Drash on Parashat Yitro 2017

Drash on Parashat Yitro

Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
Emanuel Synagogue


The Haftarah that we read this Shabbat is from Isaiah, predominantly from chapter 6, with a few other verses from chapters 7 and 9.

Isaiah goes through a mystical experience, contemplating God, and he hears the angels accompanying God calling to one another; “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tzeva’ot M’lo Chol Ha’aretz K’vado” (Holy, holy, holy is the God of heaven’s hosts, whose Presence fills all the earth) [Isaiah 6:3].

It’s a verse we are all familiar with, as it appears in the Kedushah section (the 3rd blessing), every time we recite the Amidah aloud. Not only are we standing during this part of the service, but we also rise on our toes each time we say the word ”Kadosh” (holy), symbolically lifting our praise in saying Kadosh, towards heaven. This action increases our intention of proclaiming our acknowledgement of God’s holiness.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer explains that the Kedushah is considered to have been influenced by prayers that originated in ancient mystic circles, and originally the recitation of the Kedushah took place only on Shabbat and Festivals. Later, during the time our ancestors were exiled to Babylon, the Kedushah became part of the daily ritual, and that’s our practice today.

The terms Kedusha (3rd blessing of the Amidah), Kadosh (holy), Kodesh (holiness), Kaddish (memorial prayer), and Kiddushin (the wedding ceremony), and Kiddush (Shabbat blessing) are all derived from the same three Hebrew letters (Kuf, Daled, Shin), which can be pronounced different ways, depending where you place the vowels.

The basic meaning of that word is “to set aside” or “to be apart”. Over time, we have come to accept the generic terms of “holiness” or “sanctified” as the most apt translation. It seems fitting then that we apply the same sense of holiness and sanctity to this section of prayer, where we proclaim God’s Sovereignty, as well as the sacred and impressive attributes of the Seraphim (the fiery angels that accompany God) as they focus on worshipping God and singing God’s praises.

Moreover, the Kedushah is only recited when we have a minyan present, when the full sense of Jewish community is expressed. There are a number of reasons given as to why we only recite the Kedushah when we have a minyan. Some say it is because the Kedushah is an act of sanctifying God’s name, which can only be done when others are present, as it causes all of us to recognise God’s greatness and sanctity. There are others that relate the Kedushah to mystic practices, saying that Judaism frowns upon the private practice of mystical exercises as they can lead to dangerous outcomes.

Perhaps the explanation that would best resonate with us, is that Kedushah (in this case, holiness) is not attainable in isolation. It is only when we consider ourselves to be part of a community, part of something greater, that we are able to aspire to be holy. Just as the angels proclaimed to each other; “Holy, holy, holy”, acknowledging that their declaration was not in isolation, so too should our proclamations of Kedusha inspire our sense of community and holiness.

Shabbat Shalom.


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