Haftarat Parshat Yitro -
Yeshayahu 6:1-13

The opening pasuk of this week's Haftara - "b'shnat mot ha'melech Uziyahu..." - mentions the precise year when Yeshayahu received this nevuah, i.e. the year in which King Uziyahu died. Considering that most of Yeshayahu's prophecies do not begin in this manner, we must assume that a thematic connection exists between that unusually explicit date and the "nevuah" that follows.

In the following shiur, we attempt to find that connection by considering the time period of Uziyahu.

The First Temple Period:
Its Ups and Downs

Before we discuss the time period of Uziyahu specifically, we must first take into consideration the alternating nature of the first Temple period in general.

The establishment of the monarchy by King David, followed by the construction of the first Bet Ha'Mikdash (Temple) by his son Shlomo, undoubtedly marks a high point in Jewish history. (See Board #1.) For the first time since Yetziat Mitzrayim, the country was finally united, its borders secure and its economy strong. Even the religious level of the people was at a high, as idol worship, so widespread during the time period of the shoftim (Judges), had been eradicated by the efforts of Shmuel, Shaul and David.

Unfortunately, only one generation later, the monarchy split between Yehuda (Rechavam) and Yisrael (King Yerovam). Egypt attacked Yehuda and plundered the Mikdash. The ten tribes were plagued with internal strife. Not only did security and prosperity suffer, so too did the religious level of the people [idol worship resurfaced in both the North and the South]. The 'golden years' were over. (See Board #2.)

Even though the country re-united once again some one hundred years later [during the time period of Yehoshafat (Yehuda) and Achav (Yisrael)], that unity lasted only a short time, and idol worship remained popular due to the influence of Achav's wife Jezebell. (See Board #3.) It was only several generations later, during the reign of Yerovam ben Yoash, King of Israel, and Uziyahu, King of Yehuda, that harmony, prosperity and security finally returned; idol worship as well was at a wane (see II Divrei Ha'yamim 26:1-15 and II Melachim 14:23-28).

During this prosperous time of the united kingdom of Uziyahu and Yerovam, the prophets hoped for a national religious reawakening as well. For the first time in several hundred years, a time period as glorious as the days of David and Shlomo was achievable. (See Board #4.)

[It is not by chance that we find prophecies of four very important prophets during this time period: Hoshea, Amos, Yeshayahu, and Micha (Yotam was Uziyahu's son and successor)! (See the opening psukim of each Sefer.)]

High Hopes
This potential is reflected in one of Yeshayahu's most famous prophecies where he foresees the development of a messianic period. (Most likely, this prophecy delivered during the reign of Uziyahu):

"The words of Yeshayahu concerning Yehuda and Yerushalayim: In the days to come [see Further Iyun with regard to the word "acharit"], the Temple Mount shall stand firm above all mountains and tower above all hills; and all the nations shall flock to it saying: Come let us go up to the Temple Mount to the house of the God of Yaakov, that He may teach us His ways, and that we make walk in His paths ... nation shall not lift sword against nation..." (2:1-4)
[See also a partial quote of these psukim in the inscription outside the United Nations. (Note which psukim are omitted!)]

Yeshayahu, in the time period of Uziyahu, foresees the unfolding of a messianic era, when Am Yisrael can realize its biblical destiny to become a source of guidance for all mankind. It is becuase Yehuda and Yisrael have achieved the status of a 'superpower,' and because the Temple and Jerusalem have become its national and religious center, that Yeshayahu anticipates the realization of Israel's ultimate goal. (See Board #5.)

[Note the thematic connection to Shmot 19:5-6. This may be an additional reason that this chapter was chosen as the Haftara of Yitro.]

A Big Disappointment
Even though God intended for Am Yisrael to utilize their newfound prosperity towards achieving this messianic goal (after all, it was for that purpose that He had blessed Israel with wealth and security), unfortunately, Am Yisrael instead became greedy with its wealth; its society became both affluent and haughty. [See (or scan) Yeshayahu 2:12-5:30!] (See Board #6.)

This disappointment is reflected in the continuation of the above prophecy (and emerges as the theme of chapters 2-5):

"O house of Yaakov, come, let us walk by the light of Hashem, for you have forsaken your ways ... Their land is full of gold and silver, There is no limit to their treasures ... But, man shall be humbled, and mortal brought low, Oh - Do not forgive them ... Man's haughty look shall be brought low, and the pride of mortals shall be humbled. None but the Lord shall be exalted on that day..." (see 2:5-17)
To his dismay, Yeshayahu now foresees God's anger and His impending punishment of Am Yisrael for their misuse of this prosperity. This prophecy in chapter two is only the beginning of a set of prophecies concerning God's disappointment with the generation of Uziyahu which concludes in chapter five with the famous "Mashal Ha'Kerem" (the parable of the vineyard). In that chapter, God compares His efforts to help Am Yisrael prosper to the efforts of a dedicated farmer working hard to assure that his vineyard would produce the finest of grapes. Despite the farmer's tireless efforts, the vineyard produced 'sour grapes' instead. The farmer, so angered and disappointed, decides to allow his vineyard to be trampled upon. So too, God has been angered, for even though He had done everything possible to ensure that Am Yisrael would achieve their goal, the exact opposite happens instead. As the navi describes:
"And He hoped for justice - tzdaka,
but behold [He found] injustice - tza'aka;
For equity - mishpat,
but behold iniquity - mispach."
[see 5:1-7]
This unit (chapters 2-5 of Yeshayahu) sets the stage for chapter six - this week's haftara.
"In the year that King Uziyahu died, I saw the Lord sitting on His mighty thrown, high and lofty. Serafim standing above Him, six wings to each ... and they called to each other Kadosh Kadosh ... the entire land is filled with His glory ... then the house filled with smoke ... Then [in reaction, Yeshayahu] said: Woe to me ... for mine eyes have seen the King the Lord of Hosts ... and I heard a voice saying: Who can I send ... and I answered: I am here, send me! Then God told him: Go and speak to the people - Listen, but you will not understand; see, but you will not know; for your hearts are too thick..." (see 6:1-10 inside!)
From a cursory reading of the first ten psukim, it seems as though Yeshayahu first sees the Shchina (Divine Presence) surrounded by angels in the "heichal" [the inner Temple chamber], after which God appoints him to be his messenger to Bnei Yisrael. But what is the meaning of this vision? Why must this enigmatic vision precede God's charge to Yeshayahu of his mission?

In several ways, this prophecy is similar to God's opening prophecy to Yechezkel [see Yechezkel 1:1-2:5], where Yechezkel receives his prophetic mission after seeing a very complex vision of the Schina. It is also a bit similar to God's opening prophecy to Yirmiyahu, where he receives his mission as well (see Yirmiyahu 1:1-2:3).

[These are better known as "nevuot hakdasha." Compare also to God's opening "hitgalut" to Moshe at the burning bush, where a vision precedes his mission (Shmot 3:1-10).]

But if the purpose of this vision is simply to introduce God's mission to Yeshayahu, it should be chapter one, not chapter six! Furthermore, since Yeshayahu's prophecies begin in the time of Uziyahu (see 1:1-3), it would not make sense that his first nevuah would be specifically in the year that Uziyahu dies.

Finally, even though the words of this nevuah are quite difficult to translate (let alone understand), it does leave the impression that God is actually leaving the "heichal!" Note that even though Yeshayahu indeed sees God in the "heichal" (6:1,5), only the 'skirts of his robe' ("shu'lav") remain in the Temple. God himself is now high and lofty, preparing to leave the Temple, as the "seraphim" cover their eyes and begin to move their wings (see 6:2). One could even suggest that "m'lo chal ha'aretz kvodo" - His presence fills all the earth (6:3) - reflects the fact that His presence, that had been once 'concentrated' in the Temple, has now left that spot, and thus fills the entire earth instead! Even the angels' recitation of "kadosh, kadosh..." (6:3) may reflect that God is now 'separate' - cut off - too holy to remain in this defiled Temple (see 6:5).

This interpretation suggests that Yeshayahu is witnessing not simply the Shchina in the Temple, but rather its departure from the Temple! Hence, it is specifically during this vision that Yeshayahu receives his divine mission (6:8-9) to inform the people that because of their wayward behavior (6:10), God will soon come and punish them:

"...until towns lie waste without inhabitants and houses without people and the ground lies waste and desolate, for God will banish the people..." (see 6:10-12)
Thematically, this vision relates specifically to the time period Uziyahu. Recall from chapter two, that during the early years of his reign, the potential existed for the Temple to become the international symbol of God's presence on earth. Symbolically, this would be represented by the Shchina's dwelling in the Mikdash. But now that Am Yisrael has become haughty, the Shchina can no longer dwell in the Mikdash, but rather must leave the Temple, just as Am Yisrael must now leave their land.

