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Torah reading Exodus chapters 18 to 20
Haftarah Isaiah 6:1 to 7:6 and 9:5-6

There is a gospel song sung by the group Shekinah Glory titled 'Yes' that, in it's lyrics poses the following questions from the perspective of G-d:

Will your heart and soul say, yes?
Will your Spirit still say, yes?
There is more that I require of thee;
Will your heart and soul say, yes?

Now will your heart and soul say, yes?
Will your Spirit still say, yes, yes?
If I told you what I really need,
Will your heart and soul say, yes?

In both today's Torah reading and the Haftarah reading we see these questions being asked with very different responses... Follow me  below the fold...

In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah has a divine encounter where in a vision he sees the LORD high and lifted up:

Isa 6:1-8  In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.  (2)  Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.  (3)  And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.  (4)  And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.  (5)  Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.  (6)  Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:  (7)  And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.  (8)  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
Some commentators say this experience was a sea change in Isaiah's prophetic ministry; where in the first 5 chapters of Isaiah his tone is essentially "Thus saith the LORD; "Y'all are jacked up..." but in his encounter in chapter 6 Isaiah has to come face to face with the realization that he is no different...and no better...than any of those to whom he was called to prophesy. "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" and after he acknowledges his unworthiness and his iniquity and sin is purged by the coal brought to him by the seraph the question is asked "If I told you what I really need, will your heart and soul say 'yes'? in verse 8... "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" Isaiah responds "Here am I; send me"

In the Torah reading we see a similar encounter in Exodus 19 and 20. Moses, having brought the mixed multitude that was the children of Israel out of Egypt and seeing the armies and chariots of Pharoah drowned in the Red Sea has brought the people to Mount Sinai, the place where he encountered G-d in the burning bush and the place he, like Isaiah answered the question affirmatively, albeit reluctantly. There he ascends the mountain and G-d gives Moses directions to pass on to the people:

Exo 19:3-9  And Moses went up unto G-d, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;  (4)  Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.  (5)  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  (6)  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.  (7)  And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.  (8)  And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.  (9)  And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.
It can be argued that too much was laid on the shoulders of the Israelites too quickly; they had only just been delivered from 400+ years of servitude in Egypt where they had learned a superficial conformity was generally all they needed to manifest in order to avoid the ire of their Egyptian masters... during that time they as a nation lost sight of who G-d was and, more importanly, who they were relative to that. All they knew was they were in bondage to Pharoah, a man who claimed to be a G-d and were delivered from that bondage by Moses...which explains the continual complaining because their lack in the wilderness; their deliverance meant Moses was greater than Pharoah so he should be able to provide greater than what Pharoah provided them in Egypt. Their conformity was comfortable to them; they knew how to slip into and out of it as they needed and if Moses wanted to attribute things to G-d, then they would play along too; after all Pharoah was a man who was defeated by Moses and if Moses' leadership became too onerous, just as Moses defeated Pharoah, someone else could come along and defeat Moses. This is the mindset that produced the promise in Exodus 19:8 "All that the LORD has spoken we will do". But when they are brought to the base of the mountain there they experience something different... different even from the plagues they saw afflict the land of Egypt; different from the parting of the Red Sea; different even from the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire that led them. The earthquake and trembling; the sound of the trumpet the fire and smoke...was something they had never experienced and they were not prepared for it...so they retreated back to more familiar territory, as we see in Moses' recollection of this moment in Deut chapter 5:
Deu 5:23-27  And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;  (24)  And ye said, Behold, the LORD our G-d hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that G-d doth talk with man, and he liveth.  (25)  Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our G-d any more, then we shall die.  (26)  For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living G-d speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?  (27)  Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our G-d shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our G-d shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.
The covenant G-d offered to them  in Exodus 19 was "(5)  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  (6)  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. "Faced with the question from the song "if I told you what I really need, will your heart and soul say 'yes'?, they came up short. Unlike Isaiah who eagerly answered affirmatively or even Moses who did so reluctantly, the people said 'no'. Whether they were not willing to encounter God directly and individually because that would require a deeper commitment than they would or could embrace or because the idea of dealing with someone who could not be tricked or lied to and whose presence could destroy them utterly... the fact is they were not able or willing to accept the calling G-d placed before them...and from this point forward there was always need a middleman...someone who would intercede on their behalf, someone who would relay the words and will of G-d whether as prophet or priest or levite...and even though Christianity claims to have ushered in the covenant promised in Exo 19:5-6 as the post-Pentecost "priesthood of all believers" it remains an elusive ideal even down to the present day where there remains a clergy that is looked to to speak to the people on the behalf of G-d and that which was a concession to a fearful people has become the norm.

Our loss...

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 01:06 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

    by awesumtenor on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 01:06:51 PM PST

  •  Thanks and welcome to your first D'var Torah diary (7+ / 0-)

    Don't have a chance to look it up right now, but I vaguely recall a midrash where the people heard God give the first commandment and they went nuts and yelled "Stop we can't take it anymore" so at the people's insistence the remaining commandments were imparted through Moses.  There's another midrash that says that God lifted up Mount Sinai and hung it over the people and threatened to drop the mountain on them if they didn't agree to abide by the Commandments.  

    Both are along the lines of your diary.

    Shabbat Shalom

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 01:29:44 PM PST

  •  This was my (6+ / 0-)

    Bat Mitzvah portion six years ago, and I still remember the first line of the Haftarah as I chanted it, even when I see it written in English.

    Yitro is also the first d'var Torah once we became an official series over at Street Prophets. And on our first anniversary, we published the Bar Mitzvah drosh given by thefatladysings' son. And to make it even more significant, it was thefatladysings who asked if it was a weekly series that got the series started.

    This is a fine drosh to add to our Yitro collection. I like the way you tied Isaiah to the Torah reading. And the unreadiness of the Israelites becomes even more apparent next week.''

    Yasher Koach.

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 01:35:08 PM PST

  •  Why become a god botherer? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, mettle fatigue
    Whether they were not willing to encounter God directly and individually
    Why should anyone wish to do that? It is dangerous and there is no benefit for our earthly affairs.

    He who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

    by Sophie Amrain on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 02:07:57 PM PST

  •  There are always tasks that need doing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueyedace2, mettle fatigue, ramara

    I find that if I put them off they simply become more onerous. Whether that is simply in the nature of things or whether there is some other explanation I will leave to those with stronger opinions than my own.

  •  Thoughtful drash. toda raba v'shabat shalom :) nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Navy Vet Terp
  •  Maybe it depends on what the question is (5+ / 0-)

    Knowing when it is the voice of G-d is difficult.

    We're told that we shall know true prophets because what they say will come to pass, and false prophets because it won't. In other words, there is no way to know at the time that the prophet speaks whether we should listen or not.

    Similarly, when do we know that a voice is that of G-d?  

    I think that we know the voice of G-d because of the love it expresses for us. To those who can't love, it is unintelligible. But even for those who do love, it is difficult to comprehend.  

    When the Israelites following Moses rebelled at Marah, they had gone without water for three days, and the Lord had brought them to a place where the water was not potable. Is it any wonder they grumbled?  Is it any wonder that, consumed with thirst, at Meribah, they rebelled? Easy for us to condemn, since we have water at a moment's notice.

    Many of the things that G-d calls us to do are beyond human endurance. I do not wonder that people are sometimes slow or even unwilling to say yes.

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