Yeshayahu's Mission in Chapter 6


A Unique Vision

Descriptions of theophanies are rare in Tanakh, making Yeshayahu's vision of Hashem in Yeshayahu 6 somewhat unique. Yeshayahu views Hashem sitting on His throne, surrounded by angels who laud Him.  At the sound, the doorposts tremble and the House fills with smoke. The prophet reacts with trepidation, but nonetheless eagerly accepts Hashem's mission:


(ה) וָאֹמַר אוֹי לִי כִי נִדְמֵיתִי כִּי אִישׁ טְמֵא שְׂפָתַיִם אָנֹכִי וּבְתוֹךְ עַם טְמֵא שְׂפָתַיִם אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב כִּי אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ י"י צְבָאוֹת רָאוּ עֵינָי. (ו) וַיָּעׇף אֵלַי אֶחָד מִן הַשְּׂרָפִים וּבְיָדוֹ רִצְפָּה בְּמֶלְקַחַיִם לָקַח מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ. (ז) וַיַּגַּע עַל פִּי וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה נָגַע זֶה עַל שְׂפָתֶיךָ וְסָר עֲוֺנֶךָ וְחַטָּאתְךָ תְּכֻפָּר. (ח) וָאֶשְׁמַע אֶת קוֹל אֲדֹנָי אֹמֵר אֶת מִי אֶשְׁלַח וּמִי יֵלֶךְ לָנוּ וָאֹמַר הִנְנִי שְׁלָחֵנִי.

What prompts this unique revelation? Most prophecies in Tanakh are not preceded by visions of God, so why is this one?  Does Hashem's question, "Whom shall I send" suggest that it constitutes Yeshayahu's initiation into prophecy? If so, though, why does this chapter not open the book?

Yeshayahu's Reaction

The description of Yeshayahu's reaction to seeing Hashem raises several questions:

  • "אוֹי לִי כִי נִדְמֵיתִי" – How are we to understand this distraught cry of Yeshayahu?  What does the word "נִדְמֵיתִי" mean?  What aspect of seeing Hashem makes him so concerned?
  • "אִישׁ טְמֵא שְׂפָתַיִם אָנֹכִי" – Why does Yeshayahu consider himself a "man of impure lips"?
  • "וּבְיָדוֹ רִצְפָּה" – What is signified by the placing of a coal on Yeshayahu's lips? When the angel says that his action has removed Yeshayahu's sin ("וְסָר עֲוֺנֶךָ וְחַטָּאתְךָ תְּכֻפָּר"), to what sin is he referring?
  • "אֶת מִי אֶשְׁלַח" – Why does Hashem ask for volunteers for this mission? Does not Hashem usually choose His messengers on His own?  Moreover, why is Yeshayahu so eager to comply?1

The Mission: Hardened Hearts

As soon as Yeshayahu accepts his mission, Hashem tells him:


(ט) ...לֵךְ וְאָמַרְתָּ לָעָם הַזֶּה שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמוֹעַ וְאַל תָּבִינוּ וּרְאוּ רָאוֹ וְאַל תֵּדָעוּ. (י) הַשְׁמֵן לֵב הָעָם הַזֶּה וְאׇזְנָיו הַכְבֵּד וְעֵינָיו הָשַׁע פֶּן יִרְאֶה בְעֵינָיו וּבְאׇזְנָיו יִשְׁמָע וּלְבָבוֹ יָבִין וָשָׁב וְרָפָא לוֹ.

(9) And He said: 'Go, and tell this people: Hear ye indeed, but understand not; And see ye indeed, but perceive not. (10) Make the heart of this people fat, And make their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they, seeing with their eyes, And hearing with their ears, And understanding with their heart, Rreturn, and be healed.'

With what is Yeshayahu being tasked?  Is Hashem directing him to harden the people's hearts and ears against repenting? Are the people to be actively prevented from understanding Yeshayahu?  If so, what is the point of appointing a prophet to rebuke? Moreover, are not the gates of repentance supposed to always be open?2

Until When?

Upon hearing Hashem's words, Yeshayahu imploringly questions "until when?" Hashem responds with a devastating description of destruction:


(יא) וַיֹּאמֶר עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם שָׁאוּ עָרִים מֵאֵין יוֹשֵׁב וּבָתִּים מֵאֵין אָדָם וְהָאֲדָמָה תִּשָּׁאֶה שְׁמָמָה. (יב) וְרִחַק י"י אֶת הָאָדָם וְרַבָּה הָעֲזוּבָה בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ. (יג) וְעוֹד בָּהּ עֲשִׂרִיָּה וְשָׁבָה וְהָיְתָה לְבָעֵר כָּאֵלָה וְכָאַלּוֹן אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׁלֶּכֶת מַצֶּבֶת בָּם זֶרַע קֹדֶשׁ מַצַּבְתָּהּ.

(11) Then said I: 'Lord, how long?' And He answered: 'Until cities be waste without inhabitant, And houses without man, And the land become utterly waste, (12) And the Lord have removed men far away, And the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land. (13) And if there be yet a tenth in it, it shall again be eaten up; as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth, when they cast their leaves, so the holy seed shall be the stock thereof.'

To what period do these words refer? Does the phrase "וְרִחַק י"י אֶת הָאָדָם" imply exile, and if so, is Hashem speaking of the exile of the Ten Tribes or of Yehuda?  Who is the "tenth" ("עֲשִׂרִיָּה") which will remain, and when will it, too, be consumed?  Finally, who is the "holy seed" ("זֶרַע קֹדֶשׁ") that will be left at the end?