Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Yeshaya 1:1 -- The First Verse: An Introduction To What?

A post I only just got to finishing --

Sefer Yeshaya begins {Yeshaya 1:1}:
א חֲזוֹן, יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶן-אָמוֹץ, אֲשֶׁר חָזָה, עַל-יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם--בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּהוּ יוֹתָם אָחָז יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ, מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה. 1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
ב שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמַיִם וְהַאֲזִינִי אֶרֶץ, כִּי ה דִּבֵּר: בָּנִים גִּדַּלְתִּי וְרוֹמַמְתִּי, וְהֵם פָּשְׁעוּ בִי. 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the LORD hath spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me.
Rashi comments:
which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem Now, did he not prophesy concerning many nations, viz. the prophecy of Babylonia (ch. 13), the prophecy of Moab (ch. 15)? Thus you learn that this is not the beginning of the Book, and that the Book is not given its name for this prophecy. So we learned in the Baraitha of the Mechilta (Exod. 15:9,10): “In the year of King Uzziah’s death” (6:1) is the beginning of the Book, but there is no early and late in the order [i.e., the order of the chapters is no indication of the chronological order. (Others read: There is no early and late in the BookParshandatha.] The context proves this point, for, on the day of the earthquake (see Zech. 14:5), the day Uzziah became a metzora (see 2 Chron. 26:19), it was said: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am; send me” (6:8). We learn that this was the beginning of his mission, and this prophecy was said afterwards. And concerning this alone, it is stated: which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, just as Scripture says concerning each nation, “the prophecy of such and such a nation.” Here too, Scripture writes: “which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” Since they are harsh reproofs, he calls them “chazon,” which is the harshest of the ten expressions by which prophecy is called, as is stated in Gen. Rabbah (44:7), and proof of this is the verse (infra 21:2), “A harsh prophecy (חָזוּת) was told to me.”
What exactly is Rashi trying to accomplish here?

Well, typically the first verse of a sefer, often added by the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly), introduces the prophet, the author, and the book. The question here is whether this verse introduces the entire sefer or the specific prophecy in this chapter.

Now, the fact is that Yeshaya prophesied about other nations as well, such that "concerning Judah and Jerusalem" is too narrow a scope. The resolution is that this introduction which includes "concerning Judah and Jerusalem" is in regard to this prophecy alone.

Now, we could have offered another answer -- that while talking about, and casting his prophecies at, other countries, he is based in the cities of Yehuda and in Yerushalayim, and that is his audience. Then, that first verse can be a superscript for the entire book, which can be Chazon Yeshaya.

But there is another aspect to this as well - there is nothing about this prophecy that really shouts out that it is an initiation prophecy, when compared with the initiation prophecies of other prophets, such as Moshe, Yechezkel, Yirmiyahu. Meanwhile, in Yeshaya 6, it looks like an initiation prophecy, where he is first chosen to be a prophet. Yeshaya 6:
ו וַיָּעָף אֵלַי, אֶחָד מִן-הַשְּׂרָפִים, וּבְיָדוֹ, רִצְפָּה; בְּמֶלְקַחַיִם--לָקַח, מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ. 6 Then flew unto me one of the seraphim, with a glowing stone in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;
ז וַיַּגַּע עַל-פִּי--וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה נָגַע זֶה עַל-שְׂפָתֶיךָ; וְסָר עֲו‍ֹנֶךָ, וְחַטָּאתְךָ תְּכֻפָּר. 7 and he touched my mouth with it, and said: Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin expiated.
ח וָאֶשְׁמַע אֶת-קוֹל אֲדֹנָי, אֹמֵר, אֶת-מִי אֶשְׁלַח, וּמִי יֵלֶךְ-לָנוּ; וָאֹמַר, הִנְנִי שְׁלָחֵנִי. 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: 'Here am I; send me.'
We have here the aspect of being purified and chosen on a mission to deliver Hashem's message. We have unclean lips being purified, parallel to Moshe's statement at the beginning that he was an arel sefatayim.

