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Yitro 5770

Parshat Yitro
(Isaiah 6:1- 7:6; 9:5-6)
February 6, 2010
22 Shevat 5770

In Isaiah\’s introductory prophecy, he captures a glimpse of the divine realm where the fiery angels, the seraphim, carry out their primary function, the praise of God, calling out: \’Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh – Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts, His presence fills all the earth\’ (verse 3) to the Creator of the world. These extraordinary words of praise for God remain unsurpassed as an expression of God\’s majesty and were adopted as a liturgical model for human beings to emulate.

Still, it is difficult to imagine human beings ever attempting to match this praise. One can only assume, like Isaiah himself, an utter incapacity to stand before, let alone praise Him: \”Woe is me; I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have beheld the King Lord of Hosts.\” (verse 5)

In true Hassidic fashion, the famed Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (Ukraine 18 -19th century) turned this prophecy on its head to teach a profound religious message:

What worth is it for a Jew to fulfill the commandments and to do good deeds in order to bring joy to the Creator Blessed be He? Doesn\’t God have thousands of angels reciting: \’Holy, holy, holy\’ in dread and fear? \’What is man that You are mindful of him\’? (Psalm 8:5) This [paradox] can be explained in a parable: [God\’s interest in human beings can be compared to the following anecdote:] There are people who teach parrots to speak like human beings. When people hear a parrot talk, they marvel, telling their friends about the birds in amazement. The lesson of this parable is easy to understand. People should open their eyes and see the greatness of observing the commandments and doing good deeds. The service of the angels is as nothing compared with the service of human beings. (adopted from Kidushat Levi Parshat Tazria)

For Rabbi Levi Yitchak, nothing surpasses human service to God. Why? Angels are programmed to serve God. It is their total being and it is what is expected of them. Human service and gratitude to God, on the other hand, are not self evident. Human choice is involved. Making the right choice is cause for amazement and rejoicing. Is it no wonder, then, that for God, the performance of His commandments and good deeds far exceeds the praise of even the fieriest angel?

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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