Seek Justice; Strengthen the Victim
Chinuch Take-Away Lessons for Shabbos Chazon
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Often the most effective educational questions are those that do not have “correct” answers – but rather promote independent, critical thinking that allows the learner to self-explore and derive a meaningful message on his/her own.
With that in mind, I once entered one of the middle-grade classrooms in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Dean, and asked the boys an open-ended question: “Which of the 613 mitzvos (commandments) is the most important one – and how would you prove that your answer is correct?”
A lively discussion ensued with several excellent answers presented. One young man responded that loving and/or believing in Hashem is most important since it encompasses all our mitzvos.
Another boy suggested that we ought to look at reward and punishment. Therefore, the sins that have the harshest punishment and the commandments that have the greatest reward are clearly the most important.
A third child asked which one of the commandments is repeated the most times in the Torah. He stated that this would conclusively prove which of them Hashem treasured most. I responded that treating converts with love is listed 36 times in the Torah (see Bava Metzia 59b) and noted that our commentaries point out that this mitzvah extends as well to “strangers” of any sort – for example, people who have recently relocated and are not yet acclimated to the social network of their new community.
I was thrilled by their responses and shared with them how much I appreciated the dialogue.
Then, I proposed a fourth approach, one that readers of these lines may wish to share with their children over the next few days.
In this week’s Haftorah (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 1:1-27), where Yeshayahu admonishes his fellow Jews for concentrating on spiritual trappings like bringing korbanos (animal sacrifices), and relegating the core values of of Hashem’s Torah – honesty, integrity, and kindness – to the back burner.
“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).”
It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring korbonos to the Bais Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).
In an Op-Ed Column in the Jerusalem Post, (re the need to support victims of abuse and molestation), I noted the inspiring quote attributed to Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, that the main function of a rabbi is to advocate for and support the weakest members of his community. Why would that be the case? Because powerful and well-connected folks rarely need the assistance of the rabbi to get what it is they wish. But the weak and the voiceless desperately need him to advocate for them.
It is for that reason that our prophets exhort us to speak truth to power when need be in order promote social justice – for this is the very essence of Hashem’s charge to us that we follow in His ways. As the gemara notes (Shabbos 133b) regarding our obligation to enhance the mitzvos that we do "Zeh keli v'anveyhu - This is my G-d and I will beautify him." (Shemos, 15:2). "Ma hu rachum v'chanun, af ata rachum v'chanun - Just as Hashem is merciful and compassionate, so too, you [humans] should be merciful and compassionate." This is how we "beautify" Hashem - by emulating His attributes.
This insight provides additional context to the stirring words of Yirmiyahu. People in his days were striving to bring the finest animals as their sacrifices to Hashem, but were neglecting the quintessential beautification of His name which is to be a voice for the voiceless.
May we merit to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of the Haftorah of Tisha B’Av, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).
May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash – b’meheira b’yameinu (speedily in our times).
Best wishes for a gutten Shabbos and for an easy and meaningful fast on Tisha B’av.
 The Shabbos before Tisha B’av is often referred to as Shabbos Chazon in honor of the opening words of this week’s reading of Navi (Prophets)
 For some context – it was Parshas Pinchas, and I was discussing the pros and cons of zealotry.
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