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Vaera 5771

Haftarah Parshat Vaera
(Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)
January 1, 2011
25 Tevet 5771

Ezekiel\’s prophecy takes aim at Egypt, albeit, Egypt of a much later generation than that of the exodus, one that Judea had allied itself with in expectation that it would save Judea from the clutches of Nebuchadnezzar\’s Babylonia. Egypt\’s unreliability as an ally was the reason for its promised punishment in Ezekiel\’s prophecy. With this background, Ezekiel\’s prophecy ends with a redemptive promise to Israel: \”At that time I will make a horn sprout for the house of Israel, and I will enable you to open your mouth among them; and they shall know that I am the Lord.\” (29:21)

This promise of a horn would seem to be a promise of some sort of restoration but what exactly is meant is unclear. The medieval commentators each described a different historical scenario as background for the fulfillment of this promise. (M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37, Anchor Bible, pp. 615-6) Rashi notes the difficulty in determining the context of this prophecy and then offers his understanding: \”This prophecy refers to a time, forty years hence, when Egypt will be restored.\” Rabbi David Kimche also opts for a time close at hand: \”During the kingship of the king of Babylonia when God gives over Egypt into its hands, during the kingship of Cyrus, when they will be returned and rebuild the Temple.\” (adapted translation)

The Talmud records a more radical interpretation of this verse which puts its promise into the distant future: \”R. Hanina said: The Son of David will not come until a fish is sought for an invalid and cannot be procured, as it is written, \’Then will I make their waters deep, and cause their rivers to run like oil\’ (Ezekiel 34:14); and it is written, \’at that time, I will make a horn sprout for the house of Israel.\’ (Ibid. 29:21)\” (Sanhedrin 98a)

This teaching, citing two verses from Ezekiel as justification, pushes off the restoration and redemption to some future time when even fish which were once readily available to all will become a rare commodity because of the sorry state of the world. The first verse, he interprets to mean that the river will be so polluted that there will be no fish to be had. He associates this verse with the verse about the advent of the redemption of Israel. Various sages in the Talmud make claims about when the \”Messiah\” will come. Some say, he will come when the world is worthy. Others when the world is in a tragic state. This interpretation asserts that the \”Messiah\” will only come when he is truly needed, namely, when the world is in dire straits. One can only hope that we can get the redemptive process rolling before we reach such a point.

About This Commentary

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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