"Holy, Holy, Holy is the L-rd of Hosts" (Yeshayahu 6:3)Some general background on the "Haftarot"
As was the case with Parshat Beshalach last week, the Ashkenazic and Sefardic Traditions with regard to the Haftarah of Parshat Yitro are not identical. According to the Ashkenazim, we read from the Book of "Yeshayahu"/Isaiah Chapter 6, verses 1-13 (the entire chapter), plus verses 1-6 in Chapter 7, and verses 5-6 in Chapter 9. The Sefardim read only Chapter 6.
The contents and translations of these components that are not necessarily literal, but may follow the interpretations of various commentators, are as follows:
The Stage is Set: The Haftarah opens with the words "In the year of the death of King Uzziahu " (Yeshayahu 6:1) RASHI (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) immediately comments that although this verse is found in the sixth chapter of the Book, it "really belongs" at the beginning, for it includes Yeshayahu's volunteering for and appointment to the Office of Prophet. Then why is it not placed at the beginning of the Book. RASHI answers that this an instance of the Principle that the Bible sometimes deviates from strict chronological order, if there is a good reason to do that.
What is the reason here?
The first chapter begins with the words "The vision of Yeshayahu the Prophet which he received in the days of Uzziahu, Yotam, Achaz, and Yechizkiyahu, Kings of Yehudah." (Yeshayahu 1:1) Whereas, the present chapter begins with the death of Uzziahu! Obviously, it is more logical to speak about events which occurred during somebody's lifetime before discussing events that occurred after one's death!
Why then are Uzziahu's life and death reversed? The answer is that here "death" is not to be taken literally; rather, it refers to the severe punishment of "tzaraat," a spiritual-physical illness, with leprosy-like symptoms but differing from that disease, that occurred only in Biblical times.
That punishment was visited upon him because he arrogantly attempted to perform one of the Priestly duties; namely, offering the incense in the Temple, even though he was not a Kohen! This was an attempt to combine the offices of King and Priest, although they had been separated since Yaakov had separated them by assigning Kingship to the Tribe of Yehudah and the Priesthood had been transferred by Hashem from the first-born to the Tribe of Levi after the Sin of the Golden Calf.
The Family of the Chashmonaim would sin in this way later in History in the opposite direction, when they, as Priests, attempted to become the Kings as well, and they were severely punished for this violation of the Jewish form of Separation of "Church" and State.
Back to the Haftarah!
Yeshayahu says, I had a Vision of Hashem on His Heavenly Throne, high and exalted (interpretations differ whether "high and exalted" refer to the throne or to the Almighty) and the hems of his royal garments filled the Temple. Hashem was surrounded by the six-winged Seraphim (a type of angel, specifically associated with heavenly fire), who request permission one from the other to begin, then simultaneously roar, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the L-rd of Hosts, the whole world is full of His glory!" (Yeshayahu 6:3).
Reaction of the Temple itself to the Call of the Angels:
"The doorposts of the Temple moved several 'amot' at the sound of that mighty call! And the Temple was full of smoke!" (There is another opinion that the movement of the doorposts was a response to an earthquake that occurred when Uzziahu committed the sin referred to above.)
Reaction of the Prophet, and angelic response: Yeshayahu says, "Woe is me, for I will surely die; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a People with unclean lips." For what he said about himself, Yeshayahu was immediately forgiven; however, he was not forgiven for his sin of speaking ill of the Jewish People.
As punishment and atonement, one of the Seraphim takes a live coal from the Heavenly Altar, and touches it to Yeshayahus lips. Hashem is telling him that it is not his job to criticize the Jewish People; he is to be their defender, as Moshe was. As far as necessary criticism, Hashem will provide it, and the Prophet will be His spokesman.
The Prophet hears the voice of the L-rd asking "Whom shall I send to deliver my message to the People of Israel?" and volunteers. He is cautioned that he will suffer great abuse from the People, but says that even so, he will be the L-rds Messenger. He asks how long the People will persist in their stubbornness, and is told that punishment upon punishment will be required. But, at the end, when the Tree of Israel will have been reduced to a mere stump, that lowly stump will be seen to contain an indestructible seed of holiness, from which the People will be regenerated!
Retzin, King of Aram, and Pekach ben Remalyahu, King of Ephrayim, form a conspiracy against the Kingdom of Yehudah. When Achaz, the evil King of Yehudah learns of it, he is terrified.
Yeshayahu is commanded to deliver the message to Achaz that he need have no fear of these two "smoking tails of firebrands" who have dared to attack Yehudah, and who also intend to install their own choice of king
Hashem has different ideas for the Kingship of Yehudah. The Messianic characteristics of King Chizkiahu, who was great enough to be the Mashiach, but who for some reason, shrouded in Divine mystery, lost the opportunity, are listed. Chizkiahu may not have been selected as the Mashiach, but the characteristics listed are those that will ultimately be possessed by the Redeemer of Israel.
"Links" to the Parshah
Two Visions of G-d
The highlight of this Haftarah is the Vision of G-d experienced by Yeshayahu, and described in Chapter 6. Its high-point is the Praise by the Angels of Hashem as "Holy" beyond compare. On the surface it seems less detailed and therefore on a lower level than that described in the first Chapter of Yechezkel, where that Prophet, living among the exiles in Babylonia at the time, experienced and recorded the "Vision of the Chariot."
The Talmud explains, however, that Yeshayahu was like one who lived in the big city, near the palace of the king, who was a frequent visitor at the palace. Yechezkel, on the other hand, was like a tourist from a small village, taking a guided tour of the palace. Thus, it was the greater familiarity of Yeshayahu with the Heavenly Palace, which accounted for the relatively small amount of detail provided, which actually reflected his greater intimacy with Hashem.
Holiness in the Book of Yeshayahu
There is an expression which appears nearly uniquely in the Book of Yeshayahu, in connection with Hashem. This is the expression "Kedosh Yisrael," the Holy One of Israel, which appears thirty times in this Book. It expresses a special closeness and a special relationship between Hashem, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, with His People, whose essence is captured in Yeshayahu 6:13 as a "holy seed," and described in Shemot 19:6, in Parshat Yitro, as a "Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU