This week's parsha
In the 1950s, when the Western world was paranoid about the threat posed by Soviet expansionism, and politicians of all other shades were warning about the reds hiding under our beds, there was much fear-mongering about the dangers posed by subliminal advertising.
The theory was that the Commies would subvert television executives into allowing them to broadcast coded messages, flashing onto our screens too quickly for conscious perception to integrate, which would register on the viewers at a subconscious, decision-making level.
I’m not sure about the science behind the theory, nor whether advertisers are currently exploiting the hypothesis to sell stuff to the masses, but a similar concept will be operating on Jews all over the world this Shabbat.
Next week is Tisha B’Av, a 25-hour fast in commemoration of all the tragedies that have befallen our nation over our long and torturous history.
The Shabbat before Tisha B’Av is referred to as Shabbat Chazon, “Shabbat of the Vision.” It is so named after the first words of this week’s haftorah (reading from the prophets), which begins, “Chazon Yeshayahu . . .” -- “The vision of the prophet Isaiah . . .”
Another justification for the week being referred to as the “Shabbat of the Vision” is that on this special day we are all granted a vision of the promised third Temple.
An often-repeated parable has a favored child being presented with a gorgeous suit by his proud father. The spoiled child ruins it, whereupon his forgiving father gives him another suit, this one even more splendid than the first.
When the kid rips this second suit, his father finally recognizes his son’s lack of maturity and decides not to repeat the mistake. He commissions a third suit, but this time holds back from presenting his son with the prize, preferring to safeguard the garment in his own closet.
Once in a while, in an attempt to encourage his son to reform, the father shows his beloved the suit waiting for him, and begs him to demonstrate the necessary maturity to deserve the gift.
The child in the story is analogous to the Jewish nation, while the father represents G‑d. We once had a beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, the envy of all our neighbors. Unfortunately, due to our sins, this First Temple was destroyed and, after a short period of exile, another Temple was built on the original site.
When our behavior caused us to lose the Second Temple, G‑d decided not to immediately replace the Temple, but to rebuild it in heaven, in readiness for our redemption.
As a preparation for Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of both Temples’ destruction, we are shown a vision of the third Temple, in the hope that the prize dangled before us will inspire us to return to G‑d.
I must confess that not once have I, in my conscious experience, been worthy to perceive this vision. Every year, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, I remember this parable and wonder: what is the use of a vision from G‑d if I don’t see it? I'm positive there is nothing wrong with the source of the transmission, but evidently I’m not tuned to the right spiritual frequency.
I don't know if the communists or Madison Avenue ever perfected the art of subliminal suggestion, but I am sure that G‑d has the requisite skills to pull it off. The fact that I don’t merit to knowingly recognize and be inspired by this annual vision is my loss. Nonetheless, the vision emanates from G‑d, and somehow, subtly, subconsciously, even I pick up on the promise of redemption that awaits, and on a subconscious level respond to the suggestion to change.
We are all familiar with the occasional spirit of discontent that appears out of nowhere and prods us to change. The next time it strikes, don’t just roll over to the other side and wait for it to go away, but rather recognize it for what it is -- a subliminal suggestion from G‑d -- and resolve to wake up to yourself and live up to your responsibilities.