Thursday, March 23, 2023

Parshat Shemot

Finding the connection between the 27th and 28th chapters of Sefer Yeshayahu — the source of this week’s haftarah — to the events of the parsha is not simple. Indeed, we have discussed a number of possibilities over the past years, including the words of the Navi stating that, although Israel will be punished for her sins, she would — nonetheless — survive and return from her exile — a theme that hearkens back to the Egyptian enslavement when Israel suffered, but survived and returned to their land. We also pointed to the prophet’s description of the “infantile” state of understanding among the Jews of the day who had to be taught as a child — slowly, gradually, with small steps — just as Moshe had to teach the Israelites about Hashem and His mitzvot while they were in Egypt.

Recently, I realized that the very beginning of the haftarah parallels the opening words of the parsha — thereby, creating a commonality and a connection between these two readings — something which might have convinced the early rabbanim to establish this section of sefer Yishayahu as haftarah for this parsha. Our parsha begins with the statement “V’eleh shmot Bnei Yisrael haba’im Mitzraymah et Yaakov … ” and our haftarah opens with the words: “Haba’im yashresh Ya’akov yatzitz ufarach Yisrael … ” Perhaps, these similarities were seen as the tie between the haftarah and the parsha.

But, we would be remiss were we to focus on the beginning of the haftarah alone, and not take time to analyze the closing verse of the 27th chapter. This is a well-known pasuk that ends the Navi’s vision of Israel’s return to her land. It begins with the prophecy that tells of that day when “Yitakah b’shofar gadol,” a great shofar will be sounded, which will herald the return of the exiles to Eretz Yisrael.

HaRav Soloveitchik describes this momentous occasion when all men will stand before Hashem; a moment when all will be equal — whether refined or vulgar, whether wise or boorish or whether a believer or a heretic. And he states:

“All will feel the splendor of God … when confronted with the stirring blast of the shofar … All inhabitants of the world and dwellers of the earth without exception will witness His appearance and will hear His voice speaking to them from eternity and infinity … All will face Him, all hearts will be directed toward Him, all ears alert to His sound. Man will be unable to hide or be distracted; there will be no refuge or escape.”

Upon reading these words, I wondered whether any human being would experience such a moment during his/her lifetime. Is there anything close to this? Can we even imagine such a time? Such an experience?

And that is when I realized that, in fact, we all do! Or, we all can! Or, we all should! It is the moment of tefillah. Prayer can be a time when our hearts are directed to Him with no distraction, a moment when we can sense God’s presence and when we can almost hear His voice answering us. It could be a time when we feel God’s splendor. It can be and should be … if we — but — will it!

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

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