Haftarah Parshat Shmot (Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23)
January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet 5777
There is growing appreciation that when it comes to interpreting a text, that the reader is as important as the author. This statement comes to mind in the choice of this particular prophecy as the haftarah for Parshat Shmot. On the face of it, Isaiah’s message speaks of Israel’s exile at the hands of the Assyrians as punishment for disloyalty to God. This punishment was, in turn, to end with God’s redemption of the exiles by bringing them home. This pshat (plain) reading might seem a sufficient parallel to the parashah for the choice, but Rashi’s interpretation of this prophecy provided an even more vivid reason.
Rashi read the opening verses of the haftarah not as a reference to God’s saving the wayward nation from the Assyrians but rather as an allusion to God’s redemption of the children of Israel from Egypt. This interpretation is probably founded on the common use of the same word “habaim – who came” in the opening verses of both the Torah reading and the haftarah. The Torah reading opens: These are the names of the sons of Israel who came (habaim) to Egypt with Jacob.” (Exodus 1:1) In a similar fashion, the haftarah begins: “In the coming (habaim) Jacob shall strike root, Israel shall sprout and blossom and the face of the world shall be covered with fruit. Was he beaten as his beater has been? Did he suffer such slaughter as his slayers? Assailing them with fury unchained, His pitiless blast bore them off on a day of gale.” (6-8)
On this later verse, Rashi comments: “Have you not see what I did at the very beginning? – To those who came to Egypt where Jacob sprouted and grew until the face of the world was covered with fruit. I (God) showed them My might. Was Jacob beaten like his beater (Egypt)? The Egyptians drowned them in water so I drowned the Egyptians in water…Was the killing of the Israelites who were killed by Pharaoh like the killing of Pharaoh and his people? The Egyptians were treated in the same manner that they treated the Israelites.” [But all the more so!]
The intent of Isaiah’s prophecy was twofold. He wanted to remind the people that their troubles at the hands of the Assyrians were justified by their disloyalty to God. He found their acculturation of foreign ways unacceptable and explained their current predicament as being justified on its account. On the other hand, he wanted them to know that God still treated them with deference and that those who harmed them would be punished worse than they were and that God would finally redeem them. Rashi emphasizes the redemptive side of this message by associating it with the archetypal redemption of the Jewish people, namely, if God acts this way the first time, this is what we can always look forward to.
This message is a cornerstone to Judaism’s religious spirit which inculcates in us an affirmative attitude even in the darkest of times. This spark of hope has helped us endure, create and preserve even when things are bad, because we know ultimately that the Redeemer is with us.