Haftarah: Yitro: Seeds of Light
Isaiah 6:1-19: Fueled by success, seized by passion, confident that God blessed him, Uzziah, King of Judah, entered the Temple against the protests of the Kohanim to offer the Ketoret – Incense
Offering. Even a mighty and successful king may not overstep the boundaries of the Temple and Uzziah was immediately stricken with Tzara’at – Biblical Leprosy – he was impure and the walls of the Temple shook as if in an earthquake at the presence of such impurity within them. A human being experienced inspired heights and did not know how to express his burning passion for God.
It was at that moment when Isaiah received his first prophecy. He was lifted as high as Uzziah, his king. He was allowed to peak into the highest heavenly realms. He saw the Throne of God and the angels praising their Creator and singing His praises. Then, just as the Cohen Gadol – The High Priest – would experience each Yom Kippur as he stood in the holiest place, a cloud covered his vision. Isaiah was terrified. He immediately assumed that he was unworthy of his vision. He believed that he lost his vision because he was unworthy of glimpsing all he had. He had been lifted to the greatest heights and quickly lost his perspective. He reacted as Israel reacted at Sinai, with fear and trepidation. “I am as good as dead. I cannot, no one can give voice to my vision and sing with the holiness and purity of the Seraphim.”
An angel came, just as the Cohen Gadol would do each Yom Kippur, and lifted a coal from the altar. The angel took the coal and lightly touched Isaiah’s mouth infusing him with the burning passion of God’s words. Isaiah’s teachings and prophecies would ignite excitement, rage against those who served without enthusiasm, and would leave a mark on Israel.
God asked “Whom can I send as My messenger? Who will go and speak for all of heaven?” Isaiah, moments ago too intimidated to sing, had to decide whether he was now ready to sing with the angels and to speak as God’s messenger. The coal had cleansed his sins. The burning words of God were seared into his lips. He rose to the challenge; I will go.” Isaiah was ready.
“They will not hear you. They will refuse to pay attention. You will speak with clarity and conviction. Your words will have the potency of this vision, but no one will respond. Do you still want to go?”
“How long will they shut me out?”
“Until they have lost almost everything. Then, the holy seeds you have planted will begin to grow and bear fruit.
Isaiah, as Uzziah, experienced the heights of Divine ardor and did not know how to find voice for his feelings and insights. An angel had to sear the new prophet’s lips with the power to find his voice and begin to teach and guide his nation.
Uzziah was driven by passion and Isaiah was motivated by his internal fiery love of God. How does someone find voice for such love, excitement and attachment to God? No wonder the Children of Israel stood back after the Revelation. They soared to the highest heights and wondered “What next?” what will we do, what can we do express all we have experienced? How can we live as we lived before?
Israel stood back. They retreated in face of this awesome challenge. Isaiah did not. The prophet understood that his experience of the Divine was his to use, to plant seeds for the future, it was not to force him to always live at that level. We hesitated in fear after Revelation, but the seeds were planted.
The prophet would succeed in planting seeds of holiness in a nation that had lost so much of its fervor. Isaiah understood and warned us that the first test for those who have experienced greatness is whether they will hesitate in fear or rise if only for a few moments, enjoy the gift, and use it to plant the seeds for future similar experiences. God has planted the seeds of Revelation in each of us. Seeds we can nurture and nourish with the words of the Torah we received at Revelation.