Haftarah Parshat Shemot
(Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23)
January 5, 2013
23 Tevet 5773
The book of Shemot is the story of the children of Israel’s first exile (galut) and its first redemption (geulah). The Jewish tradition sees these experiences as fundamental to the identity of the Jewish people both in determining who and what they are and in shaping their relationship with God. This story of the first redemption opens with the words: “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came (habaim) to Egypt” (1:1) The word “habaim” apparently resonated with those who chose this week’s haftarah which speaks of Israel’s future redemption: “[In days] to come Jacob shall strike root, Israel shall sprout and blossom and the face of the world shall be covered with fruit.” (Isaiah 27:6)
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) captures the plain meaning of this verse: “In the coming days – refers to the days of the redemption when Jacob will strike roots, for while he is in exile it is as if he had no roots. But in those days [of redemption], he will strike roots from below and sprout and blossom from above.” (adapted translation) Rashi, though, reads this verse as if it is talking about the redemption from Egypt: “Do you not know what I (God) did at the very beginning, when the children [of Israel] came to Egypt where Jacob became rooted. They blossomed and flowered there until the face of the earth was covered with fruit.”
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Gerer Rebbe (19th-20th century Poland) also interpreted this verse along these lines, but with a very different message from that of Rashi: “In a midrash (Shmot Rabbah 1:1), [the verse] ‘he who loves him (his child) disciplines him early’ (Proverbs 13:24) is brought to explain the reason for the Egyptian exile decreed upon our ancestors. [Its purpose was] to develop the core essence of the children of Israel, for it served as good preparation for all of the [other] exiles. It provided the strength that helped the children of Israel in times of trouble. God, blessed be He, arranged for the Egyptian exile to be enrooted in the psyche of the children of Israel from the very start. This can be understood from the verse: ‘Ehye asher Ehye – I am who I am’ [The redundancy teaches that] just as I was with them in this trouble so will I be with them in the others as well. The meaning of this is that through being them in this troubled situation (the Egyptian exile), My Presence will be drawn into being with them in all of their troubles. This is as it is written: ‘[In days] to come Jacob shall strike root, Israel shall sprout and blossom and the face of the world will be covered with fruit.’ (Isaiah 27:6)” (adapted from Sfat Emet Shmot 5636, Or Etzion ed. pp. 16-17)
The Sfat Emet wants us to be aware that Egyptian bondage shaped who we are. It strengthened us by giving us the awareness that in times of trouble we are never alone. God is always with us. This notion will eternally give us the strength and fortitude to face whatever may come without the fear of existential loneliness – which is the greatest fear of all.
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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