Messages from "Yeshayahu"/Isaiah and "Yirmiyahu"/JeremiahSome general background on the "Haftarot"
Introduction to the "Haftarot" of Parshat Shemot
This Shabbat, we have an example of a situation referred to in the General Introduction to "Haftarot"; namely, where there are two traditions for the Prophetic material to be used as the "Haftarah," one tradition being the Ashkenazic, the other being the Sephardic, and there is no overlap at all! In fact, two different Prophets are called upon this Shabbat by the different communities to provide the input for the "Haftarah."
Specifically, the Ashkenazic tradition is that the following selection from the Book of Yeshayahu is to be used: Chapter 27: verses 6-13, Chapter 28: verses 1-13 and Chapter 29: verses 22-23. The Sephardic Tradition for this Shabbat is that the following material is read from "Sefer Yirmiyahu," the Book of Yirmiyahu: Chapter 1: verses 1-19, the entire chapter, plus Chapter 2: verses 1-3.
Who was Yeshayahu HaNavi, the Prophet Isaiah?
We begin with the question of "Where was he on the timeline of Jewish History?" The period of his activity was from approximately 770 B.C.E. to approximately 710 B.C.E. This included the reigning periods of the following four Kings of Yehudah:
Uzziah, Yotam, Achaz and Chizkiyahu and into the reign of a fifth King, Menashe. This Menashe, the son of Chizkiyahu, was a thoroughly evil individual who, according to one historical tradition, killed Yeshayahu, because he could not bear to hear the "prophecies of doom," and stubbornly refused to do anything about the causes of the problem, and by his actions only made them worse.
What were his Main Prophecies?
Yeshayahu criticized the Jewish People for the following sins: social injustice , excessive luxury, and for relying on foreign nations for military aid rather than upon the Creator.
But he comforted them with eternal words of comfort: "Be comforted, be comforted, my People, says Hashem, your G-d ".
Various Midrashim offer the following comments on Yeshayahu:
"The People of Israel said to Yeshayahu, 'Our Teacher, Yeshayahu, is it true that you have only come to comfort the generation who will be present at the time that the Temple will be destroyed?' He answered them, "I came to comfort all generations." (Midrash Pesikta D'Rav Kahane 16:103) (** - see below)
"No one loved My children more than Yeshayahu." (Yalkut HaMachiri on Mishlei 30:10)
Who was Yirmiyahu HaNavi, the Prophet Jeremiah?
Again we begin by identifying his place on the timeline of Jewish History. Yirmiyahu prophesied in the time of King Yoshiahu, who ruled over the Kingdom of Yehudah from approximately 640 B.C.E. - 610 B.C.E., during the fleeting reign of Yehoachaz (three months), during the eleven year reign of Yehoyakim, the very brief reign of Yehoyachin (also three months) and during the eleven years of the reign of King Tzidkiyahu, the last King of Yehudah, who was captured and blinded by the Babylonians, the People who destroyed and burned the Temple and the City of Jerusalem in approximately 586 B.C.E.
What were his Main Prophecies?
He decried the prevalent idol-worship, the desertion of Hashem and His Torah by the Priests and Prophets of Israel, the terrible social injustice and corruption and widely practiced sexual immorality.
He was the Prophet who delivered the final warning to the People of the imminent national catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple and the capital city, Yerushalayim.
Some Midrashim on Yirmiyahu HaNavi:
" 'Cursed be the day that I was born' (Yirmiyahu 20:14) - the Ninth of Av (date of destruction of the Temple), when I was born." (Midrash Iyov Vertheimer)
"Yirmiyahu said, 'Master of the Universe, what sins have I done that in the days of all the Prophets who preceded me and those who will follow me, you did not destroy Your House, but only through me?' He answered, 'Even before I created the world, you were prepared for this mission." (Pesikta Rabati 27:5)
A Midrash on Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu
"All the harsh prophecies which Yirmiyahu would prophecy against Israel, Yeshayahu preceded and provided the healing." (Eichah Rabati 1:23)
An Attempt at a Synopsis of the Prophecy of Yeshayahu (Ashkenazic version of Haftarah - "Original" is infinitely better)
"When the Jewish People came to Egypt, Yaakov's presence enabled them to initially take root and to be very productive for themselves, for the Egyptians and for the whole world. When, afterwards the Egyptians oppressed and enslaved them and killed their baby boys, note the wonderful Justice of G-d, Who rewards and punishes according to the Principle of "Measure for Measure." For the Egyptians had drowned the Jewish baby boys in the waters of the Nile, and they were themselves drowned in the waters of the Red Sea."
"There is still a way for you, the People of Israel, to exonerate yourselves before this righteous Judge - and that is to utterly destroy your idols. Israel will then be forgiven and the Redemption of Israel, which is preceded by the appearance of the Mashiach ben Yoseph, will occur."
"Hashem will separate you from the other nations and you will be gathered in one by one to Eretz Yisrael."
"And, when the time of the Final redemption will come, a great Shofar will be sounded to signal the Redemption, and Jews "lost" all over the world will be able to hear it, and will come to worship Hashem at His holy mountain in Jerusalem."
"But tragically, so far your actions have prevented such a happy ending. You in the Kingdom of Ephrayim, who should know better, waste your time in the drinking of wine and imagining that you have found the secret of true beauty. In fact, what you have found will wither before your eyes. Then Hashem will bring a terrible punishment upon you, like a violent windstorm, which will sweep you away into oblivion."
"No longer will the early-ripening fig be a symbol of beauty, for that doesn't last, but rather the Creator and His Torah will be seen as that which is truly beautiful. This is what should be done by the Jews who will remain after you, in the Kingdom of Yehudah. But alas, they too are guilty of the same sins as you, Priest and Prophet go astray after wine and beer until everywhere there is nothing but drunkenness and vomit and filth."
"You foolishly say, 'Who do you think we are, babies, who need to be told exactly what to do? For every rule in the Torah, we have a "better (sic)" rule in our new idol-based ritual; for every standard we have a better standard.' "
"But the result will be that Hashem will replace your rules with the rules of others, and your chosen commands with commands of others, which you will be unable to follow. Your population will dwindle and you will abandon hope."
So as not to end the "Haftarah" on a depressing note, and in fact to reflect the true viewpoint of the Prophet, the "Haftarah" ends as follows:
"In the end, says Hashem, this will not be the end for Israel. For Yaakov, who redeemed Avraham, will be redeemed by his descendants, who will have the strength to Return to Hashem and to the worship of the Holy One of Jacob."
Links Between the "Haftarah" from Yeshayahu and Parshat Shemot
The Prophet Yeshayahu himself is linked to Moshe, who makes his debut in the Chumash in Parshat Shemot, by the following Midrashim:
"All of the Prophets did not know the exact meaning of their prophecies, except Moshe and Yeshayahu, who did know." (Midrash Shochar Tov 90:4)
"Yeshayahu said, 'Hear O Heavens' (Yeshayahu 1:2) because he was far from the Heavens , and 'listen carefully, O Earth,' because he was close to the Earth, but Moshe said, 'Pay careful attention, O Heavens, while I speak, and let the Earth hear,' because he was closer to the Heavens." (Sifri, Haazinu: 306)
In not so much a link as a direct reference, the Prophet refers to the events in Egypt, when Yaakov Avinu came to that country, and the famine immediately ended. The word "habaim," "those who came", is used by the Prophet, matching the use of that word in the Chumash, in the first verse of the Parshah, "V'eleh shemot haanashim habaim Mitzraymah ," "These are the names of the People who came" (Shemot 1:1).
"Yatzitz U'Pharach," sprouted and produced fruit, closely resembles "Paru vayishretzu," in the Parshah, meaning "reproduced at a rapid rate."
Continuing the references to the Story of the Exodus, Yeshayahu refers to the "Makot," the Plagues, in the verse "Hakemakat makehu hikahu?" "Did he strike you as He struck the ones who struck you?'"
Verse eight, which speaks of a powerful East Wind, alludes to the powerful East wind that played a major role in the Miracle of the Crossing of the Red Sea.
Yeshayahu refers to the sin of idol-worship. This was indeed the spiritual state-of-affairs of the People of Israel in Egypt at that time, prompting the Angels to question G-d's Judgment when He decided to drown the Egyptians, and not the Jews. The Angels asked, "These are idol-worshippers and the others are also idol-worshippers!"
"Nachal Mitzrayim" in the Haftarah is a reference to the Nile, which plays a major part in the Story of the Exodus.
The Great Shofar will sound at the Final Redemption as it sounded at Har Sinai, when the Jewish People received the Torah, the "Spiritual Redemption," which was the purpose of the "Physical Redemption" of the Exodus.
Reference in Verse 13 to "those who are lost in Mitzrayim," the scene of much of the occurrences in Parshat Shemot.
The tragic fate of the Kingdom of Ephrayim, which took its name from the son of Yoseph, the Second-to-the-Pharaoh, who set the scene for the Exodus.
29:22 "Not now will Yaakov's face go white (in mourning)" - as it did for twenty two years before his going down to Egypt. Then, as they will be at the Final Redemption, all the Sons of Yaakov were present.
