A Shabbat of Vision
An annual window of opportunity on the Shabbat before Tishah B'Av
And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, but the people with me did not see it; yet a great terror befell them, and they fled into hiding.
But if they did not see the vision, why were they terrified? Because though they themselves did not see, their souls saw.
Talmud, Megillah 3a
On the ninth day of the month of Av ("Tishah B’Av") we fast and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Both the First Temple (833–423 bce) and the Second Temple (353 bce–69 ce) were destroyed on this date. The Shabbat preceding the fast day is called the "Shabbat of Vision," for on this Shabbat we read a chapter from the Prophets entitled "The Vision of Isaiah."[i]
But there is also a deeper significance to the name "Shabbat of Vision," expressed by Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev[ii] with the following metaphor:
A father once prepared a beautiful suit of clothes for his son. But the child neglected his father’s gift and soon the suit was in tatters. The father gave the child a second suit of clothes, but this one, too, was ruined by the child’s carelessness. So the father made a third suit. This time, however, he withheld it from his son.
Every once in a while, in special and opportune times, he shows the suit to the child, explaining that when the child learns to appreciate and properly care for the suit, it will be given to him. This induces the child to improve his behavior, until it gradually becomes second nature to him—at which time he will be worthy of his father’s gift.
On the "Shabbat of Vision," says Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third and final Temple—a vision that, to paraphrase the Talmud, "though we do not see ourselves, our souls see." This vision evokes a profound response in us, even if we are not consciously aware of the cause of our sudden inspiration.
The Divine Dwelling
The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was the seat of G-d’s manifest presence in the physical world.
A basic tenet of our faith is that "The entire earth is filled with His presence"[iii] and "There is no place void of Him."[iv] But G-d’s presence and involvement in His creation are masked by the seemingly independent and arbitrary workings of nature and history. The Holy Temple was a breach in this mask, a window through which G-d radiated His light into the world. Here G-d’s involvement in our world was openly displayed by an edifice in which miracles were a "natural" part of its daily operation[v] and whose very space expressed the infinity and all-pervasiveness of the Creator.[vi] Here G-d showed Himself to man and man presented himself to G-d.[vii]
Twice we were given the gift of a Divine dwelling in our midst. Twice we failed to prove worthy of this gift and banished the Divine presence from our lives.
So G-d built us a third temple. Unlike its two predecessors, which were of human construction and therefore subject to debasement by man’s misdeeds, the Third Temple is as eternal and invincible as its Architect. But G-d has withheld this "third suit of clothes" from us, confining its reality to a higher, heavenly sphere, beyond the sight and experience of our earthly selves.
Each year, on the "Shabbat of Vision," G-d shows us the Third Temple. Our souls behold a vision of a world at peace with itself and its Creator, a world suffused with the knowledge and awareness of G-d, a world that has realized its Divine potential for goodness and perfection. It is a vision of the Third Temple in heaven—in its spiritual and elusive state—like the third set of clothes in the analogy, which the child sees but cannot have. But it is also a vision with a promise: a vision of a heavenly temple poised to descend to earth, a vision that inspires us to correct our behavior and hasten the day when the spiritual Temple becomes tactual reality.
Through these repeated visions, living in the Divine presence becomes more and more "second nature" to us (as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak says in his analogy), progressively elevating us to the state of worthiness to experience the Divine in our daily lives.
The Wearable House
The metaphors of our sages continue to speak to us long after the gist of their message has been assimilated. Beneath the surface of the metaphor’s most obvious import lies layer upon layer of meaning, in which each and every detail of the narrative is significant.
The same applies to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s analogy. Its basic meaning is clear, but many subtle insights are enfolded within its details. For example: Why, we might ask, are the three Temples portrayed as three suits of clothes? Would not the example of a building or house[viii] have been more appropriate?
The house and the garment both "house" and contain the person. But the garment does so in a much more personal and individualized manner. While it is true that the dimensions and style of a home reflect the nature of its occupant, they do so in a more generalized way—not as specifically and as intimately as a garment suits its wearer.
On the other hand, the individual nature of the garment limits its function to one’s personal use. A home can house many; a garment can clothe only one. I can invite you into my home, but I cannot share my garment with you: even if I give it to you, it will not clothe you as it clothes me, for it "fits" only myself.
G-d chose to reveal His presence in our world in a "dwelling"—a communal structure that goes beyond the personal to embrace an entire people and the entire community of man.[ix] Yet the Holy Temple in Jerusalem also had certain garment-like features. It is these features that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wishes to emphasize by portraying the Holy Temple as a suit of clothes.
For the Holy Temple was also a highly compartmentalized structure. There was a "Women’s Court" and a courtyard reserved for men, an area restricted to the kohanim (priests), a "Sanctuary" (heichal) imbued with a greater sanctity than the "courtyards," and the "Holy of Holies"—a chamber into which only the High Priest could enter and only on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The Talmud enumerates eight domains of varying sanctity within the Temple complex, each with its distinct function and purpose.[x]
In other words, although the Temple expressed a single truth—the all-pervasive presence of G-d in our world—it did so to each individual in a personalized manner. Although it was a "house" in the sense that it served many individuals—indeed the entire world—as their meeting point with the infinite, each and every individual found it a tailor-made "garment" for his or her specific spiritual needs, according him or her a personal and intimate relationship with G-d.
Each year, on the Shabbat before Tishah B’Av, we are shown a vision of our world as a Divine home—a place where all G-d’s creatures will experience His presence. But this is also a vision of a G-dly "garment"—the distinctly personal relationship with G-d, particularly suited to our individual character and individual aspirations, that we will each enjoy when the Third Temple descends to earth.[xi]
[i]. Isaiah 1:1-27. This reading is the third of a series of readings, called the "Three of Rebuke," that are read on the three Shabbatot preceding the 9th of Av.
[iii]. Isaiah 6:3.
[iv]. Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 57.
[v]. Ethics of the Fathers 5:5.
[vi]. The Talmud (Yoma 21a) relates that the Temple and its furnishings defied the most fundamental characteristic of physical objects—that they take up space—in that "The space of the Ark was not part of the measurement." The Holy of Holies measured 20 cubits (approx. 30 feet) by 20 cubits; the Ark which stood in its the center measured 2.5 x 1.5 cubits; yet the distance from each of the outside walls of the Ark to the walls of the chamber was a full 10 cubits. In other words, the Ark, though itself a physical object with spatial dimensions, did not take up any of the space in the room.
[vii]. Exodus 23:17, as per Talmud, Sanhedrin 4b.
[viii]. As in the analogy given by the Midrash.
[ix]. The "dwelling" also represents "a place that houses a person’s very essence".
[x]. Talmud, Keilim 1:6.
[xi]. Based on the Rebbe’s talks on Shabbat Chazon, 5742 (1982) and 5744 (1984), (Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXIX, pp. 18-25).