How Has the Harlot Become the Beloved / Dvar Torah, Parshat Devarim

Haim Watzman

This dvar Torah, translated from this week’s issue of Shabbat Shalom , the weekly Shabbat pamphlet of the religious peace group Oz Veshalom is dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher Sanford “Whitey” Watzman, who left us six years ago on 2 Av.

אפשר לקרוא בעברית כאן: “איכה הייתה הזונה לאהובה”

“Alas, she become a harlot, the faithful city” laments the prophet Isaiah (1:21) in the haftarah for Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av. Isaiah is not the only prophet to portray the city of Jerusalem, and the people of Israel, as a harlot—it is a motif that other prophets also use. The most notable of these is Hosea, in whose book it constitutes the underlying metaphor. On the face of it, the comparison seems simple. There are women who are unfaithful to their husbands and who lie with other men, either to satisfy their sexual passions or to earn money. When the people of Israel worship other gods and act in violation of the values of the Torah, they are like harlots.

But the word “harlot” (zonah in Hebrew) in its various forms is not just a metaphor in the Tanach.

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Not a Third Time — Dvar Torah in Memory of My Dad

Haim Watzman

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An English translation of the dvar Torah in memory of my father, Sanford (Whitey) Watzman, that appears in this week’s issue of Shabbat Shalom , the weekly Torah portion sheet of the religious peace movement Oz VeShalom, on the third anniversary of his death.

The dawn of sovereignty and the end of sovereignty, divine providence and divine concealment, standing on the verge of the Land of Israel and gong into exile—the first chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, which we read this week in the annual cycle of Torah readings, seem to mirror and contrast the themes of the fast of the Ninth of Av, which always falls in the week after it is read. The cycle is deliberately arranged so that we always begin our reading of Deuteronomy on Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the fast that mourns the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the beginnings of the Babylonian and Roman exiles. The most commonly cited connection between the fast and the Torah reading is that the word “eichah,” the exclamation that means “how can this be endured!” (The word also appears in the week’s haftarah from Isaiah and is a refrain in the Scroll of Lamentations read on Tisha B’Av.) But there is much more. The clear message conveyed by the days between Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av is that the Jewish nation was given a chance to establish an independent and moral society, one acting in the name of heaven and not for its own aggrandizement—and that we failed the test badly.

My father worked for many years as a journalist out of a sense of mission and a firm belief that a free press is one of the cornerstones of democratic society. And he believed that democracy was the best (if far from perfect) way of establishing and maintaining a moral human society. Democracy requires citizens to take responsibility for themselves. On the face of it, that seems to be the opposite of what the Torah demands.

Read moreNot a Third Time — Dvar Torah in Memory of My Dad