Synopsis (Actually, here, since the language is simpler, more-or-less a Direct Translation of) the Yirmiyahu Haftarah
Yirmiyahu 1:1 - 2:3
"The words of Yirmiyahu, son of Chilkiyahu, from the Priests of Anatot, in the Binyamin Sector of the Land: For whom the word of Hashem first came in the days of Yoshiyahu, son of Amon, King of Yehudah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. And it was in the days of Yehoyakim, son of Yoshiyahu, until the end of the eleventh year of Tzidkiyahu, son of Yoshiyahu, King of Yehudah, until the Exile of Yerushalayim, in the Fifth Month."
"And the word of Hashem came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you came out of the womb, I dedicated you, as a Prophet unto the nations did I appoint you."
"But I said, 'Alas, L-rd G-d, I know not how to speak, for I am but a youth.' But G-d said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a youth,' for you will go on every mission on which I send you, and everything I command you, you will speak! Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you, said Hashem."
"And Hashem sent forth His hand, and He touched my mouth, and He said to me, 'Behold! I have placed my word in your mouth. See! I have appointed you today over the nations, and the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build and to plant!"
"And the word of Hashem came to me, saying, 'What do you see, Yirmiyahu?' And I said, 'I see a rod of the almond tree.' And He said to me, 'You have seen well, for I will swiftly bring my plan into reality.' "
"And the word of Hashem came upon me a second time, saying, 'What do you see?' And I said, 'I see a boiling pot, with its vapor boiling off to the north.' And Hashem said to me, 'From the north will the evil spread forth upon all the inhabitants of the Land.' "
"For behold I am calling to all the Northern Tribes, says Hashem, and they will come, and they will place, each one his throne at a gate of Yerushalayim, and against all its walls roundabout, and against all the cities of Yehudah."
"And I will pronounce my verdict upon them, for all the evil they did by abandoning Me, and they burnt incense to other "gods," and they bowed to what they themselves had made!"
"And now, gird your loins, and rise up and speak to them everything which I will command you, do not tremble before them, lest I cut you down before them. But I will make you into a fortified city and a column of iron, with walls of brass against the whole Land; against the Kings of Yehudah and its Officers, its Princes and its citizens."
"And they will attempt to make war against you, but they will be unable to defeat you, for I am with you, says Hashem, to save you."
"And the word of Hashem came to me, saying 'Go and call in the ears of Yerushalayim, saying, 'Thus says Hashem, 'I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your courtship days, when you followed Me into the wilderness, into a Land that was not sown. Israel is holy unto Hashem; the First of His produce; all who wish to destroy him will be astonished; evil will come upon them, says the L-rd.' "
Links Between the Sephardic "Haftarah" (Yirmiyahu) and Parshat Shemot
Links of the Prophet to Moshe, who makes his debut in the Chumash in Parshat Shemot:
"Everything written about this one (Moshe) is written about this one (Yirmiyahu); this one prophesied forty years, and this one prophesied forty years; this one was thrown into a river, this one into a pit; this one gave reproof to the People of Israel, as did this one." (Pesikta D'Rav Kahane 13:37)
" 'Before I created you in the womb, I knew you' (Yirmiyahu 1:5); when Yirmiyahu came into the world, he cried a great cry like a much older child, reproving his mother, ' In the case of Moshe, his cry was also unusual in the same way, "V'hineh naar bocheh," where 'naar' usually refers to an older boy."
"Moshe said, 'The powerful, great, mighty and awesome ('nora') G-d;' Yirmiyahu came and said, 'Non-Jews are mocking His Temple; where then is His awesomeness?' And he didn't describe G-d as awesome." (Yoma, 69b; the Talmud answers Yirmiyahu's question by referring to Hashem's awesomeness in His restraint.)
Moshe initially refused the summons from Hashem to be His messenger; Yirmiyahu tried to do the same.
Moshe said, "My mouth and my tongue are heavy;" Yirmiyahu said, "I do not know how to speak."
Moshe said, "Who am I?" Yirmiyahu said, "I am but a boy."
Common Link between Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu and Sefer Shemot
Yeshayahu foresaw the Destruction of the Temple; Yirmiyahu saw the Destruction of the Temple. And they both prophesied that in the "Acharit HaYamim," the End of Days, the Temple will be built yet again. The RAMBAN says that the theme of the Book of Shemot is the People of Israel rising once again to the level of the "Avot," the forefathers, with whom the Divine Presence was not a stranger, by building the Mishkan, the Portable Temple, which was the Home of the Divine Presence on earth, among the Jewish People.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU