This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת יִתְרוֹ
“Humanity & Divinity”
The chosen Haftarah for Parshas Yisro is a mysterious one from Sefer Yishaiyah, as the Haftarah features cryptic descriptions of the Seraphim (specie of angels) amidst Yishaiyah’s Divine Revelation of the Beis HaMikdash. The contents of this prophecy is presumed by most to be a simplified and perhaps less intense version of the similar revelation experienced by Yechezkeil [See Yechezkeil 1] which is referred to be Chazzal as the Ma’aseh Merkavah, literally, the “Event of the [Divine] Chariot” in which Yechezkeil saw the “Face of G-d” as it were.
As far as the relationship between the Sidrah and the Haftarah goes, we might note that Chazzal have already drawn connections between the Revelation at Har Sinai featured in Yisro and the Ma’aseh Merkavah as various Midrashim suggest that during the experience of Har Sinai, the B’nei Yisrael as well witnessed the visions of the Ma’aseh Merkavah when they too saw the “Face of G-d,” again, as it were. So, the pervading theme of the Haftarah seems to be one of intense, Divine Revelation.
But, with this backdrop, we’re necessarily faced with a similar challenge to that which we recently faced in terms of the Haftarah choice for Parshas Beshalach. As we discussed, Parshas Beshalach featured the first major Shirah (prophetic song) in the Torah, so the Haftarah was accordingly taken from a part of Shoftim which featured a Shirah. Yet, on Pesach, when the same Shirah from the Torah is read again, it is accompanied by a Haftarah from a different Navi in Sefer Shmuel which also features a Shirah (a separate discussion, perhaps for another time), indicating, that perhaps there are different dimensions of perspectives with which to reflect on the Shirah of Beshalach, depending on the day, whatever they may be. Well, in a similar vein, when it comes to Parshas Yisro and the reading of the Aseres HaDibros (“Ten Commandments”; Decalogue) and the Divine Revelation and Sinai, on the one hand, we have here a Haftarah referencing the Ma’aseh Merkavah in Yishaiyah, yet, on Shavuos, when the same text of the Har Sinai experience is read again, it is followed by the Haftarah of the fuller Ma’aseh Merkavah prophecy featured in Sefer Yechezkeil. That fact alone begs the same question as to why there are different Haftaros for the same Torah readings, albeit on a different day of the calendar year.
Now, while we will not be focusing so much on the Haftarah reading for Shavuos, it would be helpful to keep the above in mind, because if one looks at the unique Haftarah for our Sidrah in Yishaiyah, we might be able to identify other themes that Yishaiyah’s particular revelation has with the Sidrah, beyond the mere theme of Divine Revelation. Because, again, if the point of the Haftarah is just to highlight revelation, there would seem to be no reason to a different Haftarah for Yisro than for Shavuos. It is unlikely that we’re merely selecting a different Haftarah for the same Torah reading highlighting the same exact theme just because we don’t want to read the same Haftarah twice in the same year, because there are other Haftarah readings that are read more than one time each year (for example, Noach and Ki Seitzei share a Haftarah, and Ha’azinu and the 7th day of Pesach share a Haftarah).
So, what is the difference between the Haftarah for Yisro from Yishaiyah and the Haftarah for Shavuos from Yechezkeil other than the fact that Yechezkeil elaborates more on the Ma’aseh Merkavah?
Just for starters, not only does the Shavuos Haftarah from Yechezkeil describe the Ma’aseh Merkavah in fuller detail, but in fact, that reading clearly revolves around the Ma’aseh Merkavah. The entire Haftarah is about the contents of that revelation. However, in Yisro’s Haftarah from Yishaiyah, the Ma’aseh Merkavah is really only a short segment in the beginning of the reading. The Haftarah itself particularly focuses on Yishaiyah’s task following his sighting of the Merkavah. So, there is apparently more to the Haftarah which seems to have much less to do with the Divine vision itself. So, what else is the Yishaiyah Haftarah about?
If one looks at the entire reading, the larger Haftarah is made up of a couple of segments of prophecies of warning, part of which took place following the death of Uziyah Melech Yehudah (also known as Azariyah) and part of which took place during the reign of Uziyah’s grandson Achaz [Yishaiyah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6].
In the first part of the Haftarah, the Navi deals with Yishaiyah’s selection for the role of rebuking the B’nei Yisrael. But then, upon witnessing the Divine Chariot, he is reminded of his humanity—sinful by nature, impure, etc. [See 6:5-7]. However, in his encounter with Seraph who touches his mouth with a coal, Yishaiyah is ultimately atoned. Then, when asked who should go to rebuke the people, Yishaiyah oddly volunteers [6:8], “Hineni Shilacheini”-“Behold, here I am! Send me!”
Why is Yishaiyah so quick to take the job? Yishaiyah’s alacrity for such a noble task seems astonishingly brazen, especially if we consider how it stands in stark contrast to the vehement yet humble refusal displayed by both Moshe Rabbeinu and Yirmiyah when selected to address the nation. Why does Yishaiyah feel so ready for this task?
In any event, Yishaiyah is chosen to condemn the B’nei Yisrael, telling them that they “surely hear but fail to comprehend, surely see but fail to know” and that the people’s hearts have been fattened so that they cannot internalize G-d’s message to them, repent from their complacently evil ways, and ultimately be healed [6:9-10].
R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the problem of generation was that religion began and ended in the Temple, and that since the point of the Temple was for its spiritual influence to seep into life outside it, the Temple was not serving its purpose to the people. It therefore had to be destroyed.
The rebuke to the people is a harsh one, and their subjugation at the hands of Aram will be even harsher, however, the Navi declares [skip to 9:5-6] that at least in the immediate future, the chaos of their exile would come to a temporary standstill when a righteous king, Chizkiyahu ultimately rises up and rids his generation of all spiritual impurity.
Now, beyond the imagery of Divine Revelation, what does any of the above have to do with the narrative of Parshas Yisro? Again, we established that Yishaiyah sees some angels, gets overwhelmed, but then is purified and chosen to rebuke the people. And as was mentioned, there was something kind of strange about Yishaiyah’s selection process in that Yishaiyah, unlike other great prophets, volunteered himself for the job. We were wondering why that is, how he could be so brazen as to think that he was fitting for the job.
But, if one reviews the sequence of events, Yishaiyah wasn’t necessarily longing for the job the entire time, and he very evidently did not think that he was fitting for the job. As was mentioned, upon experiencing his Divine Revelation, his initial reaction was to acknowledge his own lack of worth. He saw his mortality, his impurity, and his inclination towards sin, and he declared that he should die for having seen the “Face of G-d.” He apparently did not think he was worthy for the role of being G-d’s subject for any matters. And perhaps, in some ways, he was correct. But that was the beginning of his Divine experience. Because, again, as the Navi tells us, amidst his Divine experience, the angel restores Yishaiyah’s purity, and only then, does Yishaiyah have the confidence and self-worth to step up to the plate.
But, the question is what really changed from the beginning of the experience that Yishaiyah changed his attitude. He was human before, and he is still human after. If his humanity was a reason why he was not worthy, why was he all of a sudden worthy now? Yes, he was purified, perhaps cleaned from sin, but he is still human and therefore intrinsically frail in the “Face of G-d.”
It could be though that, in fact, both attitudes are simultaneously correct. In truth, man is frail and unworthy on the one hand, yet on the other hand, he has the greatest spiritual potential to reach G-d, be a pure subject, and do His Divine work. Naturally, man has evil drives, yes, and perhaps, naturally, man is at a great disadvantage when it comes to Divine tasks. So, Yishaiyah probably felt what Moshe, Yirmiyah, and really all of us feel: How can we even try to relate to a spiritual G-d, especially when we consider the angels in the heavens who call out [6:3], “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Hashem Tzevakos Melo Chal HaAretz Kevodo”-“Holy, Holy, Holy is Hashem of Legions; the entire world is filled with His glory”? But, perhaps, despite man’s limitations, and perhaps specifically because of man’s limitations, man is charged to overcome and transcend himself. That means that this obviously great test implies an equally great potential for man to reach G-d, perhaps where even angels could not. Perhaps, the angels themselves admit to this potential when they declare that “the entire world is filled with His glory.” Even in this world, the abode of humankind, man can connect to G-d.
At the same time, it is still true that without that will to transcend, man’s humanity will drag him down. That is, in fact, the rebuke which Yishaiyah is told to relay to the people; that they, in their thick skin, are not allowing the spirituality to seep into their souls. They hear and see, but only on the surface. They allow their hearts to be fattened with humanity and an unwillingness to transcend. Thus, it takes a willing human to rise to the challenge, to dare to transcend and realize that although he is only human, “Melo Chal HaAretz Kevodo”—that G-d can be reached anywhere. Yishaiyah was that man, willing to take a second look at the Seraphim in the face and say, “Behold, Here I am! Send me!”
The above has everything to do with Parshas Yisro which is not only about Divine Revelation, but about the challenges that Divine Revelation necessarily poses to Hashem’s human servants. The B’nei Yisrael were overwhelmed at Har Sinai, frozen by a deathly fear as a result of their humanity. How could they expect to enter a covenant with Hashem? Yishaiyah’s initial feeling of human meekness before Hashem’s Presence is appropriate, and at the Revelation of Sinai, the B’nei Yisrael were reminded of that very same “distance” they have from G-d. And this natural distance that is caused by our humanity, at times, can be the cause for our failure as G-d’s people. For example, if we refuse to work on ourselves and mature from our animalistic instincts, our humanity will weigh us down. And in Israel’s history, it was the lack of serious comprehension in the eternal covenant with G-d which left them vulnerable and prone to breaching that covenant later. They would freeze up because of their humanity.
On the other hand, humanity can trip us up in the opposite direction, for example, at the scene of with their worship of the Golden Calf when the B’nei Yisrael attempted to recreate an artificial and unrealistic Divine experience, to serve G-d in a way that was beyond human capability. Because we felt limited by our human limitations, we overreached in attempt to connect to spirituality. However, that is also contrary to the message of Har Sinai.
The message of Har Sinai, as reflected by Yishaiyah, is not that we should attempt to transcend our human limitations by striving to become angels. Rather, we are supposed to reach G-d by maintaining our humanity without letting it weigh us down. Yes, we can be humans, but with a willingness to transcend, to improve ourselves within a healthy human framework. And if we do that instead of trying to be something that we are not, we can even reach higher than the Seraphim.
In the end, there’s a balance that must be met. We are intrinsically distant from G-d, yet His Presence fills up our world. We are frail humans, but our humanity is, at the same time, what gives us the potential for closeness. Certainly, we have to be humble and know our place, but at the same time, we cannot be eternally weighed down by the fat of our physical selves. We have to harness our humanity and, without overreaching, exert our willingness and efforts to transcend, to look the Divine Presence in the Face and say “Hineni Shilacheini”-“Behold, here I am! Send me!”
May we all be Zocheh to use our humanity as a springboard towards spiritual transcendence, step up to the plate and accept the yoke of His Torah, and Hashem should reveal His Divine Presence once again with the coming of the Geulah, in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