Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah Yithro


The Torah portion for this week is Yithro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:23. In this portion, we read of Yithro’s interaction with Moshe and some of his administrative advice. We also read the first account of the Ten Words, the Decalogue. The Haftarah portion, following the Ashkenazic tradition is Isaiah 6:1 through 7:6 then concludes with 9:5-6. This week’s passage has a phenomenal start and finish but its middle is pain-riddled with judgement and discipline. The Haftarah begins with one of the loftiest proclamations in Scripture, the Kedushah:

קָדוֹשׁ, קָדוֹשׁ, קָדוֹשׁ יי צְבָאוֹת
מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory!”

Multiple times during the daily and festival services this proclamation is made, acknowledging with the heavenly beings that ADONAI, the LORD of Hosts is holy. This declaration joins the Shema as one of the most well known declarations of creedal faith within the Judaic corpus. Interestingly, it is against this backdrop of of the LORD’s holiness that the prophet Isaiah receives his calling. Even more so it the immediate comparison to Moshe Rabbeinu, who, when standing before the flame in the wilderness, tells HaShem, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (3:11) then, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue,” (4:10). Both times, Moshe was concerned about the people’s response and his ability to speak, all the time backpedaling and adding excuses as to why he couldn’t do what the LORD was commissioning him to do. Isaiah, on the other hand, was also concerned for the people and his mouth, but his attitude was completely different. Before ever hearing what the LORD wanted, Isaiah acknowledged, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Confronted with the holiness and grandeur of ADONAI and the heavenly vision, Isaiah quickly admitted his and his peoples’ unworthiness to be in the presence of the Most High.

Another interesting note is that, at least in the narrative, this is not Isaiah’s first encounter with the LORD. Isaiah 1 through 5 record visions of the LORD’s coming discipline on Judah and Jerusalem. Then, as if to answer the question concerning the LORD’s right to bring discipline, in Isaiah 5:16, it is stated, “But the LORD of Hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows Himself holy in righteousness.” Then the capstone, the Kedushah, the visible holiness of the LORD of Hosts. Is it any wonder Isaiah dropped to his knees? But then, unlike Moshe’s excuses, when the LORD asks “who shall I send, who will go for us?” Isaiah’s immediate response is “Here I am; send me,” (6:8). Unlike Moshe, Isaiah knew clearly that times of trouble were coming, he had been given the visions as a forewarning. But when confronted with the visible presence of HaShem, when cleansed from his iniquity and sin, what choice did he have but to follow the LORD’s calling.

Considering our being set apart as followers of Yeshua, the writer of the Book of Hebrews stated, “By His (ADONAI’s) will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Messiah Yeshua once for all,” (Hebrews 10:10). Just as the seraphim cleansed Isaiah with the fire from the Altar, so the offering of Yeshua cleanses us. Then R. Shaul reminded both the Corinthians and us, “you were washed, you were made holy, you were set right in the name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and by the Ruach of our God,” (1 Corinthians 6:11b). We have “set right!” In John’s first epistle he encourages us, “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7). This “walking in the light” is what Isaiah was called to as he walked out his commission from the LORD. Each of us have a “walking out” as well with includes having “fellowship with one another,” but it doesn’t stop there. Often, we alone know the commission the LORD has placed upon our lives; Moshe was on the backside of the Midian wilderness and Isaiah was caught up on a vision. Sometimes, depending on numerous factors, we either don’t know or have lost sight of the commission or calling that the LORD has placed upon us. Fortunately, we have not been left alone. “But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you,” (John 14:26). It is never to late to turn around, seek guidance, and get back on track, following the words of Isaiah, “Here I am, send me.”

The finish of this Haftarah sets the stage for the future restoration of Israel and all creation.

For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us;
and the government is upon His shoulder;
His Name is called
Pele-joez (Wonderful Counselor),
El-gibbor (Mighty God),
Avi-ad (Father Eternal),
Sar-shalom (Prince of Peace);
That the government may be increased,
and of the peace there be no end,
Upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom,
To establish it, to uphold it
through justice, and through righteousness
From henceforth even for ever.
The zeal of Adonai-Tzva’otwill accomplish this.

– Isaiah 9:5-6

Shabbat Shalom