ישיבת כרם ביבנה

Haftarah: "In the Year of King Uziyahu's Death"

הרב אברהם ריבלין, המשגיח הרוחני לשעבר

Our Haftarah (Yeshaya ch. 6) is generally viewed as the chapter in which Yeshaya was sanctified to be a prophet and as his first prophecy. This explains the connection between the parsha and the Haftarah, since during the Revelation at Sinai, which is described extensively in our parsha, Am Yisrael is also sanctified as the chosen nation and a holy people. In addition, in the parsha, Hashem reveals Himself for the first time to His people, and also in the Haftarah He reveals Himself to Yeshaya for the first time. In both of them, the term holiness is mentioned freqently.[1]

There are two difficulties with this explanation:

1.      This prophecy of Yeshaya occurred, "In the year of King Uziyahu's death" (Yeshaya 6:1), whereas in the beginning of ch. 1 it says that Yeshaya prophesized: "In the days of Uziyahu, Yotam..." This means that he prophesized before our chapter.

2.      Normally, when a prophet is sanctified (if at all), his first prophecy is described in the first chapter[2], whereas here there are five chapters and many prophecies that preceded his sanctification. Therefore, the Radak introduces a new explanation, that this prophecy is not Yeshaya's first prophecy. Instead, during his prophecy, he witnessed the wondrous sight of Hashem sitting on His Throne and when a specific mission was required – he volunteered himself, despite the fact that he was already serving as an active prophet.[3]

However, most commentators think that this week's Haftarah contains Yeshaya's sanctification as a prophet. This is based on the special description of the Heavenly Court that prepared Yeshaya and commanded him to speak to the nation and admonish it, despite Yeshaya's sin when he said: "I dwell among a people with impure lips." (6:5) After his lips touched the burning coal and he was cleansed from his sin, Hashem asked: "Who shall go for us?" (6:8) and Yeshaya immediately volunteered himself as a prophet. The content of the chapter strengthens the explanation that this is Yeshaya's first prophecy. This is also the opinion of the Mechilta that is brought in Rashi: "This chapter is the beginning of the book and the beginning of Yeshaya's prophecy. The five earlier chapters were said after this chapter; just that there is no absolute [chronological] order in the Torah."

The first question that was raised at the beginning of the study can be resolved in two ways:

1.      The first prophecy was said at the beginning of the last year of Uziyahu's death, which was indeed the year of his death. Until he died, Yeshaya prophesized for a few months and therefore it was justified to write that he prophesized: "In the days of Uziyahu." This is the Ibn Ezra's intention when he writes: "It is possible for it to mean that in the year that he prophesized Yeshaya died. There is no objection [from the fact that it says,] 'in the days of Uziyahu,' since there were months."

2.      The phrase, "In the year of King Uziyahu's death" does not refer to the death of the king. It refers to the year that he was afflicted with leprosy because he entered the Sanctuary to burn incense, which was forbidden to him, as it says: "He betrayed Hashem his G-d – he entered the Sanctuary of Hashem to burn incense ... a leprous growth appeared on his forehead." (Chronicles II 26:16-19) A leper is viewed as dead.[4] This is how the Targum explained the year of his death: "The year that the king was afflicted [with leprosy]." Rashi also writes: "afflicted with leprosy."

If our Haftarah is indeed Yeshaya's first prophecy, then the first prophecies of Yeshaya, Yirmiya and Yechezkel contain a common message. Hashem strengthens the three of them towards the fulfillment of their task because their path is not going to be a bed of roses. Yirmiya is told: "Do not be frightened of them ... For behold, I have set you this day as a fortified city, an iron pillar ... They will wage war against you but will be unable to [defeat] you." (Yirmiya 1:17-19) Yechezkel is told: "I send you to Bnei Yisrael, to the rebellious nations that have rebelled against me ... Now they, whether they will heed, whether they will refrain – for a rebellious house are they ... But you, Son of Man. Fear not them and fear not their words, though they are thorns and thistles (Rashi: rebellious) to you, and among scorpions do you dwell." (Yechezkel 2:3-6) Yeshaya was similarly told: "Surely you hear, but you do not comprehend; and surely you see, but you fail to know." (Yeshaya 6:9)

Indeed, the prophecy is not a pleasant task. It is a mission, a heavy burden that the prophet must carry not for his own good, but for the good of the nation. This is also understood from the Pesikta that is brought in the Radak on v. 8:

[G-d asked:] "Whom shall I send?" – I sent Micha and they would strike him on the cheek ... I sent Amos and they would call him a cut tongue [stutterer] ...[Yeshaya responded:] "'Here I am! Send me!'"Hashem said to him: "Yeshaya my son, they are troublesome they are recalcitrant. If you are willing to be disgraced – go."[Yeshaya] said to Him, "On this account."This is as it says: "I gave my back to those who beat me." (Yeshaya 50:6)

The prophet's reward for his willingness to sacrifice his back, his body and his soul for the nation is hinted to in the last pasuk of the Haftarah: "So will the Holy seed be its vitality." (6:13) Rashi writes: "They, too, the holy seed who are found to be steadfast in their holiness – they will be its vitality."

[1] See Chazon Hamikra I pg. 184-186.

[2] See Yirmiya (ch. 1) and Yechezkel (ch. 1-2)

[3] The Radak leaves some questions unanswered. If he was already serving as a prophet why did Hashem not simply assign him the mission immediately, and why did Yeshaya have to volunteer himself?

[4] "Four are viewed as dead a poor person and a leper…" (Nedarim 64b) Regarding Elisha it says that "he healed the leprosy of Naaman that was the equal of death." (Sanhedrin 47a)

 

 

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