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Vaera 5772

Haftarah Parshat Vaera
(Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)
January 21, 2012
26 Tevet 5772

Parshat Vaera (Ezekiel 28:25-29:21)

Ezekiel’s prophecy against Egypt pitted two powerful figures – God and Pharaoh against each other in a battle for supremacy. According to Ezekiel, Pharaoh assumed himself a deity: “Thus said the Lord God: I am going to deal with you, O Pharaoh king of Egypt, mighty monster, sprawling in your channels, who said ‘My Nile is my own. I made it for myself.’” (29:3) God, however, intended to show him the error of his ways: “I (God) will put hooks in your (Pharaoh’s) jaws and make the fish of your channels cling to your scales. I will haul you up from your channels with all the fish of your channels clinging to your scales and I will fling you into the desert…” (29:4-5)

The geopolitical context of this prophecy was the battle between Egypt and Babylonia for control of the Middle East. The Judean nation, geographically in between them, was caught up in attempting to save itself from the effects of this larger struggle by manipulating its alliances with these two powers. This prophecy, in part, was an attempt to make the Judean audience aware that Egypt was not the “deity” which would save it from destruction.

Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the Sfat Emet (Gerer Rebbe – Poland 19th-20th century), saw more in this prophecy than political machinations. True to Hasidic interpretation, he viewed it from a psychological and cosmic vantage point. The creation of the world, according to the Sfat Emet, was not difficult for God. God is, however, burdened by those, like Pharaoh, who see themselves as gods and presume that they can manipulate the world at whim. If this malady was found exclusively in despots it would not be grist for a Hasidic drashah. All of us have the potential to delude ourselves and abuse power and idolize ourselves. (See Sfat Emet Parshat Bo 5631, Or Eztion ed. p. 83)

The Sfat Emet sees Shabbat as a remedy for these delusions since Shabbat is a day dedicated to the recognition of God as the Creator and Source of all life. When on Shabbat we bear witness to God’s role as Creator, we deny the possibility that we are God’s competition. It is this denial of self-deification which is makes it possible for us to be partners with God instead of His adversaries. It is that role which is world affirming and which gives ultimate meaning to life.

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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