This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת שְׁמוֹת
“Echoes from Exodus”
The discussion about the Haftarah for Parshas Shemos is a curious one considering that there are two of them. More specifically, between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions, there are two very different customs as to not only what the Haftarah reading is, but which book in the Navi the Haftarah is even taken from. The Ashkenazic Haftarah for Parshas Shemos is taken from Sefer Yishaiayah [27:6-23:13, 29:22-23] while the Sephardic Haftarah for Parshas Shemos is taken from the beginning of Sefer Yirmiyah [1:1-2:3] (a section that is shared with the Ashkenazic Haftarah for Parshas Pinchas or Mattos depending on the calendar year).
Sefer Shemos famously revolves around the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim or the Exodus from Egypt. But, as it is not only the focal point of Sefer Shemos, but one of the bases of the entire Jewish religion, naturally, the Exodus would be referenced time and time again throughout Tanach, whether explicitly or implicitly. Within the Navi alone, there is perhaps a large plethora of viable passages for the role of the Haftarah for Sefer Shemos, and between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions, two were selected. With that, we have to wonder, as we would for any Haftarah, what makes the respective readings from Yishaiyah and from Yirmiyah the best selections for the Haftarah of Shemos.
But, a new challenge that presents itself, uniquely for this Sidrah, is what the point of “contention” is between the two varying customs. The fact that there are two different customs implies that there are different perspectives or preferences between them insofar as what each one was looking for in a Haftarah for Parshas Shemos. So, what is the selection from Yishaiyah highlighting about our Sidrah that no other portion of Navi can do better? And what light does the beginning of Yirmiyah shed onto Parshas Shemos that we won’t recognize from the alternative reading from Yishaiyah?
The Ashkenazic Custom: Yishaiyah [27:6-23:13, 29:22-23]
Selecting a Haftarah about the Egyptian Exile and Exodus would be difficult enough, as we’ve explained, considering how frequently these concepts appear throughout Navi, yet if one looks at the actual Ashkenazic Haftarah from Yishaiyah, there is astonishingly not so much there about the story of the Exodus at all.
The reading contains a lyrical prophecy addressing the B’nei Yisrael, probably concerning the onset of the Babylonian Exile, talking about how the B’nei Yisrael would “take root” and “blossom,” letting them know that despite what the nation would endure, they would eventually be atoned for. In only two verses, Egypt is referenced explicitly, but in passing as the Navi says [27:12-13], “…Yachbot Hashem MiShiboles HaNahar Ad Nachal Mitzrayim V’Atem Tiluktu L’Achad Echad B’nei Yisrael…U’Va’u HaOvdim B’Eretz Ashur V’HaNidachim B’Eretz Mitzrayim V’Hishtachavu LaHashem B’Har HaKodesh BiYerushalayim”-“…Hashem will thresh from the surging river to the Brook of Egypt and you will be collected, one by one, B’nei Yisrael…and those lost in the land of Assyria will arrive and those outcast in the land of Egypt and they will be prostrate themselves to Hashem on the Holy Mountain in Yerushalayim.”
As beautiful and perhaps important to the text as these verses are, they are the only reference to Egypt in this Haftarah, and they are not about the Exodus from generations prior. So, what integral message of Shemos does Yishaiyah really highlight in this passage and how does it get that message across?
So, although Yishaiyah does not explicitly describe Yetzias Mitzrayim, if one looks closely at the Haftarah, one might notice that it features what we might refer to as “echoes from Exodus” at the onset of this later day exile. And if we’re paying enough attention, we’ll pick up on these subliminal reminders of our story.
For example the Navi begins obscurely by saying that something is coming; [27:6] “HaBa’im Yashreish Yaakov…”-“They are coming when Yaakov will take root…” Now, while according to the simple explanation, it means that days are coming when Yaakov will take root, this verse may be a reference to the opening verse in Shemos which states that the children of Yaakov were “HaBa’im Mitzraymah”-“coming to Egypt” [Shemos 1:1].
