Bo - 5761
Not, My Servant Yaakov"
(Yirmiyahu 46: 27,28)
of Parshat Bo is taken, according to the traditions of both the Ashkenazic
communities, from the Book of "Yirmiyahu"/Jeremiah,
"Perek"/Chapter 46, "P'sukim"/verses 13-28. In it, the
Prophet Yirmiyahu delivers the message from HaShem
that the Nation of Egypt would soon be defeated and exiled by the
Babylonians. This was punishment for their failure to come to the aid of
the People of Israel as they had promised, when Israel was under attack, and
Jerusalem under siege by Nevuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia.
is the beginning of a series of prophecies of catastrophic defeat against
enemies of Israel: Egypt, the Philistines, Moav, Amon, Edom, Ashur and
finally, the total destruction of one of the "rods of Hashem's
Summary of the Haftarah
begins with its own concise summary: "Nevuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, is coming to attack Egypt" (Yirmiyahu
"Announce it in Egypt, and declare it in
Migdol, and make it known in Nof and Tachpanches.
Say this, 'Stand and prepare yourself, for a sword has been devouring
around you. Why are your mighty
warriors swept away, as if by a flood?
They cannot stand because Hashem has thrown them down" (Yirmiyahu 46:14-15).
"Many were made to stumble; one man fell
against another; They said, 'Arise and let us return to our country and the
land of our birthplace, out of dread of the terrible sword' " (Yirmiyahu 46: 16).
It may be no
accident that the Prophet has chosen the expression "the sword of Yonah,"
which, in addition to meaning a "terrible sword," can also be a
reference to the Prophet Yonah.
That Prophet represents the fact of prophecy by a Jewish Prophet to a
non-Jewish audience, the King and the citizens of Nineveh, who received a
prophecy of imminent destruction if they would not repent.
But repent they did!
Perhaps this prophecy of Yirmiyahu as well is a last-minute warning
of destruction, unless Egypt repents.
exposed as a king full of 'sound and fury, signifying nothing (Macbeth).'
He promised deliverance to the People of Israel, but "
missed his opportunity" (Yirmiyahu
"As I live, says Hashem, as Mt. Tabor lies
among the mountains, and as Mt. Carmel overlooks the Sea of Galilee, he (Nevuchadnezzar)
is coming! Make for yourself
clothing suitable for your exile, O Maiden of Mitzrayim, for Memphis will be
destroyed, reduced to uninhabited wilderness"
"Ah, you are a 'beautiful calf,' Mitzrayim,
but slaughter is coming is coming to you from the north very fast!" (Yirmiyahu 46:20).
The choice of the metaphor of a calf certainly has the symbolic
meaning that Egypt worshipped the calf.
But perhaps it is also a reference to the "black magic" of
the "Erev Rav," the "mixed multitude" of Egyptians who
had fled Egypt with the People of Israel only to be with the
"winner," that had caused the
Golden Calf to emerge from the fire around which the Jewish People
danced at the foot of Mt. Sinai, when they gave up prematurely on Moshe's
"Even your mercenaries will be like calves of
the stall, and flee the battle like a stampeding herd of cattle.
For they sense that an awful day is coming for them - a time when
they will be caught" (Yirmiyahu
"The approaching army will come with the sound
of the serpent, for they come (in their armor) in disciplined ranks.
But they (the Babylonian soldiers) are coming with axes, as
woodchoppers to chop down a forest, says HaShem, of innumerable trees (the
Egyptian soldiers), because they are more than a huge swarm of locusts"
"The daughter of Egypt is put to shame; she is
delivered into the hands of the people of the north. The L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of Israel, says, 'Behold, I will
punish Amon of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with her gods, and her kings;
even Pharaoh, and them that trust in him.
And I will deliver them into the hands of those that seek their
lives, and into the hands of Nevuchadrezzar King of Babylon, and into the
hands of his servants; and afterwards,
it shall be inhabited, as in the days of old, says the L-rd" (Yirmiyahu 46:24-26).
in the above, refers to the forty-year period of Exile that Egypt would
endure, as prophesied by Yechezkel 29:11,13.
And after those forty years, Egypt would assume a new role in
history, as a second-rate power.
to the people of Israel, in verse 46:27, Hashem says, "But you, do
not fear, my servant Yaakov, and do not feel broken and lost in your
Exile, for I will save you, though you are far away, and your descendants, from
their captivity. And Yaakov will
return, and be at peace and be serene
and will not be made to tremble!"
Weissman, in his work, "The
Midrash Says - on the Weekly Haftaros," published by Bnei Yaakov
Publications, cites the Midrash Tiferes Tziyon (Vayikra Rabba 29:2), which
explains how each of the above expressions is appropriate:
"And they will return"
to their homeland, because in their Exile, in Babylonia itself, as opposed
to how they were treated in Jerusalem, the Jewish People were treated as an
honored, important community.
"And they will be at peace,"
refers to the Persian Exile, since that People persecuted the Jews
And they will be serene, enjoying
physical and spiritual
peace," refers to the struggle with the Greeks, because the main thrust
and attack of the Greeks against the Jews was their attempt to force them to
abandon their religion.
"Veayn Macharid," "No one will make
them tremble," refers to the Exile of Edom, the Roman and Christian
Exile, our present Exile, which has been the longest, and the most filled
with terror and fear, the one that we
hope is now turning around.
Hashem repeats these comforting words to the People of Israel, in verse 46:28, for emphasis and further elaboration. "And you, do not fear, my servant, Yaakov, for I AM WITH YOU, and although nations that persecuted you will disappear from among the nations of the world, you will never disappear. True, I will punish you if you sin, but (because of our special relationship, 'You are My witnesses,') you will never disappear from the stage of history."
