On the Sabbath before Tish’a B’Av, the day that is designated as a commemoration for the destruction of the Temple, we read from the first passage in Isaiah (1:1 – 1:27). This passage teaches us why we are in exile, and it also teaches us how God wants us to return to Him.
It seems that the problem is not so much that we do not observe the Sabbaths or the festivals, nor is God upset at us because we aren’t praying enough or bringing enough sacrifices (verses 11 – 15). The reason God is displeased with us is because of sins between man and his fellow man. We haven’t taken up the cause of the orphan, and we haven’t fought the fight of the widow (verse 23).
This rebuke is not only applicable to the judges and the leaders of our society. The widow and the orphan represent all of those who are powerless before us. Almost every one of us enjoys power over others. It could be through our wealth, through our position in society, through the sharpness of our tongues or through the force of our personality. Sometimes the power that we enjoy is only temporary, but it is still power. It could be that I am driving the car in front of you, so I could control the road that rightly belongs to all of us, or I could misuse public space and public property to the detriment of all who were meant to benefit.
The prophet is calling upon all of us to be careful how we exercise our strength. The first and most important thought in our mind should be to make sure that we are not taking advantage of any power that we may possess for the detriment of those who are powerless to protect themselves from our abuses. It is incumbent upon every individual in society to ensure that the weakest members of society are not being crushed under the wheels of the society in general. Justice in our society should be a top priority in our lives.
We may think that this task is impossible. How can we correct the ills of society? Where can we start? And can we ever finish?
The prophet addresses this concern as well. Come, let us reason, says God, if your sins will be as scarlet, they will become whiter than snow. God is encouraging us. You take the first steps. Show Me that you take my rebuke seriously and that you want My justice established in your society – I will then move in to refine you and to restore your judges as in the days of yore. You will then be called the city of righteousness.
But it doesn’t end there.
When Israel fixes her own act, the repercussions are cosmic. When we learn to curb our power and not exercise the strength that we have to take advantage of those who are powerless before us, the nations of the world will mirror our actions. They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift a sword against another nation and they will no longer learn war.
Come now, House of Jacob, let us walk in the light of our God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal