Haftarah Parshat Vayikra (Isaiah 43:21-44:23)
April 1, 2017 / 5 Nisan 5777
Most haftarot are linked to the Torah reading by some thematic idea. In the case of this week’s haftarah, the association reflects contrasting messages. The Torah reading catalogues the variety of possible sacrifices which could be offered in the Sanctuary and Temple. The haftarah points up God’s demand for religious loyalty over the offering of sacrifices. (See 43:22-28) Still, sometimes looking at the prophetic message of the haftarah in its original prophetic context might yield a message which by coincidence has relevance to the liturgical calendar.
The first verse of this week’s haftarah serves as the last verse of a prophecy whose message uses the exodus from Egypt as its theme to inspire the exiled nation that an even greater redemption is in the offing: “Thus said the Lord who made a road through the sea and a path through the mighty waters, who destroyed chariots and horses, and all the mighty host. They lay down to rise no more. They were extinguished, quenched like a wick. Do not recall what happened of old or ponder what happened of yore! I am about to do something new, even now it shall come to pass, suddenly you shall perceive it. I will make a road through the wilderan ness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts shall honor Me, jackals and ostriches for I provide water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert to give drink to My chosen people. The people that I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.” (44:16-21)
As Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugency (Northern France 12th century) notes: “You won’t remember the first splitting of the sea because the coming redemption will be so great” The prophet’s intention was to raise his people’s optimism by both having them remember and forget the past redemption because the coming redemption will be so monumental. This truth is what lies behind our identity as a people. Hope born of faith is an anthem of the Jewish people. It is the spirit born of Pesah when God created the Jewish people upon their redemption from Egypt.
The religious spirit of the Jewish people refuses to be quashed by pessimism. It hopes and yearns for better and greater things, for an end of both physical and spiritual exile, for the betterment of the human condition. The knowledge that these things were possible in the past are our inspiration and strength for the future. Ultimately this is what Pesah is all about.