Haftarah Parshat Bo
January 4, 2014
3 Shevat 5774
Midrash is known to remove words and verses in Mikra (Scripture) from their original context and meaning. This is especially true when the scriptural words are obscure. This week’s haftarah from Jeremiah describes the same events as last week’s, namely, the destructive onslaught of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar against Egypt in the period of the destruction of the First Temple. Among the verses which come to describe the inevitability of this destructive march, we read: “As surely as Tabor is among the mountains and Carmel is by the sea, so shall this (Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Egypt) come to pass (yavo). (46:18)
The “peshat” or plain meaning of this verse is metaphoric. It poetically compares the geographic stability of these two mountains to the certainty of the Babylonian offensive, but its manner of expression in Hebrew is unusual. The verb “yavo – come to pass” speaks of the inescapability of certain events. The following midrash, instead, toys with the possibility that this verb comes to express the motion of the mountains. It also takes a historical liberty and asserts that this verse speaks of an entirely different event – the giving of the Torah:
“Rabbi Natan taught: When the Holy One Blessed be He sought to give the Torah to the children of Israel, Carmel came from Aspamea and Tabor from Beit-Elim, as it is taught in the tradition: ‘As surely as Tabor is among the mountains and Carmel is by the sea, so shall he (each mountain) come.’ This one said: ‘I am called Mount Tabor; I am worthy of God’s Presence dwelling upon me, for I am the highest of all mountains so the water of the flood did not descend upon me.’ The other said: ‘I am called Mount Carmel; I am worthy that God’s Presence dwell upon me for I put myself in the middle of the sea so that the children of Israel could pass over me’. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘You have already rendered yourselves unqualified before Me on account of your arrogance.’ These mountains said before God: ‘Are you showing preference? Are you going to deprive us of our reward?’ God replied: ‘Since you have troubled yourselves on My behalf, I will reward you.’ I have given over Mount Tabor for the rescue of Israel in the days of Deborah and Mount Carmel in the days of Elijah. All of the other mountains began to rumble and tremble. God asked: ‘Why are you at odds with Mount Sinai?’ My only desire is Sinai because it is the humblest of mountains. Where did Sinai come from? Rabbi Yossi said: ‘Out of Mount Moriah, where Isaac has been bound. Since Isaac was bound on it, it is fit for the receiving of the Torah.” (adapted from an addition to Midrash Tehillim found in the Buber edition 68:9 pp. 318)
This midrash has turned a cute story about the revelation of the Torah at Sinai into a profound morality tale challenging those who seek for themselves importance to wear a mantle of humility in order to qualify for true leadership.