Links to Parshah
obvious link is that just as Parshat Bo deals with the punishment of the
Pharaoh of Egypt and of his nation, so does the Haftarah deal with the
punishment of a later Pharaoh, Pharaoh Necho, and his nation.
major contrast in connection with this link is that in the Parshah, the One
Who administers the punishment is the Holy One, Blessed Be He, in the form
of miraculous plagues. Whereas,
in the Haftarah, one of the "rods of punishment" "used"
by Hashem, the quite unholy nation of Babylonia, itself soon to be invaded
and conquered by Persia, will invade and exile Egypt.
Another link may be the positive conclusion in the
case of the Parshah and in the case of the Haftarah for the Jewish People:
the Parshah, the plague that "breaks the back," so to speak, of
the Pharaoh, is "Makat
Bechorot," the Plague in which all the first-born of Egypt are killed.
During that Plague, the
first-born of the Jewish People are saved
miraculously by Hashem, Who
"passes over" the houses of the Jews whose door-posts and lintels have been smeared with the blood of the so-called
"god" of Egypt.
Haftarah ends with Hashem's promise of eternal life to the People of Israel,
because of His Divine Presence
amongst them, while all of its historical enemies, all world empires in
their time, will vanish.
A possibly linking expression to the story of the
Exodus, if not to our immediate Parshah, is "who seek
their lives" (Yirmiyahu 46: 26). This corresponds to the expression
in which Hashem assures Moshe that it is "safe" (this a bit
strange, in view of the fact that it is the Almighty,
Who is providing the assurance of safety), when Hashem tells Moshe that
"all the men are dead that sought
your life." (Shemot 4:19)
the Haftarah, of course, the expression appears with the exactly opposite
meaning. Yirmiyahu informs the
Pharaoh that Hashem intends to hand him over soon to those who seek to kill
him; namely, the Babylonians.
The Babylonians are compared to locusts, in
devouring the "forest" of soldiers of Egypt; locusts are one of
the Ten Plagues which appears in the Parshah.
The name of the Parshah is "Bo," HaShem's command to Moshe
to come to Pharaoh and demand the
release of the People of Israel. In the Haftarah, this term appears multiple
times, beginning with the first verse, "
King of Babylon, would come
" (Yirmiyahu 46:13). It
appears again inverse 46:18, where HaShem assures the Pharaoh that just as
the mountains of Tavor and Carmel are in their locations, Nevuchadnezzar will
surely come. And in verse
46:20, the beautiful calf of Mitzrayim is assured that her destruction
"will surely come from the
north." In verse 22, an
army of woodchoppers is pictured as coming,
all driven by the One Who controls history, except
for the element of "free-will," "
behind our wall, supervising through the windows, peering from the
cracks" (Shir HaShirim 2:9).
A Difficult Philosophical Problem
One of the
age-old questions which is raised when our Parshah and our Haftarah are
studied, is the following:
We know that
Hashem wanted Egypt to enslave the Jewish People.
In fact, that was part of Hashem's promise to Avraham (Bereshit
15:13). If so, why is Egypt being punished for doing Hashem's will?
(This question applies more to the Parshah.)
question can be raised in connection with the Babylonians, who seemed to, after all, be executing G-d's Will in destroying the
Temple! Why, therefore, will
they be punished by defeat at the hands of the Persians, a fate which
Yirmiyahu will pronounce upon them several chapters downstream?
I do an absolute injustice to the RAMBAN, by attempting to compress his answer to this difficult question, into just a few sentences.
It is true that Hashem wanted the Jewish People to be punished and enslaved by the Egyptians, and that He decided that the Temple should be destroyed by the Babylonians.
But Pharaoh and his nation, and Nevuchadnezzar and his nation, went way beyond the bounds of what Hashem wanted them to do. Enslavement does not imply torture; nor does invasion imply genocide!
For these extremes
of behavior, which Pharaoh
led his People into, and which Nevuchadnezzar led his People into, and both nations readily
acquiesced, and for which we sadly have a modern parallel as well, Hashem,
the "Righteous Judge of All the
Earth" (Bereshit 18:25), chose to punish both kings and their nations, following the principle of
"Midah K'neged Midah," "Measure for Measure."
mentioned last week in connection with both the Parshah
and the Haftarah
(but will not mention again, for a while at least, because of the prophecy
of Amos (2:6), "I will forgive
for three sins of Israel, but for four I will not forgive"), in
Yeshayahu 19:19-25, there is a
series of enigmatic verses, that are interpreted in two radically different
ways. They speak, on the
surface, in positive terms, of the Egyptian and the Assyrian Peoples, at the End-of-Days. These
positive images include the Repentance of both of those Peoples.
And the final verses there are:
"In that Day
shall Israel be the third and highest with Egypt and Assyria,
a blessing in the midst of the earth; for that the L-rd of Hosts has blessed
him, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt My
People, and Assyria the work of
My Hands, and Israel Mine
explains the above blessings as all being upon the head of Israel, because
of events that took place in connection with the other two nations. But RADAK explains the verses more, it would seem, in line
with the plain meaning of the text, as explained above.
as mentioned above in this essay, there is a Biblical reference to the
People of Ashur doing "Teshuvah,"
when the Prophet Yonah announced to them that "in another forty
days," Nineveh (capital of Ashur) will be overturned!"
The King of Ashur took those words to heart and led his people in
doing complete Teshuvah which, since the G-d of Israel believes in fair
play, caused the definition of "overturned" to be changed from
destruction, at that time, to renewal.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU