Haftarah: Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: Trembling With Excitement
I was not there when Isaiah died. I do not know if this, the final chapter of Isaiah, is actually his final prophecy. I can only offer my imagination’s picture of this powerful prophecy: Menashe, king of Judah, has torturously executed his grandfather. Even those who rejected Isaiah gasped at the news of this unspeakable evil. Whether they listened to him or not, Isaiah was the voice of God. His was a powerful presence in Jerusalem. Isaiah was the constant voice of God during the highs and lows of many kings, both good and evil. No one imagined that a king, certainly not his grandson, would murder this great and prolific prophet. A large crowd quietly gathered before his humble home near the Temple Mount. People wished that they could hear one last prophecy. They sensed that the heavens had shifted when their king murdered Isaiah. Someone rushed out the door of his home waving a parchment. He had found a final prophecy. Isaiah left a vision for his people to carry with them over the coming tumultuous years:
“The Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. What house could you build for Me, and what place could be My resting place?” (Verse 1) The people had been so corrupted by idol worship and other negative influences that they forgot how to even think about God. Isaiah had tried to teach them to think of God as beyond their senses. He wanted them to understand that a relationship with God was an opportunity to rise above all the limitations of this world. Since his earliest prophecy describing the highest angels singing God’s praises, Isaiah attempted to recreate the tension the people experienced at Sinai, during the Revelation, when they trembled with the thrill of experiencing the truly Infinite. He wanted people to constantly experience the intensity of the struggle between the unlimited human being and his unlimited possibilities.
Isaiah reminded all that his words had always been addressed to those who trembled, not in fear, but in excitement over a relationship with the Infinite Creator. Who else could understand the prophet’s description of “Before she even feels her labor pains she will give birth”? Who else would even close their eyes and picture “Before any travail comes to her she will deliver a son”? (Verse 7)
Only the tremblers in excitement could understand “They will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their decay will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished”. (Verse 24) Those who rebelled against God, rejected the infinite potential of a relationship with Him, and would suffer unlimited fire.
Those who thrilled to hear Isaiah speak of God in “Heaven, Whose footstool was the earth” could understand that those who trembled in fear, not excitement, were actually limiting their experience of God. “He who slaughters an ox is as if he slays a man; ho who offers a sheep is as if he breaks a dog’s neck; he who brings up a meal-offering is as if he offers a swine’s blood.” (Verse 3) God does not desire, in fact, He rejects the service of those who serve Him with limited perceptions without experiencing the thrill of a meeting with the Infinite.
“It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Shabbat all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says God.” (Verse 23) These, the final words of this great prophet, speak not of Israel, but of all mankind. Isaiah, more than 2500 years later, has the ability to force us to catch our breath and tremble with excitement. This great prophet of Israel uses his final words to describe a vision that is truly unlimited. He sees a world in which all constantly experience how we can reflect God’s Presence – as the moon reflects the light of the sun. Isaiah envisions a world in which each Shabbat is not the end of the previous week, but the beginning of the next. The world described in Isaiah’s penultimate sentence is world unlimited in its ability to constantly renew itself and tremble with excitement over the possibilities of our Infinite existence