Address: 91 Leinster St, Saint John, NB E2L 1J2

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D’var Haftarah

Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:

The Conservative movement in Jerusalem has been a part of the protests against the government reforms of the judiciary, and their potential ties to on-going charges of conflict of interest and corruption involving the government’s leader. The government says that the judiciary has been “interfering too much with legislation, biased on liberal issues and undemocratic in the way judges are selected.” – BBC News

There may need to be reform on both sides of this argument.

Here is this week’s D’var Haftarah:

Parashat Devarim

July 22, 2023 | 4 Av 5783

Torah: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 Triennial: Deuteronomy 1:1-2:1

Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-2:7

Isaiah on the Streets of Modern Israel
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Some years back, as I passed the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on my way to the Yeshiva, I stopped in my tracks. There was a man staffing the protest booth (a common sight) wearing a T-shirt reading (in Hebrew) “How the faithful town has become a whore…Your rulers are rebellious and companions of thieves; All loves bribes and chase payoffs.”  Isaiah’s words in this week’s haftarah were being broadcasted again on the streets of Jerusalem!

Let’s look at Isaiah’s succinct warning to the leaders and people of Jerusalem:

How has the faithful town has become a whore? [once] filled with justice;

Righteousness lodged in it, and now – murderers!

Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water.

Your rulers are rebellious and companions of thieves;

All loves bribes and chase payoffs.

The orphan they do not defend, and the cause of the widow will not come before them. (Isaiah 1:21-23)

Small falsehoods grow into system-wide corruption. The economy is threatened when impure silver and diluted wine are passed off as authentic in the market. The streets reflect a deeper problem: from the very top comes the message of corruption.

A society must ask itself how it treats corruption by its leaders. Some are happy to tolerate it (and benefit from it.) For others, it is a line that cannot be crossed. If the leader is corrupt there are no boundaries. When money can buy a law, or preferential treatment in court, or clearing of any abuse, then it is not righteousness but rather possessions that rule. If morality is bought with money and justice with promises of power, if judges are controlled by the elite in control, then courts lose their authority as the check and balance of the ruling group.

In this setting, those who seek redress in the court system discover that not all are equal before the law. Radak and Rashi comment (v. 23) that the widow understands that it is not in the interests of the people who should fight her battle to take up her cause. “Nor does the cause of the widow come before them” – She will not even bother turning to the court for justice. Corruption becomes the golden standard.

A system like that seems hopeless. None could raise a voice against it. Those with enough power have a vested interest in perpetuating the system, and those who need it changed are powerless to affect a change. Only a prophet with the word of God can demand a functioning justice system that reflects honest leadership. To give some teeth to this demand he explains “plan B”: God will get involved and purge that which they do not clean up. Such a purge will be painful; we would do well to improve on our own.

Some 2700 years later the streets of Jerusalem are burning with Isaiah’s divine message, demanding as we do in the Amidah prayer, “I will… bring back your judges as before and your counselors as long ago.” (vv. 24-26, translation by Robert Alter.)


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Address: 91 Leinster St,
Saint John, NB, E2L 1J2
Phone: (506) 657-4790
Mailing Address: P.O. BOX 2041
Saint John, NB,  E2L 3T5

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