April 22, 2024
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Parshat Va’era

I have always felt a special connection to the haftarah that we read this week. This selection from Sefer Yechezkel (28; 25–29; 21) was the haftarah that I read on the occasion of my bar mitzvah. Although my primary focus at that time was to chant the haftarah correctly, I did get a “sense” of what the Navi was teaching. The connection between the haftarah and the parsha was quite obvious. Yechezkel describes the punishments that would befall Egypt for her perfidy in abandoning Judea in her time of need, while the parsha centers around the punishment that befell ancient Egypt during the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, punishments that were brought upon her due to her continued persecution of Israel and their refusal to recognize Hashem and heed His demand to release Bnei Yisrael.

Some years ago we pointed out that this selection should have opened with the first verse of the 29th perek, which begins to detail the coming punishments the Egypt would suffer. That perek details the sins of Egypt and the approaching punishments she would suffer, the obvious connection to our parsha. And yet, Chazal saw fit to start our haftarah with the final two pesukim of the 28th perek, verses that have nothing to do with the theme of the haftarah. The opening verses do not condemn Israel for her sins that led to Churban Bayit, and the subsequent exile, a theme that runs throughout Sefer Yechezkel. Instead, these introductory remarks speak of a glorious future for Israel, a time when “b’kabtzi et beit Yisrael,” God promises He would gather Israel back to their land—a more than curious addition, given the main theme of the parsha.

Although one might explain our Rabbis’ decision to begin the haftarah is this fashion by pointing to the fact that, in the parsha, Hashem promises Israel that He would take them from Egypt and bring them to the Land of Israel—parallel to the idea expressed in the opening words of the haftarah, I would like to share with you the thoughts of HaRav Soloveitchik, zt”l, regarding this peculiar opening, thoughts that perhaps will not explain their connection to the parsha but are nonetheless connected to us today.

The Rav powerfully argues that the opening words reveal a truth that most of us would not have realized at first glance. “B’kabtzi et beit Yisra’el,” “when I gather Israel from the foreign lands and bring them to the Land of Israel,” “V’nikdashti bam l’einei hagoyim,” “And, through them, I will be sanctified in the eyes of all the nations,” teaches us a basic truth, the Rav says. And he continues:

When Hashem brings the Jews back to Eretz Yisrael from their many years in galut, He will demonstrate that the words of His nevi’im were correct and true. Kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles, is an ultimate act of kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, for it proves to the entire world that the prophets referred to only one nation—the Jewish nation, the chosen nation—that would survive and be brought back to the Land of Israel.

The Rav then related a most moving personal experience he had:

“I used to travel from Boston to New York and was accosted many times by missionaries (especially in the 1940s) who confronted me… and said, (God forbid): ‘The words of the “New” Testament are coming true! The Jews will be completely annihilated and destroyed!’ They would approach other Jews and tell them; ‘You see, God has abandoned you and allowed the complete destruction of the Jewish people!’ The chilul Hashem, the desecration of God’s honor, was horrible…and I used to cry not only for the Churban but also for the chilul Hashem.

“For me,” the Rav continued, “what is important about Medinat Yisrael—in addition to everything else—is that it has silenced … these false arguments. No missionary has approached me since the State of Israel was established. This is the main merit (“zechus”) of Medinat Yisrael. It is the product of Divine Providence, hashgacha from HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”

I need add very little to the words of the Rav. But let me just remind you that the next time we pray for our heroes who sacrificed their lives on behalf of the State of Israel, and we refer to them as those who died “al kiddush Hashem,” it is not a simple expression of respect. Everyone and anyone who dies to build, preserve or defend Medinat Yisrael is certainly one who has died sanctifying God’s name. It was, and is, the greatest act of kiddush Hashem one can perform today. And all because Yechezkel told us: “B’kabtzi et beit Yisrael,” when I bring the Jewish nation back to Israel after 2,000 years (!!!!!) “v’nikdashti bam l’einei hagoyim…”—I will be sanctified before all of mankind!

Can there be any greater act of national kiddush Hashem?


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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