Haftarah Yom Kippur morning
October 8, 2011
10 Tishre 5772
The Tanach (Bible) is the inspiration and storehouse for many of the prayers found in the siddur. At the end of the prayer, Nishmat Kol Hai, which precedes Barchu on Shabbat and festival mornings, at the place where the Shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for Shaharit begins, we find the words: “Shochein ad marom v’kadosh Shmo – He (God) inhabits eternity; exalted and holy is His name”. This description of God has its source in Isaiah’s prophecy found in the haftarah for Yom Kippur.
Seemingly, it is included in this prayer for its magisterial reflection on God’s awesome nature. A reflection on the entire verse from Isaiah reveals much more: “For thus said He who high aloft forever dwells (shochein ad), whose name is holy (v’kadosh Shmo); I dwell on high in holiness (marom v’kadosh) yet with the contrite and lowly in spirit – reviving the spirit of the lowly, reviving the hearts of the contrite.” (57:15) The poet of the siddur has taken a little license with the order of Isaiah’s words but he has clearly captured the divine transcendence expressed in the first part of this verse. In his poetic appropriation, however, he left the second half of the verse unstated. The second part of this verse speaks of God’s immanence and care for His creatures.
This verse expresses a great anomaly. God is both transcendent and immanent. He is aloft and He is close. He is King and Community Worker. Why did the author in the siddur leave out this description of God when it seems such an apropos introduction to the supplication which follows in the prayers of Shaharit? Perhaps he left them out because his focus was on the exceptional nature of God as King. If this was the case, it seems to me, the author had no need to borrow a verse from Scripture. I personally think he used the verse intentionally in poetic shorthand with the understanding that his audience which was familiar with the Bible would mentally fill in the rest of the verse. The congregation would understand that what makes God truly unique is that He is a King who cares and is intimate even with the lowliest of His subjects. No one is left unattended and unaccounted for. This is the God we pray to each day and especially on Yom Kippur – the One who dwells on high, yet is intimate with the downtrodden.
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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