June 17, 2024
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Parshat Yitro

The vivid and dramatic vision seen by the navi Yishayahu in our haftarah is, as we have noted in earlier essays, the very first prophecy given to the prophet—despite the fact that it appears in the sixth perek of the sefer. The magnificent and awe-inspiring scene depicted by the prophet, the picture of Hashem seated upon His high and exalted throne with His “robe” filling the heichal (temple)—was chosen as the haftarah for this parsha of Yitro, a parsha that depicts God’s glory being revealed to all of Israel at Har Sinai.

And, while the theophany experienced by the entire nation would never again be repeated and was, therefore, the greatest divine revelation in history, the vision granted to Yishayahu included specific details of Hashem’s throne and His accompanying angels not found in the revelation at Sinai. The prophet describes these accompanying angels—seraphim—as possessing six wings: two wings covering their faces, two covering their feet and two used for flying. It is they who called to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is Hashem” (“kadosh, kadosh, kadosh”) “Whose glory fills the earth.” The vision was one so powerful that we, simple human beings, had their chant incorporated into our tefillah, hence, our “kedusha.”

Some years ago, my good friend pointed out that yet another part of Yishyahu’s vision had been incorporated into our tefillah. The phrase describing God as One Who is seated upon “kiseh rahm v’nissa,” a high and exalted throne, is an expression used each Shabbat and Yom Tov when we recite “HaMelech HaYoshev al kisheh rahm v’nissa.” My colleague argued that the common translation that God sat upon a high and exalted throne was not correct. Rather, he explained, the phrase requires a comma after the word kiseh, throne, because the meaning of the text is not that the throne was “high and exalted, but that Hashem Himself is described in those words, i.e., Hashem, Who is “high and exalted” sits upon a throne.

I admit that I was not convinced of his approach to that phrase, understanding the adjectives “high” and “exalted” as applying to the throne itself. I am happy—and humbled—to have seen another source that proved me wrong and that supported my friend’s translation.

In the collected essays found in “Worship of the Heart,” HaRav Soloveitchik, zt”l sees the terms, “rahm” and “nissa” as expressing an exaltedness and loftiness that is beyond the created universe, something that is transcendent. Therefore, writes the Rav, Yishayahu’s vision portrays a paradoxical view of God. In one aspect, Hashem remains distant from, and far above His creations; He is “rahm.” On the other hand, He is also “nissa,” which Rav Soloveitchik understands as a passive verb—that is, He can be “acted upon,” He can be “influenced” by others and can be impacted by them.

This unique attribute of God is most evident in the act of prayer. How remarkable is it that we refer to Hashem as one Who is “shome’ah tefillah, sensitive to prayer; one Who listens and responds to our supplications. How often during our tefillot do we realize the remarkable act of connecting to One Who is “rahm”? How frequently do we realize that we have been given the privilege of speaking to the Creator, Who, although far superior to His creations, allows them an “audience” to entreat Him?? Do we really appreciate the fact that God is not only “rahm” but is also “nissa,” Who listens to our supplications?

Sadly, we too often slip over the “obstacle” of regarding our daily prayer as daily tedium, chv”sh, becoming far too comfortable with tefillah. We lose focus of what we are doing, we read articles and even study Torah, all that time ignoring the simple fact that we stand before Hakadosh Baruch Hu who listens intently to our prayers … and to our thoughts.

How more meaningful and less “tedious” would our tefillot be if we keep in mind that the “rahm” bends and becomes a “nissa” as well—fully responsive to His people.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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