First Day of Shavuot
(Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12)
June 2, 2006
Shavuot is the festival of God\’s revelation of the Torah to Israel. This same theme extends to its prophetic reading from Ezekiel. The haftarah, chosen to complement the commemoration of this event, presents a vivid description of Ezekiel\’s initiation as a prophet and his breathtaking vision of God\’s divine chariot and the angels singing praise to God. This vision ends with the heavenly beings offering a resounding chorus of praise to God: \”Then a spirit carried me away, and behind me I heard a great roaring sound: \’Blessed be the Presence of the Lord, in His place.\’\” (Ezekiel 3:12)
This verse is understood, in the Jewish tradition, to mean that God\’s glory should be praised wherever He may be. It has been taken to be the parallel to the praise of the angels in Isaiah\’s initiatory revelation: \”Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is full of His glory.\” (Isaiah 6:3) Both of these verses represent the response on High to living in God\’s presence. Both verses have become part of our prayers in the Kedushah – the sanctification of God found in the Amidah where we imitate in our prayers the praise offered by the angels on high.
In the following midrash, the sages record the angelic recitation of this verse as having been recited in an entirely different context: \”The voice is the voice of Jacob\” (Genesis 27:22) – The voice of the children of Israel silenced all of the creatures on high as well as those down below. [When?] Rabbi Reuben said: It is written: \”When they [the angels] stood silently (b\’omdam).\” (Ezekiel 1:24) You say they stood? [This should have obvious, because] dare anyone sit in the Divine throne room on High? Didn\’t Rabbi Samuel teach that no one is allowed to sit in heaven?, as it is written: \”the legs of the divine creatures were fused into a single rigid leg\” (Ibid. 7) – meaning that their legs were without joints… If this isso, then why does the verse state that they stood? What is the meaning of \”they stood (b\’omdam)? [In a word play, the midrash reads this word as three words:] \”Ba am dome – When that people came, they stood silent.\” [What episode are we talking about? When Israel said: \’Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,\’ the angels were silent, and afterward \”they let their wings droop\” (Ibid. 24) and what did they say: \”Blessed be the Presence of the Lord, in His place\” and \’Blessed be the name of His glorious kingship forever and ever\’.
(Genesis Rabbah 65:21 – Printed edition)
This midrash has a very exciting message. Our previous understanding of this verse led us to understand that the angels sang God\’s praise in the \”excitement\” of being in God\’s presence. This midrash has the angels responding to a totally different stimulus. According to this midrash, the angels also sing God\’s praise when the people of Israel come to realize the truth of God existence. Our acknowledgement and cognizance of God is as important to the angels as God\’s revelation. This makes the revelation and acceptance of the Torah that we celebrate today as significant an act of revelation in heaven as it is for us down on earth.
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.
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