April 15, 2024
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Parashat Bo

The two prophets, Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel, were contemporaries of each other, active before and after the destruction of Bayit Rishon, the First Temple. Although living at the same time, they did not live in the same place. Yirmiyahu lived in Eretz Yisrael, while the younger Yechezkel dwelled in the land of the Diaspora, Bavel. However, both lived through great historical events, some of which they witnessed themselves. For this reason, we read Yechezkel’s prophecy of Egypt’s impending destruction brought on by the Babylonian invasion of their land as last week’s haftarah, and Yirmiyahu’s nevuah regarding the same event for this week’s haftarah.

When studying the two prophecies, one might be tempted to assume that they are almost interchangeable and that either one could have been chosen as the prophetic reading to accompany either of the two parshiot, Va’era or Bo. But that is not so. For, although the two nevi’im describe the same historical event, i.e., the imminent collapse of the great Egyptian empire, and although they both detail its destruction, they do not focus on the exact same thing. In last week’s haftarah, Yechezkel’s message described the physical ruin that would come to the land of Egypt. He describes the “fate” that would befall the land itself, saying that the land would become “destroyed and waste,” warning that neither the “foot of man nor that of a beast” would pass through the land. He continues his message by predicting that Egypt would become the most desolate of all places and its cities would remain in ruins for 40 years. The choice of this prophecy to serve as the haftarah for the parsha of Va’era, therefore, is quite fitting, for these descriptions correspond well to the condition of the land in Moshe’s time after the plagues were visited upon Egypt, something that is described in the parsha itself.

This week’s message, in contrast, centers about the crumbling power of the once-all-powerful Egyptian empire. Yirmiyahu turns his attention to the humiliating defeat of Pharaoh’s military which, he predicts, will flee from the enemy in such panic that the fighters will stumble over each other in their attempt to escape. Here too, we can suggest a possible connection to our parsha that Chazal saw, convincing them to establish this 49th perek in Sefer Yirmiyahu as a fitting haftarah for Parshat Bo. Besides comparing the number of Babylonian soldiers arrayed against Egypt as being as numerous as locust, the very plague that opens this week’s Torah reading, the description of the collapse of Egyptian power parallels the story in the parsha where the culmination of Hashem’s punishments led to the surrender of Par’oh to God’s commands. For the first time, Egypt’s great power is challenged and defeated as the Egyptian slave labor overcomes the empire’s military might and begins the eventual weakening of the Egyptian state.

And, finally, the closing verses of the selection, pesukim that predict the return of Israel to her land and the guarantee of their survival despite difficult challenges, remind us that the parsha also includes Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the start of the people’s journey of return to the land of their ancestors.

In summation, we need to better study our past in order to get a glimpse of our future. Often, our haftarah readings echo events of the past; often, they point to our yet-to-be future.


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

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