Haftarah Parshat Shmot
January 14, 2012
19 Tevet 5772
Recently, the Israeli Department of Aliyah and Absorption caused a commotion because of a heavy handed advertising campaign urging Israeli émigrés to return home. The commercials implied that life in America will lead to their ultimate assimilation and that the only way to preserve their Jewish identity was to return home to Israel. Without arguing over the merit of these advertisements, it is worth noting that these commercials were not the first comments ever made in the name of the Jewish people about life in the diaspora.
Long ago, Isaiah prophesied the end of what he thought to be the exile and in his words one finds a sense of his perception of the experience: “And in that day, the Lord will beat out [the people like grain] from the channel of the Euphrates (nahar) to the Wadi of Egypt; and you shall be picked up one by one, O children of Israel! And in that day, a great ram’s horn shall be sounded; and the strayed [haovdim] who are in the land of Assyria and the expelled [hanidahim] who are in the land of Egypt shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mount, in Jerusalem.” (27:12-13)
Rabbi David Kimche (13th century Provence) took upon himself to create a picture of the exilic communities from (Admittedly, this may tell us more about Kimche’s thoughts than those of Isaiah but I think there is something to his careful analysis of Isaiah’s language.) He notes that the use of the words “beat (yahbot)” and “you shall be picked up one by one” are an indication that the Jewish people are “like wheat mixed together with straw” and “olives on a tree.” These images indicated that the Jewish people had become so well mixed into the native populations that they would require a determined effort on God’s part to extract them in order to bring them home. He further asserts that the word used for the northern river (nahar) refers to the mythical river, Sabatyon, over which the lost ten tribes had passed, never to be heard from again. As for the tribes from the southern kingdom, Judah and Benjamin, he notes that they are dispersed in every corner. He quotes a verse from Jeremiah to describe the difficulty of God’s efforts at rounding up his people: “I will take you, one from a town and two from a clan and bring you to Zion.” (3:14)
Kimche’s elaboration of Isaiah’\’s words should not surprise us. It is a remarkable accurate picture of Jewish life in diaspora. Sure, it does not describe all of the wonderful things that are happening, but it describes quite accurately how you will find Jews in every nook and cranny, most of whom will be lost to the Jewish people without our greatest efforts and God’s miraculous help. For all of the inglorious news coming out of Israel these days, one must still thankful to God for blessing us with a homeland for the in-gathering of His people.
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.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: