I recently heard a rabbi talk about a young couple who moved into a new neighborhood. The nosy neighbor next door couldn’t resist watching as the young bride hung her laundry out to dry on an almost daily basis. “Oy!” declared the older woman, “such dirty laundry she hangs!” Day after day, out came the laundry and day after day came the critiques. One day, however, the critic was so surprised! She called to her husband to share that the laundry looked so much cleaner. “Ah, maybe that’s because I washed our windows this morning,” exclaimed the husband.
Life is all about perspective and the visions that guide us. And, perhaps, there is no time in the Jewish calendar when this is more pronounced than during the middle of this month when we observe Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision, which falls on the Sabbath preceding the 9th of the month of Av, a day of deep mourning and fasting. On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the destruction of the Temple, twice on the same date 656 years apart. The name of the preceding Shabbat comes from the words of Isaiah in the Haftarah read on that day. According to Rabbi Mendel Hirsch of the OU, Isaiah laments not the destruction of the Temple, but, rather, the underlying causes of its fall, and it may behoove us, on an annual basis, to look closely at these verses, too.
In Isaiah 1:1-27, which we read on this special Shabbat, we are admonished for our behaviors and are offered a picture of the consequences of our choices. G-d tells us that He has no need for our sacrifices and festivals if we refuse to follow His laws and continue to treat our land and one another unkindly. He will then refuse to look at us and won’t hear our prayers. However, He also offers the vision of a future where our sins might be turned snow-white and where we will eat the good things of the earth. All He asks is that we “Learn to do good. Devote ourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.”
To make changes, any changes, we have to see what needs to be mended first. We all know we make mistakes from time to time, and that being flawed is to be human, but none of us is THAT bad, are we? Perhaps not, but if we see ourselves as part of a collective whole, the perception might change. It is not only challenging to change, but it’s also so difficult to look at ourselves critically in the first place. It is much easier to see someone else’s dirty laundry, but perhaps it’s time to wash our own windows and put up a mirror or two.