Happiness During Sad Times
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This Shabbat is a special one, called Shabbat Chazon, literally the Shabbat of the vision. It takes its name from the Haftarah that is read during Shabbat morning services, from the words of rebuke and doom coming from the prophet Isaiah (1:1-27). Shabbat Chazon falls always on the Shabbat immediately prior to the mournful fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, in which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both the first and the second Temple of Jerusalem.
Some people say that this is the saddest Shabbat of the year, because it announces the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av. I even learned that some people call it the “Black Shabbat” (but it has nothing to do with the rock band!).
However, it is hard to think about a sad Shabbat, since Shabbat is a day of joy and delight, and we are forbidden to be sad on Shabbat. Perhaps this principle led the Chassidic master Abraham Yaakov Friedman of Sadigura (1820-1883) to describe Shabbat Chazon as “a big and important Shabbat.” According to this rabbi, Shabbat Chazon can be compared to a person who sits in a dark room. Suddenly, a friend of his enters and brings a lit candle with him. The man who was sitting in the dark is delighted by the wonderful light of that candle that brightens his room. In the same way, when the pure light of the Shabbat appears during the days prior to Tisha B’Av, days of semi-mourning and sadness, our mood changes and we rejoice for a whole day. Avoiding sadness during Shabbat (and festivals), even during Shabbat Chazon, is a great Jewish principle.
Let me be clear: Sadness is certainly recognized and “allowed” in the Jewish tradition, and sometimes is even welcomed and required, like for example during the Shiva period, or during the fast of Tisha B’Av and the previous three weeks. However, periods of sadness are required to eventually end; and even during a period of sadness we have some special days of joy and pleasure, like Shabbat Chazon. Even during a time of semi mourning, like the three weeks before Tisha B’Av, the Jewish tradition calls us to radically change our mood on Shabbat and celebrate life.
I hope we enjoy this coming Shabbat Chazon (and all of the following Shabbatot too!) and take advantage of this opportunity to learn that even during times of sadness and sorrow we all deserve to enjoy some happiness and joy.