Of course, we could say that this 6th perek is not the initiation prophecy, but a further appointment on a more particular mission, together with a particular vision. But one can certainly see where this desire to see the 6th perek as the first prophecy comes from. And, as Rashi says, the book is not following chronological order.

However, if so, we have a problem with the first pasuk of the sixth and of the first perek. For in the 6th perek, we had:
א בִּשְׁנַת-מוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ עֻזִּיָּהוּ, וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת-אֲדֹנָי יֹשֵׁב עַל-כִּסֵּא רָם וְנִשָּׂא; וְשׁוּלָיו, מְלֵאִים אֶת-הַהֵיכָל. 1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.

Such that Uzziyah would have died. Yet in the first perek, we have:
א חֲזוֹן, יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶן-אָמוֹץ, אֲשֶׁר חָזָה, עַל-יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם--בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּהוּ יוֹתָם אָחָז יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ, מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה. 1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Whether you take this verse as referring to the book as a whole (and thus the entire span of his prophecy, which makes sense) or else referring to this particular prophecy in perek 1, how could he have a vision in the days of Uzziah, when his initiation prophecy was when Uzziah died? The answer is that a leprous person is considered dead (see e.g. what Aharon says to Moshe about his sister Miriam) and so this is what it means when it said it was in the year of his death.

(I could offer two other alternatives -- either this 6th perek was not the initiation prophecy, or else it was in the year of Uzziah's death, but he did not die in the beginning of the year, so it was shortly before Uzziah's death, but in that year.)

However, assuming that this first perek is not the first prophecy, Rashi casts the Chazon aspect at least as referring only to this prophecy in the perek, as opposed to a specific book, and thus אֲשֶׁר חָזָה עַל-יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם is parallel to the address given in each of the other prophecies (regarding Moav, etc.). And חֲזוֹן refers not to the entire book but to this prophecy, which is a specific type of harsh prophecy.

Indeed, we do see that certain words are codewords for specific types of prophecies -- for example, Masah Hashem, when used by false prophets in Yirmeyahu (though the term is used by other real prophets):
  • פסוק לג: וְכִי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ הָעָם הַזֶּה אוֹ-הַנָּבִיא אוֹ-כֹהֵן, לֵאמֹר, מַה-מַּשָּׂא, ה--וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם אֶת-מַה-מַּשָּׂא, וְנָטַשְׁתִּי אֶתְכֶם נְאֻם-ה.
  • פסוק לד: וְהַנָּבִיא וְהַכֹּהֵן וְהָעָם, אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר מַשָּׂא ה--וּפָקַדְתִּי עַל-הָאִישׁ הַהוּא, וְעַל-בֵּיתוֹ.
  • פסוק לח: וְאִם-מַשָּׂא ה, תֹּאמֵרוּ, לָכֵן כֹּה אָמַר ה, יַעַן אֲמָרְכֶם אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה מַשָּׂא ה--וָאֶשְׁלַח אֲלֵיכֶם לֵאמֹר, לֹא תֹאמְרוּ מַשָּׂא ה.
So too "chazon" can take on a specific implication, which we may surmise by seeing how it is used in context.

I would note that Rasih takes the last bit of the pasuk, the list of kings, to refer to Yeshaya's full length of prophecy, rather than to this specific prophecy in perek one, because he writes (next Rashi):
in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, [and] Hezekiah, kings of Judah. These four kings he buried, [i.e. he outlived,] in his lifetime. On the day Uzziah became a metzora, the Shechinah rested upon him, and he prophesied all the days of these kings, until Manasseh arose and killed him. (And this prophecy was said in the days of Hezekiah after the ten tribes were exiled.)
Thus it is a span. And Rashi starts the span with the 6th perek initiation prophecy, and ends it wherever his last prophecy was.

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