Haftarah- Isaiah I: 1- 27
Isaiah (prophet)- c.740 – 685 BCE
The parsha Devarim and its haftarah always precede the fast of Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) when we read the Book of Lamentations or איכה . Michael Mirsky- Torah reader and “leining” teacher extraordinaire- explained to me why Devarim is always read before Tisha B’Av. In the parsha Moses asks,”איכה אשא לבדי טרחכם ומשאכם וריבכם.” “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” (Devarim 1: 12). As you can see, Moses’ plea begins with the word איכה – Eicha.
This desolate haftarah is the last of the “Three Haftarot of Rebuke”. Isaiah recounts how God laments that His children – B’nei Yisrael – have rebelled against Him. They are corrupt, their prayers are empty and their sacrifices are meaningless.
Isaiah tells the nation their sins can become white as snow and the land can become fruitful and full again. God asks Israel to “Learn to do well; Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17) This relates to parallels a phrase in the parsha where Moses reminds b’nei Yisrael, “You shall not be partial in judgement: hear the small and the great alike.” (Devarim 1:18) Both quotations remind the Israelites to act fairly and care for those who are in need, no matter what station they hold in life.
In searching for an image for this haftarah I wanted something that expressed God’s desire that His children act well and justly. The care of Jewish refugees in the nascent Israel of 1949 came to mind.
As we know, Jewish immigration to Israel, their ancestral homeland, was severely restricted by the White Paper of 1939. Jewish survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) had to enter mandate Palestine illegally and if they were caught were sent to D.P.camps. When Israel was declared a state in 1948 there were suddenly thousands of Jewish immigrants in the country needing food, clothing and shelter.
“ Ma’abarot” (or temporary camps and cities) were set up to temporarily house survivors and refugees. In the early 1950’s they accommodated 130,000 expelled Iraqi Jews. By the end of 1951 there were over 220,000 people in about 125 different areas.
The ma’abarot had problems and were not “perfect” solutions, but they were a genuine attempt to take care of the widows, the orphans and the needy when Israel was first established.
The illustration at the top of this post was inspired by a photograph of a ma’abarah in 1952.
B’nei Ysrael was promised the land of Israel, and we have the good fortune to be able to live there today. The direction to judge all people with the same fairness and righteousness, and to take care of all of those in need still stands today. We should be proud of what Israel and Jews internationally have achieved in terms of social justice and care of the sick and needy- but let’s remember to improve the world by being better ourselves.
Have a meaningful fast on the Tisha B’Av fast day. (This year the fast will be on Sunday, the 10th of Av because we aren’t allowed to fast on Shabbat). And let’s keep on making the world a better place!
P.S. There is a good website about the mabarot at http://jewishhistoryaustralia.net/podcasts/