Haftarah Parshat Vaera (Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)
January 9, 2016 / 28 Tevet 5776
For Ezekiel, geo-politics and theology were intertwined. He considered national arrogance to be a sign of idolatry and he took aim at two nations for this sin. Egypt, in his day, saw itself as a “world power” and its leader viewed himself as a deity. It represented itself as a reliable ally for Judea, the nation which served as a buffer between Egypt and the other “superpower” Babylonia, but turned out to be but a “staff of reed” when faced off against Babylonia. Similarly, Judea displayed this same arrogance in allying itself with Egypt and thinking itself invincible. Ezekiel, a prophet who lived in Babylonia, saw Babylonia as God’s agent. It would punish both Egypt and Judea for their sinful naiveté and idolatrous behavior. Their punishment for their arrogance would be exile.
Ezekiel composed this prophecy a year before the fall of Jerusalem when Babylonia had already laid siege to Jerusalem and Egypt had promised to come to its aid. Ezekiel saw the alliance between Egypt and Judea as an attempt to thwart God’s will and warned that the consequences for Egypt would be dear: “For forty years I will make Egypt the most desolate of desolate lands, and its cities shall be the most desolate of ruined cities. And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them among the countries”. (29:12) Earlier, he had issued a similar warning to Judea: “I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you among the lands…” (22:15)
Both of these prophecies hark back to one of the curses found in the Torah: “I will lay your cities in ruin…I will make your land desolate, so that your enemies that settle there will be appalled by it. And you, I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin.” (Leviticus 26:31-33)
Ezekiel’s prophecy ultimately came true. Egypt and Judea both fell to Babylonia and were exiled because their arrogance led them to lose sight of reality. For Ezekiel, this lack of realism was sinful and a betrayal of God. His prophecy should remind us to be careful of this sort of idolatry.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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