First Day of Shavuot
(Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12)
May 28, 2001
Shavuot is known in the rabbinic tradition as “zeman matan torateinu” – “the time of the giving of the Torah”. The experience at Sinai was, however, more than the receiving of the Torah. It was the experiencing of God, shared by every Jew, for each of us was there and heard the call of Sinai. The Torah reading for the first day of Shavuot, which captures this experience, is also read during the year in Parshat Yithro.
Two different Haftarot were chosen to complement these two readings of the Sinai event. The Haftarah for Parshat Yithro, is Isaiah’s vision of the awe and holiness that surround the divine throne. It is this vision in which he heard the voice of the serafim (angels) reciting: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3)
On Shavuot, we read of Ezekiel’s awesome mystical vision of the divine chariot in which the heavens were opened by the river Chebar and a voice proclaimed: “Blessed be the glory of God from His place” (Ezekiel 3:12)
Rava, the famous fourth century Babylonian sage, is struck by the tremendous difference between the visions of Isaiah and of Ezekiel and comments: Everything that Ezekiel saw, Isaiah saw. To what can Ezekiel be compared? To a villager who sees the king. And, to what can we compare Isaiah? To a city dweller who sees the king. (adapted from Hagigah 13b)
How are we to explain the difference between the description of what Isaiah saw and what Ezekiel saw if as the Talmud claims, they both actually saw the same thing. According to Rashi’s interpretation of the Talmudic passage, Isaiah, because the experience of God was familiar to him was like a city dweller who is not awed by the majesty of the king since seeing the king was a regular occurrence for him. Ezekiel’s vision was different from that of Isaiah, because he was a small town boy living in the Babylonian exile. His vision reflects his awe at this new experience.
These two prophecies are combined in the focal point of the Amidah known as the Kedushah. In the Kedushah, we proclaim God’s holiness by using the experiences of both Isaiah and that of Ezekiel. Each of us, like these prophets, comes to our experience of God from different directions. This does not preclude us from being part of a shared religious community. It may even enhance it.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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