May 29, 2024
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Parshat Shemot

It is quite difficult to find a connection between the haftarah of Parshat Shemot, a selection from Sefer Yeshayahu, and the events depicted in the Torah portion itself. The parsha deals, by and large, with the difficult years of Egyptian bondage, the emergence of Moshe Rabbeinu as spokesman and leader of Bnei Yisrael, and Hashem’s promise of redemption. In contrast, the haftarah speaks of Yaakov’s “iniquities” and how they might be atoned for.

The selection from Yeshayahu does make short mention of gathering Israel one by one from the lands of exile (including Egypt), something that could be understood as a connection to the promised redemption from Egypt that is found in the parsha. Yet, the prophet does not linger upon that topic but, rather, returns to discuss the sins of the residents of Judea that mimic those of the exiled Ephrayim, the Northern kingdom. Depicting the nation as one that must be taught Hashem’s laws as a child would learn them, “little by little, line by line,” Yeshayahu criticizes the Southern kingdom with comparisons that clearly hint to the eventual exile of the Judeans as a punishment for their sins.

This is hardly a message that connects to the difficult but hopeful beginnings of redemption that are depicted in the parsha itself.

Yet, I have found the comments of Rashi and the approach of the Malbim to be most satisfying in uncovering the possible reason why this selection was chosen by Chazal.

As opposed to most commentators, Rashi sees the opening words of our haftarah, “Haba’im yashresh Yaakov,” as referring to the family of Jacob who came to Egypt with him, the very same idea that opens our parsha, “V’eileh shemot bnei Yisrael haba’im Mitzrayma et Yaakov.” They are words meant to remind the Jews of Yeshayahu’s time of what God had done for their ancestors in Egypt, a fitting connection to the parsha of Shemot.

The Malbim expands upon this theme, explaining that the navi is referring to the “vineyard” that he mentions in the outset of this perek (but not included in our haftarah) as symbolizing the nation of Israel. During the years of exile the vineyard would appear destroyed and unredeemable, but these plants, planted firmly by the righteous Yaakov, will survive the travails of galut, blossoming and blooming once more. This metaphor relates back to the Israelites’ suffering in Egypt that failed to destroy them because the patriarch Yaakov planted them firmly so that they would survive and come back to life upon their release from Egypt.

As we look back on the thousands of years of Jewish suffering in scores of lands throughout the world, we are tempted to wonder how we survived. But as the navi foretold, the firm planting of faith in Hashem and hope for the future done by our third patriarch have stood the test of time—and will in the future as well.

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

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 

 

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