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Shavuot (first day) 5772

Haftarah Shavuot First Day
(Ezekiel 1:1-28)
May 27, 2012
6 Sivan 5772

The First Day of Shavuot (Ezekiel 1:1-28)

In the first chapter of Ezekiel, we are privy to a glimpse into the fantastic world of the heavenly realm. The view is so unusual, so fantastic – so bizarre that Ezekiel’s words do not capture in a humanly understandable way what we are actually visualizing. If that which Ezekiel actually described is exasperatingly incomprehensible, then how much more so that which is beyond his vision. This he also captured in words: “Above the heads of the creatures was a form: an expanse, with an all inspiring gleam as of crystal, was spread out above their heads.” (1:21)

One opinion in the Talmud asserts that this verse captures the human inaccessibility of the realm above this firmament: “And Rabbi Aha bar Jacob said: ‘There is still another heaven above the world of the living creatures, for it is written: ‘Above the heads of the creatures was a form: an expanse, with an all inspiring gleam as of crystal, was spread out above their heads.’ Thus far you have permission to speak, for so it is written in the book of ben Sira (3:21-2): ‘Seek not things that are too hard for you, and seek not things that are hidden from you. The things that have been permitted to you, think about them; you have no business with the things that are secret.’” (Hagigah 13a)

Rabbi Aha claims that human understanding and consciousness of the world and the divine realm only extend so far. Anything beyond that given point, human beings should not bother themselves with. He does not point out the reason for this prohibition. Could it be because human beings are incapable of understanding that realm – that there might be miscomprehension if we dabble beyond this “crystal ceiling”? Is it that God purposely placed a wall beyond which we should not trespass?

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (20th century United States) views this ceiling from another perspective. This crystal ceiling represents religious certainty. None of us is privy to confirmation of our beliefs. God is hidden from us. The natural world does not redeem us from the uncertainty. The ceiling keeps us from ultimately knowing, leaving us with only faith as our tool for acclaiming our relationship with God. (See Worship of the Heart, p. 76)

This is why we stand before Sinai this morning. God’s revelation, as found in the Torah, is our avenue for expanding our faith and our relationship with God. It is our means for knowing and sensing God’s presence. Its commandments are our way of making our faith tangible and of bridging the gap beyond which we apparently cannot leap.

About This Commentary

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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