפט: זה הממונה להושיב הדיינין, שלא יאמר איש פלוני נאה או גבור, אושיבנו דיין, איש פלוני קרובי, אושיבנו דיין בעיר, והוא אינו בקי בדינין נמצא מחייב את הזכאי ומזכה את החייב. מעלה אני על מי שמנהו כאילו הכיר פנים בדין

Do not show favoritism in court: This refers to the one responsible for appointing the judges, so that he shouldn’t say this candidate is handsome or brave, let me appoint him, or that candidate is my relative, I’ll appoint him; and he’s not competent in law – it will turn out that he convicts the innocent and acquits the guilty. I consider whoever appointed him, as if he showed favoritism in court.

The Torah places the responsibility for justice not only on the judges themselves, but on all of society. Those who appoint judges are just as responsible for the outcome as the judges themselves.

When Moshe asks, “Eicha?” “How”, he is worried that this responsibility will prove too much for the Jewish People. He knows how hard it is for him, Moshe Rabbeinu, to dispense justice in a timely manner to the contentious Jewish People, he knows how hard it is for him to find judges who are “wise and understanding”. How will future generations manage? How will they handle the high expectations that the Torah has for them? Will they be able to maintain the high standards that it sets for justice and righteousness?

The Haftarah confirms Moshe’s worst fears:

אֵיכָה הָיְתָה לְזוֹנָה קִרְיָה נֶאֱמָנָה?
מְלֵאֲתִי מִשְׁפָּט צֶדֶק יָלִין בָּהּ וְעַתָּה מְרַצְּחִים
כַּסְפֵּךְ הָיָה לְסִיגִים סָבְאֵךְ מָהוּל בַּמָּיִם:
שָׂרַיִךְ סוֹרְרִים וְחַבְרֵי גַּנָּבִים כֻּלּוֹ אֹהֵב שֹׁחַד וְרֹדֵף שַׁלְמֹנִים
יָתוֹם לֹא יִשְׁפֹּטוּ וְרִיב אַלְמָנָה לֹא יָבוֹא אֲלֵיהֶם:

How has she become a whore, the faithful city?
I filled her with justice, righteousness would find rest there,
but now there are murderers!
Your silver is dross, your liquor is diluted with water.
Your ministers are crooks, associates of thieves,
all loving bribes, and chasing graft;
an orphan they would not judge,
the cause of a widow would not reach them. (Yeshayahu 1: 21-23)

Instead of justice and righteousness, Jerusalem is full of fraud, corruption, and even murder. There is no equality before the law; unless you know someone who knows the judge, your case will not get a hearing in the first place. If you have no one to protect you, no “protektzia”, then no one will stand up for you.

The prophet cries out “Eicha?!” – how it is possible? How can the nation of the Torah, the people of Moshe Rabbeinu, of whom so much was expected, how can they sink so low?!

The result of that failure leads directly to the third Eicha, the Eicha that we will read on Tisha B’Av, as we lament the destruction of Jerusalem:

אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד
הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם הָיְתָה כְּאַלְמָנָה
How does she sit alone?
A city full of people, has become like a widow?! (Eicha 1:1)

The prophet describes the destroyed Jerusalem as widow – alone and helpless, who needs someone to stand up for her and plead her cause, and no one does.

That is how corruption and injustice is repaid, measure for measure. When the Eicha of Moshe, worrying about the best way to organize a justice system, is replaced by the Eicha of Yeshayahu, distraught about a justice system that serves only the wealthy and powerful, then the result is the Eicha of Lamentations.

But the Haftarah does not leave us without hope. The Jewish People are tasked with being the beacon of justice and righteousness in the world, and even if we have failed in the past, the future is before us, and G-d will make sure that we will succeed.

וְאָשִׁיבָה שֹׁפְטַיִךְ כְּבָרִאשֹׁנָה
וְיֹעֲצַיִךְ כְּבַתְּחִלָּה
אַחֲרֵי כֵן יִקָּרֵא לָךְ עִיר הַצֶּדֶק
קִרְיָה נֶאֱמָנָה:
צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה
וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה:
I will restore your judges as at first,
and your advisors as at the beginning;
after that, you will be called the city of justice,
the faithful city.
Through justice, Tzion will be redeemed,
and those who live within her, through righteousness! (Yeshayahu 1:26-27)

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

PDF for printing, 3 pages A4

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First of the Three Weeks (Pinchas or Matot)

The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and 9 B’Av are a time of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish People throughout history. For those three Shabbatot, the custom is to read a specific set of Haftarot that are called “The Calamitous Three”, in Aramaic, “Tlata de’Puranuta”. The first week we read the first chapter of Yirmiyahu which warns of the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

It usually comes out on Parshat Pinchas. Rarely, it comes out on Matot.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Matot

It is also the Haftarah read for Shemot by the Sefardim, and is listed in the Rambam as such. The comparisons to Moshe are clear and illuminating.

As to what it teaches us about the Three Weeks, we have : Calamity and Consolation

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First of the Three Weeks (Pinchas or Matot) – Calamity and Consolation

The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and 9 B’Av are a time of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish People throughout history. For those three Shabbatot, the custom is to read a specific set of Haftarot that are called in Aramaic, “Tlata de’Puranuta” (“the three of calamity”). The first week, which falls out on either Pinchas or Matot, we read the first chapter of Yirmiyahu.

One might think that the Haftarah would focus on describing the sins of the Jewish People which led to the destruction of Jerusalem, or on describing the destruction itself. However, the first chapter of Yirmiyahu is just not that scary. It only hints at the destruction with allusions and symbolic images, and the sins are mentioned only in passing.

So if the Haftarah is not about the causes of the destruction and not about the destruction itself, why do we read it during the weeks of mourning of the destruction?

The Haftarah ends with the following verses:

הָלֹךְ וְקָרָאתָ בְאָזְנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר
כֹּה אָמַר ה’
זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ
אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ
לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה
קֹדֶשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל לַה’ רֵאשִׁית תְּבוּאָתֹה
Go and call out to the ears of Jerusalem, saying,
so says Hashem:
I recall the kindness of your youth,
the love of newlyweds,
when you walked after me in the desert, in a land that is not sown.
Israel is holy to Hashem, the first of His crop…(Yirmiyahu 2:2-3)

After telling Yirmiyahu that the enemies are on their way to besiege Jerusalem, G-d reminds us of our earliest memories together, our time in the desert.

The Midrash presents a parable to explain the apparent incongruity:

משל למלך שנטל אשה היה אומר אין נאה הימנה אין משובחת הימנה אין מיושבת הימנה נכנס שושבינה לבית ראה אותה מנוולת הבית אינה מכוונת המטות אינם מוצעות אמר לה שושבינה הלואי את שומעת שהיה בעליך משבחיך לתוך השוק אין אותו השבח מעשי’ הללו אמר השושבין אם כשהיא מנוולת כך הוא משבחה אלו היית מתוקנת עאכ”ו כך דורו של ירמיה חוטאין והוא אומר להם (ירמיה ב) זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך וגו’ אמר להם ירמיה אלואי אתם שומעין מה הוא אומר עליכם הלוך וקראת באזני ירושלים וגו’ זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך וגו’ קדש ישראל וגו’ אמר אם בשעה שהם חוטאים כך הוא מחבבם כשהם עושין רצונו עאכ”ו

A parable of a king that married a woman and was saying about her,
“There is no one more beautiful than she is, there is no one more accomplished than she is, there is no one more cultured than she is.” Meanwhile, her guardian came into the house and saw that she is a mess, her house is a wreck, the beds are not made. He said to her, “If only you were to hear your husband praise you in public! His praises do not match your actions!” The guardian said, “If when she’s such a mess, this is how he praises her, if she were to put herself together, how much more so!”

So, too, the generation of Yirmiyahu were sinners, and G-d says about them, “I recall the kindness of your youth, etc.” Yirmiyahu said to them, “If only you were to hear what He says about you! ‘Go call out to the ears of Jerusalem’, and ‘I recall the kindness of your youth,’ and ‘Israel is holy to Hashem.’ If that is how much He loves you when you sin, when you do His will, how much more so!” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 2)

The point of this Haftarah is not to tell us how evil we are . The point is to tell us how important we are to G-d, how much He loves and cherishes His people. Even when we disappoint Him, He reminds Himself of our earlier acts of loyalty and love.

From this we learn that the destruction of Jerusalem and the other calamities that we mourn during these weeks were not a sign of G-d rejecting us. In fact, it is the opposite. G-d’s motivation in all of His interactions with us is to get us to fulfil our commitments to Him, and strengthen our relationship.

This is why, when G-d tells Yirmiyahu about his mission as a prophet earlier in the Haftarah, it is defined as:

לִנְתוֹשׁ וְלִנְתוֹץ וּלְהַאֲבִיד וְלַהֲרוֹס
לִבְנוֹת וְלִנְטוֹעַ
… to abandon, to smash, to ruin, and to destroy;
to build and to plant. (Yirmiyahu 1:10)

Yirmiyahu is tasked with warning us of impending destruction and ruin, and at the same time he is tasked with rebuilding.

The ultimate purpose of the destruction of Jerusalem, and all the destructions that the Jewish People have faced throughout our history, was to build a better nation and to plant the seeds of a better society.

We will spend the seven weeks after Tisha B’Av reading the Haftarot called “the Seven of Consolation” (“Sheva de’Nechemta”), seven selections from Yeshayahu’s words of comfort and hope. Yet even the Tlata de’Puranuta are founded upon G-d’s unconditional love for His people.

PDF for printing
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

PDF for printing, 2 pages A4

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Filed under Connections, Matot, Pinchas, Sefer Bamidbar, The Three Weeks