(Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23)
January 17, 2009
21 Tevet 5769
Isaiah’s prophecy opens with a promise that when the redemption comes, Israel will be firmly planted in its own land. They will grow and they will flourish and the world will be filled with their blessings: “[In days] to come (habaim) Jacob will strike root (yashresh); Israel will spout and blossom and the face of the world will be covered with fruit.” (Isaiah 27:6)
The language of this verse brings Rashi to associate it with the redemption from Egypt. Rashi poses God as the speaker: “Do you not know what I [God] did [for you] at the beginning [of your life as a nation]? It was the coming (habaim) to Egypt that allowed Jacob to strike root so that he could blossom and grow there so that [in the end] the world would be filled with fruit.” This midrash is based on the association of the Hebrew word “habaim” found in this verse and in the opening verses of the book of Exodus: “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came (habaim) to Egypt with Jacob… But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:1;7) Rashi’s point is that something about the experience in Egypt provided Israel with what was necessary to grow into a people that would be a blessing for the world.
Rabbi Isaiah from Trani (13th century Italy) makes the same association as Rashi but draws from it a different message. He assumes that the Egyptian redemption served as a typological example of the future redemption which is spelled out in Isaiah\’s prophecy: \”Just as I compensated the earlier generations [redeeming them from Egypt], so, too, will I compensate the later generations. Those who went down to Egypt were few, seventy people, and God likened them to a well-rooted tree that sprouted and blossomed and filled the world with fruit. Israel will also blossom and fill the land.”
The Sefat Emet, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Alter (the second Gerer Rebbe) also builds his message on this association. He asserts that the Egyptian experience served as preparation for future exiles. The suffering inflicted by Egyptian bondage provided the children of Israel with the spiritual strength and fortitude necessary to overcome all of the conditions of exile. In addition, it gave them the merit necessary so that God would always be with them in all times of trouble, as is written [in the verse from Isaiah]: “[In days] to come (habaim) Jacob will strike root (yashresh); Israel will sprout and blossom and the face of the world will be covered with fruit”. (See Sefat Emet Exodus 5636 Or Etzion ed. pp. 16-17)
The Jewish tradition places great emphasis on how the experience in Egypt shaped the people of Israel for all generations. Many of Torah’s commandments associated with social welfare are linked to the suffering of our people in Egypt. It is a part of what makes us what we are as a people and it serves as a constant reminder of what kind of world we are intended to create.
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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