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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5782

Parashat Hashavua: Chazon and the Critique of the Corrupt Elites of Society

Harav Yosef Carmel

The haftara of Chazon, which ushers in the final days of national mourning, is Yeshayahu’s critique of the nation. A few of its p’sukim are reminiscent of Sefer Devarim. It begins, “Hear, heavens, and listen, land, for Hashem has spoken: Children have I raised and elevated, and they have betrayed Me” (Yeshayahu 1:2). This is very similar to the opening of the Song of Ha’azinu. Then, the navi cries out: “How could (eicha) the reliable city become like a harlot,” using the introduction to a question that Moshe used in Devarim (1:12) regarding difficulties with the people. It also is the question of despair that Yirmiyahu would use later at the time of destruction, as the heart of Megillat Eicha.

To which generation did the prophet refer when he compared Yerushalayim to a harlot (a prophet can send a message to his own generation or to all generations, as Rashi often posits, but here is silent)? The Radak explains that the prophecy applied to all generations of Yeshayahu’s career (during the reigns of four kings – Uziyahu, Yotam, Achaz, and Chizkiyahu).

However, the Radak is troubled because all of Yeshayahu’s kings except Yotam were righteous (to various degrees). The Radak answers that in addition to shortcomings of each of the kings, the people were largely corrupt, including in offering sacrifices outside of Yerushalayim.

We humbly suggest a different approach. An interesting picture emerges from the opening chapters of Sefer Yeshayahu. A lot of Yeshayahu’s criticism is directed at the elite of society, including the king, the judges, the wealthy, and the heads of the army, all of which used their societal power improperly.   

In speaking of the end of days in the early chapters, Yeshayahu refrains from direct reference to Mashiach, the king who is to stand at the head of the political leadership. This omission demonstrates concern about idealizing a potentially dangerous system in which one person holds a tremendous amount of power.

Yeshayahu fiercely opposed those who become rich by exploiting the weak in society. The overly close relationship between those with political clout and those with money, brought great injustice: "Your officers are corrupt, and a pack of thieves, all love bribery, and pursue payments" (Yeshayahu 1:23). The prophet also spares no words on the judges who go along with the people’s tyrannical actions, even if by inaction (ibid.). The incredible power of military leaders allowed people to kill in order to advance their personal agenda (ibid. 21). Possibly the simple person was not severely to blame, whereas the elites were.

The situation in the time of Uziyahu, at which time the prophecy was said, was good in many ways. Nevertheless, Yeshayahu warned the people that if the bureaucracy will not be changed, they are liable to face national destruction relatively quickly (ibid. 7-8). Such concerns, while said once upon a time, are always relevant.

May our present state learn the lessons of the past, and may we merit righteous leaders like Moshe Rabbeinu and men of spirit, like Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu, who provided guidance. May we see the fulfillment of the last pasuk of the haftara – the return of an efficient and honest judicial system, which will make us worthy of liberation (see ibid. 26-27).


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