Therefore, chapter 6 in Sefer Yeshayahu (this week's Haftara) serves as an appropriate conclusion to the unit of chapters two through five, which describe God's anger in reaction to Bnei Yisrael's haughtiness. This is not Yeshayahu's opening prophecy, but rather his critical prophecy that marks the transition from God's original plan to help Bnei Yisrael achieve their goal during the time of Uziyahu, to His new decision to punish them for misusing their wealth.

Consequently, the next unit in Sefer Yeshayahu (i.e. chapters 7-12) describes the details of how that punishment will come about. The army of Ashur [Assyria] will come, as God's executor, and destroy the land [e.g. "hoy Ashur shevet api..." - see 10:5].

Let's return now to the opening pasuk - "B'shnat mot melech uziyahu..." (6:1). Chazal interpret "b'shnat mot" not as the year that Uziyahu died, but rather as the year he became a "metzora" (a leper). [See Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Radak; this is based on the Rabbinic principle that a "metzora" can be considered equivalent to dead person.]

When and why did Uziyahu become a leper? In Divrei Hayamim we find the precise details:

"... and when he became powerful, he grew so arrogant he acted corruptly, he trespassed against his God by entering the Temple to offer incense of the Mizbach Ha'Ktoret [this rite can only be performed by kohanim]. The priest Azaryah, with eighty men ... confronted him saying: It is not for you - Uziyahu - to offer incense ... get out of the Mikdash ... for there will be no glory in it for you before God ... but as he got angry with priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead ... and they rushed him out..." (Divrei Hayamim II 26:16-21)
Uziyahu's punishment corresponds to his sin. Because of his haughtiness, he felt worthy of entering an area of the Mikdash that is restricted to kohanim! His punishment - becoming a metzora (leper) - is fitting, for Torah commands that a metzora must be sent away from all three camps of Bnei Yisrael (see Bamidbar 5:1-2), not only from the Mikdash, but also from the camp of Levi and the camp of Israel! Uziyahu desired to come too close, and now he must be banished as far away as possible from the Shchina.

Furthermore, Uziyahu's own sin is quite reflective of his generation. Even though they did not worship idols, their prosperity and wealth led to their haughtiness. Their own pride was more important to them than God's! Their own accomplishments became their idols (see 2:8!).

As usual, Chazal's interpretation thematically ties together the incident of Uziyahu's leprosy and this specific prophecy. If man is so haughty that he considers himself worthy to enter the Kodesh Kodoshim, then God Himself can no longer dwell there; the Shchina must leave the Mikdash.

Despite his gloomy predictions, Yeshayahu's prophecy concludes on a note of hope. Despite the forthcoming destruction and exile, a remnant shall indeed return. Am Yisrael's ultimate goal will not be forgotten:

"But while a tenth part remains in it, it shall repent ... its stump shall be a holy seed..." (6:13)
May God help us internalize the lessons of Yeshayahu 2:5-6:12 in order that He can fulfill the prophecy of 2:1-4. Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
A. Based on this shiur (and this week's Parsha shiur), can you find additional connections between Parshat Yitro and the Haftara?

B. Note the use of "ram" and "nisah" in Yeshayahu 2:12. To appreciate its context, see also 2:1-22. Compare this now to the use of "ram v'nisa" in Yeshayahu 6:1. Does this textual parallel support our thematic comparison in the above shiur?

Note also 2:19, in contrast to 2:8. Does this help you better understand what "elilim" means in 2:8? Are they idols like in classic Avoda Zara, or are they how man looks at his own accomplishments?

C. Scan chapters 2 through 5 in Yeshayahu and find support of our assumption that these chapters describe the situation during the time of Uziyahu - that the people are enjoying a high standard of living and that their main sin is haughtiness and "mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro" as opposed to "avodah zarah" and "bein adam l'makom."

D. In pasuk aleph, "ram v'nisah" can be describing either God's throne (the "kisey") or God Himself. Which explanation do the ta'amim support?

Which explanation does the theme (based on the above shiur) support?

What is pshat of "ram v'nisah" in davening (before "shochen ad..." and before shmoneh esray in shacharit)?

E. We translated "acharit" in 2:2 to mean the 'next' generation, or the end of a process, and not necessarily the 'final' generation, in order to make this prophecy relevant for Uziyahu's own generation and not only for some messianic time in the distant future.

Note the similar meaning of "acharit" in other instances in Tanach. According to "pshat," can it be understood in a similar manner? See Breishit 49:1 and Chagai 2:9.

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