- The Soul Craft of K’dushah B’tzibbur
They Are So Different
They are so different, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalmist. Isaiah wanted to join the heavenly choir (Isaiah 6:1–6); Ezekiel wanted to locate God (Ezekiel 3:12); the Psalmist wanted to crown God who attends to the disadvantaged (Psalm 146:10). They want different things, and yet they are joined together in k’dushah b’tzibbur, the communal cantata of holiness, chanted whenever we repeat the Amidah in a minyan. The question is: why bring these three different voices together?
Isaiah aspires to be one of the angels who gather around God’s throne, singing “Holy, holy, holy, Adonai of Hosts, the whole world is filled with God’s Presence” (Isaiah 6:3). The only obstacle is his unclean lips. An angel rushes over with a hot coal and purifies his lips, and he can then sing their pure song about God’s Presence on earth, with an orderly and magnificent group of devoted singers.
Ezekiel is caught up in turmoil, both natural and supernatural. The wind lifts him up, and he hears behind him, “Blessed is the Presence of Adonai from God’s place.” Why mi-m’komo, “from [God’s] place’? It appears to be a milah y’teirah, a superfluous word, which emphasizes, in an atmosphere of wind and noise (powerful elements that have neither beginning nor end), that God’s place can be located.
Through and despite chaos, God can be found.
Isaiah and Ezekiel serve as intentional foils in the spiritual masterpiece of the Kedushah liturgy. As a corrective to Isaiah’s vision of an orderly choir where solutions are prompt and clear-cut, the inclusion of Ezekiel’s vision [End Page 135] of heaven signals that truth-seeking can at times be paradoxical, impassioned, and disorderly. Conversely, as a counterpoint to the disorder of Ezekiel’s heaven, Isaiah’s vision provides the promise of stability, of an exalted home we might wish to travel to one day and whose radiant transcendence we glimpse at rare moments in life.
These two prophetic visions are about the inner life. For those whose spiritual energy is directed outward, we have the verse from Psalms. The Psalmist wants to enthrone on earth the God who lifts up the downtrodden, secures justice for those who are wronged, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, restores sight to the blind, makes those who are bent stand straight, loves the righteous, watches over the stranger, gives courage to the orphan and widow, but makes the path of the wicked tortuous. It is these actions of God that the Psalmist wants to enthrone forever among the people of Israel.
Three different scenarios, three different yearnings, three different aspects of k’dushah (holiness). Why? These are three different yet equally central human aspirations toward holiness and toward God.
Three Central Human Aspirations Toward God
Isaiah seeks to join a community that exists to serve God and which is characterized by purity. He wishes to be part of something larger than himself: something of great beauty, serenity, and power. Self-perfection is closely associated with this yearning, because heaven is an environment of purity. This religious personality is the eager servant for whom order and purity are evidence of holiness.The Isaiah text itself models succinctness, a stylistic purity, conveying its powerful vision in a mere six verses. After Isaiah sees this vision, God appoints him to be a prophet.
Ezekiel seeks to locate God through heavenly turmoil, in which natural phenomena occur in magnified, supernatural proportions. He hears rather than sees God, in a setting that threatens to confuse and harm him. His redemptive hearing pierces the noise and wind, finding God in a desperate situation. Ezekiel’s chaotic heavenly vision is expressed over whole chapters, in which each word clarifies less. After Ezekiel’s visions, God appoints him to be a prophet.
In Psalm 146, we find a catalog of human needs that God attends to personally and with compassion. This list of God’s acts of hashgaḥah p’ratit [End Page 136] (individualized attentiveness) forms the basis of our morning blessings. As we...