If we keep reading, we might also notice some other clues, for example, how the Navi describes Hashem attacking farmland “B’Rucho Kashah”-“with His strong wind” [Yishaiyah 27:8], reminiscent of the wind which brought in the locusts to attack the food supply during the plagues, or how the Navi threatens the complacent Israelites of the Northern Kingdom that they would suffer from “Barad”-“hail” or “Mayim Kabirim Shotfim”-“might flooding waters,” two of the greatest wonders through which Hashem smote Egypt [Yishaiyah 28:1-4].
There are certainly concrete textual connections between the our text and the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, but perhaps the most telling one can be understood at the end of the Haftarah when the Navi declares that the same Hashem Who had redeemed Avraham [29:2-3] would redeem the nation of Yaakov, quite similar to the way Hashem told Moshe that as He was always there for the Avos (forefathers), He would continue to be there for the B’nei Yisrael [Shemos 6:2] even in the current exile.
Once we begin to appreciate the echoes of the Exodus in Yishaiyah, the only explicit references to Egypt in this passage which we’ve mentioned above become more meaningful as well, for if we think about it, just as Hashem told Moshe at the Burning Bush that the B’nei Yisrael would one day leave Egypt and worship their Creator at Har Choreiv/Sinai, the Navi says here, at the onset of the Babylonian Exile, that the B’nei Yisrael who have been spread out again—throughout Assyria and Egypt—would one day return to worship Hashem once again on another mountain, Hashem’s Holy Mountain in Yerushalayim.
Considering this portion as a Haftarah for Shemos, what might we conclude that Yishaiyah’s takeaway message is for this Sidrah?
So, if we think about the connection we’ve mentioned between the opening verse of this Haftarah and that of the Sidrah, the concept of the a nation “coming,” it’s noteworthy and somewhat odd that the B’nei Yisrael were already in Egypt since Parshas Vayigash, and yet, Shemos tells us that they were just “coming.” However, with the help of the Navi, we might suggest that while, yes, the children of Yaakov were already in Egypt, geographically speaking, in fact, it was in Parshas Shemos when B’nei Yaakov had truly “arrived” and begun taking root in Egypt as a family, from which point they would eventually blossom into Hashem’s holy nation, the B’nei Yisrael. But, what marked that change? What in Shemos made them “take root” where they had not done so before? Shemos marked the true beginning of their Egyptian Exile which not only necessitated an eventual Exodus, but was a spiritual prerequisite for the Exodus. Thus, through Yishaiyah’s prophecy, we’re taught that we ought to see and appreciate, not just the Egyptian Exile, but all exiles, as being not merely a form of painful subjugation for Israel, but as the proverbial soil through which the B’nei Yisrael would take root and ultimately blossom as a strong and treasured nation to Hashem. Thus, implies Yishaiyah in this fascinating Haftarah choice.
The Sephardic Custom: Yirmiyah [1:1-2:3]
Now that we have a better understanding of the Haftarah from Yishaiyah, let’s look at the Sephardic Haftarah choice from Yirmiyah.
Unlike the reading from Yishaiyah, this Haftarah from Yirmiyah does make a direct reference to the actual event of Yetzias Mitzrayim itself with the famous verse [Yirmiyah 2:2], “…Zacharti Lach Chessed Ne’urayich Ahavas Kelulosayich Lechteich Acharei BaMidbar B’Eretz Lo Zaru’ah”-“…I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your marriages; when you followed Me into a desert [wilderness], in a land that is not sown.” The problem though is that this is only one verse at the very end of the Haftarah. Moreover, this verse only takes place at the beginning of the text of Yirmiyah’s actual speech. The bulk of the Haftarah itself does not revolve around the B’nei Yisrael’s Exodus at all. So, what is the actual Haftarah about?
The Haftarah begins with the selection of Yirmiyah as the Navi to address the B’nei Yisrael, similar to Yishaiyah, at the onset of the Babylonian Exile. However, unlike the Haftarah from Yishaiyah which features the Navi’s prophetic monologue, the beginning of Yirmiyah features a dialogue in which Hashem charges Yirmiyah with the responsibility of admonishing the people. As such, the text here focuses much less on the nation as it does on the Navi, Yirmiyah himself; his qualms about the mission, his role in that mission, etc.
