Two prophetic visions from the latter prophets are forever linked liturgically with the revelation of the Torah at Sinai. On Parshat Yitro, we read Isaiah’s vision of the divine throne room where the angels proclaim God’s glory: “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh – Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Host” (6:3), while on Shavuot, which again shares the same Torah reading, we read of Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot where the angels again proclaim God’s glory with the words: “Blessed be the Presence of the Lord in His place”. (Ezekiel 3:12) These angelic responses were considered so magisterial that they were enshrined in the Kiddusha (holiness) section of the Amidah, where we proclaim God’s holy status.
With the special status granted these visions in mind, it is interesting to read the following midrash: “Rabbi Eliezer says: From where do you know that the servant woman saw at Yam Suf (at the splitting of the sea) what Isaiah and Ezekiel and all the prophets never saw? It says about them (the prophets): ‘And I spoke to the prophets, and I framed many visions and through the prophets showed forth images’ (Hosea 12:11) And it is also written: ‘The heavens were opened and I (Ezekiel) saw visions of God.’ (Ezekiel 1:1) A parable – to what can this be compared – to a king of flesh and blood who entered into a kingdom surrounded by a circle of guards; his heroes standing on his right and on his left, his soldiers before him and behind him. Everyone asks, saying: Which one is the king – since he is flesh and blood just like them? But when the Holy One Blessed be He revealed Himself at the sea, no one had to ask: ‘Which one is the king?’ Rather when they saw Him, everyone recognized Him, and they all opened their mouths and said: ‘This is my God and I will glorify Him’ (Exodus 15.2).’ (Mechilta d’Rabbi Ishmael Shirta Parsha 3, Horowitz Rabin edition, pp. 126-7)
What prompted Rabbi Eliezer to make the audacious claim that the prophetic vision of a slave woman at the sea was clearer and more authentic than that of Israel’s great prophets? Perhaps part of the impetus for this midrash can be found in rabbinic Judaism’s democratic spirit. The sages wanted to make it very clear that Judaism was not to be exclusively the purview of the elite, whether they be prophets, priests or even rabbis. The notion that only rabbis or clergy study Torah, observe the commandments, or experience the presence of God was anathema to them. The life of Torah was meant for all, even those who society relegated to the bottom of the social ladder – even a slave woman! And her vision might even be the clearest of all!