Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Parshat Shemot

When commenting on this week’s haftarah over these past years, we have searched for a logical connection to the parsha. After all, the parsha focuses upon the years of enslavement that our people endured and the dawning of the long-awaited redemption from their oppression, while the haftarah centers on Yishayahu’s condemnation of the growing corruption of the leadership of Yehuda, including words of warning of the inevitable punishment that would result.

Rashi who, as opposed to most parshanim, sees the opening words of our haftarah as referring to the arrival of Jacob and his descendants to Egypt, provides us with one connection to our Torah reading that begins with just that event. Others find that the mention of Hashem gathering of those dispersed in Egypt back to the Land of Israel creates the connection, while still others see the navi’s depiction of the punishments that will ultimately rain down upon Israel’s oppressors as that which connects to our parsha, for in it Moshe Rabbeinu warns the Pharaoh of Egypt of the punishments Egypt would suffer if they fail to heed Hashem’s words.

I would like to suggest that there well might be another reason why Chazal chose this selection to accompany our parsha. Toward the end of the haftarah, Yishayahu criticizes Israel as stubbornly refusing to listen to the prophet and change their ways. Yishayahu knows he must now teach them, but asks: “Et mi yoreh de’ah v’et mi yavin shmu’ah?” To whom can I teach and explain? The people don’t wish to listen! The refusal of the nation to listen to the prophet although they were told that it would bring the ge’ula echoes the events depicted at the end of the parsha where we read how the nation would not listen to Moshe’s promises of redemption because, as explained in the next parsha of Va’era, “V’lo sham’u el Moshe mikotzer ru’ach ume’avodah kasha,” their impatience, borne of the many years of suffering and the heavy, exhausting labor imposed upon them, made it impossible to believe the words of the navi Moshe that the ge’ula was near.

Additionally, I find it quite interesting that the pesukim that follow the closing of our haftarah, i.e., the opening verses of the 30th perek, condemn Israel for depending upon their alliance with Egypt for help in battling the invading Assyrian hordes rather than turning to Hashem. Despite all God had done for them, the people still turn to Egypt for help, “la’oz bm’oz Paroh, to seek strength from the power of Pharaoh,” and “lachasot b’tzel Mitzrayim, to find shelter under Egypt’s protection.” The parsha starts the story of Hashem’s first steps to wean Israel from their dependence on Egypt and her gods and to strengthen their belief in the One God, and yet the generation of Yishayahu rejected the promises of God’s redemption and, instead, relied once again on the power (and gods?) of Egypt.

Our history has proven to us that there is only one source of true redemption. Our challenge in every generation is to understand that we must do whatever we can to bring our ultimate salvation and to trust only in Hashem Who will take note of our efforts and bring us the final ge’ula for which we yearn.

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