So, why is this conversation between Hashem and Yirmiyah a viable Haftarah for Shemos?
To answer this question, some have explained (notably Artscroll’s Stone Edition Chumash) that in many ways, Hashem’s selection of Yirmiyah parallels His selection of Moshe Rabbeinu as it is presented in Shemos; both of them were what we might call “reluctant” prophets, each one not confident in his ability to speak [See Yirmiyah 1:6, Shemos 3:11, 4:10]. Hashem reassures each of them that He will be with them [See Yirmiyah 1:8, Shemos 3:12, 4:11]. We might also suggest that like Moshe Rabbeinu, Yirmiyah also received visual signs from Hashem in preparation for his mission [See Yirmiyah 1:11-16, Shemos 4:2-9].
Of course, there are some important key differences between Moshe and Yirmiyah. For example, Moshe is charged to go encourage and ultimately free the B’nei Yisrael from their exile while Yirmiyah is charged to rebuke them and warn them about the oncoming exile. Moreover, while Moshe apparently had some kind of speech impediment [Shemos 4:10], Yirmiyah, as is testified in the Navi, was a prophet “from the womb,” endowed with a special ability to speak directly by the hand of Hashem [Yirmiyah 1:5-9].
Either way, if one is looking for “echoes from Exodus” here to draw connections between the Sidrah and this Haftarah selection, they are certainly there. The moral of either story is that whatever the mission may be and no matter what capabilities Hashem has endowed one with, a servant of Hashem has to have confidence and faith in the mission that Hashem has charged him with as well as the courage to overcome the challenges that the mission entails, knowing that Hashem will always be there with him. And even if the worst has yet to come, the Navi provides a silver lining as Yirmiyah opens his first speech to the B’nei Yisrael with a reminder about their Exodus from Egypt, the “young love” they had shared with Hashem.
Two Voices Echoed
Now that we’ve seen them both of the wonderful versions of the Haftarah for Parshas Shemos, what can we make of the differences between the perspectives and directions of the two traditions?
The Ashkenazic Haftarah choice presents subtle imagery of the Exodus as the Navi addresses the B’nei Yisrael concerning the oncoming exile which the Navi implies is the spiritual proving ground for nationhood. The Sephardic Haftarah choice projects the background story and challenges of Moshe Rabbeinu through the later-day Navi and emissary in Yirmiyah who recalls the Exodus in the beginning of his mission.
From a broader view, it seems that between these two Haftaros, we have “echoes from Exodus” emerging two different voices. But each of these voices actually complements one other, presenting a different side of the same coin in the larger story of Shemos. One voice addresses the perspective of the people, the other addresses the challenges of their acting leader, but both voices teach lessons about our role in exile and preparing for an eventual redemption. As a people, we have to stay strong and understand the spiritual necessity of the grueling challenges that exist in our exile, realize that we will one day blossom spiritually because of them. On the other hand, as individual leaders, we each have a responsibility to serve as Hashem’s emissary to the people around us, care for Hashem’s people and convey His message to them, as difficult as it may sometimes be.
At the end of the day, Shemos really tells these two stories, one about the B’nei Yaakov, “HaBa’im Mitzraymah,” and one about the concerns of their leader. But each of them, the nation and its leaders, were chosen by Hashem, and each of them has a spiritual destiny to live up to, as we’ll see in the coming Sidros. But if there’s anything to take from these Haftaros, it is the recognition of the dual responsibility we have as B’nei Yisrael and emissaries of Hashem on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael. And although the task of Galus is a daunting one, together, the B’nei Yisrael and their holy leaders will walk each other through it, take on all its challenges, and as promised, Hashem will carry us all towards the final Geulah.
May we all be Zocheh to thrive and endure the ravages of Galus, both spiritually and physically, blossom forth as Hashem’s treasured people, and may we each rise up to the challenge as Hashem’s emissaries to enable one another, and Hashem should bring us all forward, people and leaders alike, to the times of the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