…we would have been like Sodom, resembled Gemorrah…” (Yeshaya 1:9)
The three Shabbasos that intervene between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av are referred to as the “Shabbasos of calamity”. The Haftorah, the selection from the Prophets which is read on these Shabbasos, reflects the mood of this time period, a period of national mourning for the destruction of both Battei Hamikdash. The Shabbos prior to Tish B’av, which is the last of the series, is known as Shabbos Chazone, and the first chapter of the book of Yeshayahu is recited.1
The Talmud sets forth the principle “Le’olam al yiftach adam piv laSatan” – “A person should never open his mouth to Satan”; speech that calls for one’s own demise should be avoided.2 This principle is gleaned from this week’s Haftorah in which the prophet Yeshayahu bemoans the underlying causes which led to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the severing of our relationship with Hashem. The verse states that the Jewish people expressed their appreciation to Hashem for having mercifully left a remnant of the nation alive even though they deserved to be utterly destroyed as were the inhabitants of Sodom. In the very next verse the prophet refers to Bnei Yisroel as chieftains of Sodom. The Talmud explains that since Bnei Yisroel compared themselves to the inhabitants of Sodom, they gave the prophet an opening to label them as such.
The principle is generally understood to mean that by stating that something of a malevolent nature will occur, a person gives himself an “ayin harah” – “evil eye”, subjecting himself to supernatural forces which demand that he receive that which he wished upon himself. In the aforementioned situation, this explanation does not seem to apply. The statement made by the Jewish people was that they were grateful for not being destroyed. Furthermore, the consequence of their actions was not that they were destroyed, rather that they were labeled as chieftains of Sodom. How does this label indicate a negative impact of Bnei Yisroel’s statement?
Chazal are teaching us that we can affect our reality through our perceptions of ourselves. When we say something negative about ourselves, we can subject ourselves to this fate; by wishing upon ourselves a malady, we can cause our bodies to produce this illness. Man has the ability to create his own reality. The downfall created by Bnei Yisroel’s statement was their comparing themselves to the people of Sodom. This reflected their perception of themselves, thus allowing the prophet to identify them in such a manner.
1.Yeshaya 1:1-27 2.Berachos 19a