Haftarah of Parshat Vaera - 5761
River is Mine and I have Created it"
The Haftarah that is read on Shabbat Parshat Vaera is taken, according to the traditions of both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Communities, from the Book of Yechezkel, "Perek"/Chapter 28, "Passuk"/Verse 25 - "Perek" 29, "Passuk" 21.
Background of the Haftarah
One of the
key "P'sukim" in the Book of Shemot
is the first verse of the Aseret
HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments, "I
am the L-rd your G-d, Who took you out of the Land of 'Mitzrayim,' from the
House of Bondage (Shemot 20:2)."
Here HaShem sets down as one of the
foundations of faith the belief that the Almighty intervened in human
history in order to redeem His people from the persecution and the Exile of
Egypt, in order to demonstrate
His infinite Might and His involvement with the world that He had created,
and His hallmark of identifying with the "underdog," as it
says in Megilat Kohelet, "And the L-rd is on the side of the persecuted" (Kohelet
climactic confrontation between the People of Israel and the armed might of
Egypt at the Sea of Reeds, Moshe pointed out to the Jewish people that they
need not fear because the G-d of Israel would be fighting for them. Because of His intervention, the Nation of Egypt, then the
World Super-Power, would be reduced forever, and would never again attain
the degree of dominance that it had at that time.
"And Moshe said to the
People, 'do not fear, just stand and watch the Redemption of HaShem,
that He will accomplish for you today, for as you see Mitzrayim today, you
will never again see them on that level forever!' " (Shemot 14:13).
we are told "And Israel saw the
great Hand with which HaShem had punished
Egypt, and the People feared HaShem, and they believed in HaShem and in
Moshe, His servant (Shemot 14:31)," nevertheless we find them at
least three times relying on the strength
of Egypt, and not relying on HaShem,
when they are threatened by another nation.
We find the
thrice-told tale in the Book of "Melachim"/Kings II, in connection
with both the Kingdom of Israel, that had, so-to-speak, "seceded from
the Union," and with the Kingdom of Yehudah.
We find the
phenomenon first in connection with Hoshea ben Elah, the last King of Israel
(not to be confused with the great Prophet Hoshea ben Be'eri, of the "Trei
Asar," the Group of Twelve Prophets who prophesied roughly at this
time in history). Hoshea,
the King of Israel, had been paying tribute to the "world-power"
at that time, the Nation of "Ashur," Assyria, but, relying on
Egyptian support, rebelled and stopped paying.
Shalmaneser, King of Ashur, attacked Israel and took Hoshea captive
("Melachim" II, 17:4). After
a three-year siege, the King of Ashur destroyed Shomron, the region that was
the stronghold of the Kingdom (and ominously is in today's headlines,
again), and exiled the Ten Tribes to Ashur ("Melachim" II, 17:6).
We find it
again in connection with the righteous King Chizkiyahu, who was threatened
by Sancheriv, King of Ashur at that time.
The messengers of Sancheriv used the
expression, "Now behold,
you have placed your trust in the staff of this bruised reed, even upon
Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it, so is
Pharaoh King of Egypt unto all that trust in him" ("Melachim"
And we find
the phenomenon a third time in connection with the less-than-righteous King
Yehoyakim, who served Nevuchadnezzar, King of Bavel, for three years and
then, relying upon aid from Mitzrayim, rebelled against him ("Melachim"
II, 24:1). But we find there
the description of the "great power" of the Pharaoh, King of
Egypt, "And the King of Egypt came
not again out of his land; for the King of Babylon had taken, from the Brook
of Egypt, unto the River
Euphrates, all that had belonged to the King of Egypt ("Melachim"
And we find
yet again, after the assassination of Gedalyah
ben Achikam, that all the remaining Jews who had been involved in the
final, failed rebellion fled, not having yet learned the lesson, to Egypt (Melachim
umbilical cord tying the Jewish People to its place of origin as a nation,
could not easily be broken.
when I gather the House of Israel
they will dwell on their Land
and they will dwell on it in
RASHI explains that these verses refer back to the preceding verses not included in the Haftarah, where Yechezkel had prophesied concerning the punishment of the nations that had been "thorns and obstacles" to the People of Israel: Amon, Moav, P'lishtim, Edom, Tzor and Tzidon. Now that the People of Israel would not be hemmed in on all sides, they would be able to feel the tranquility of spirit of an "inheritance without bounds," and would be able to fulfill the promise given to our Father Yaakov, "And you will burst forth to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south" (Bereshit 28:14).
'Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh, King
of Egypt, the great sea monster that lies in the midst of his rivers, who
said, "My river is my own, and I have created it for myself."
"And I will put hooks in your jaws, and I will
cause the fish of your rivers to cling to your scales, and I will pull you
up from the rivers
"And I will cast you into the desert, You and
all the fish of your rivers,
to the beasts of the field and to the birds
of the heavens have I given you for food."
explains that since Egypt has the relatively unique characteristic that
since all its needs for water are provided for by the Nile River, this
naturally leads to a sense of arrogance,
especially in the King, who will say, "I have no need for rain, nor for
the Source of the rain, Who
resides in Heaven." This
arrogance will expand to all areas of the
Kingdom, and the King will eventually claim to be a god, whose own greatness
has provided all his blessings, and the blessings of the Kingdom.
But HaShem says that He will separate the King and his people from their river, casting them onto dry land, where their life experiences have not prepared them for existence. Their arrogance will evaporate in an instant like drops of water in a desert.
because they have been a staff of reeds to
the House of Israel
.and when they lean on you, you break
that preceding the "Churban," the Destruction of the First Temple
by the Babylonians, Egypt actually did make a feint with its army in the
direction of the battle, as if to help the Jewish People.
But when the Babylonians turned temporarily from Jerusalem to deal
with the Egyptians, the Egyptian army hastily withdrew, and the Babylonians
returned to the siege of Yerushalayim with a vengeance.
Hence, the support provided by Egypt was not only weak but, in the
end, harmful to the Jews.
notes that Ravshake, a Babylonian military officer, also criticized Egypt in
nearly the identical language, when he referred to them loudly, in an
attempt to demoralize the Jews
standing guard on the walls of Jerusalem, "Now
behold, you place your trust in this staff of bruised reed, even upon Egypt,
whereon if a man lean, it will go into
his hand, and pierce it; so is Pharaoh, King of Egypt, unto all that trust
on him" ("Melachim" II, 18:21).
It is not clear whether the Babylonian borrowed the language of the prophets, or whether the prophets merely used the prevailing military assessment of the usefulness of Egypt as an ally.
"And they will know that I am the L-rd,
because he (the Pharaoh) said, 'The River is mine and I have made it.'
"No foot of man shall pass through it, nor
foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty
David rephrases the supreme arrogance contained in these words as
I became great and elevated myself by my own power and wisdom and the work
of my hand."
reminiscent of the sinful words that the Torah predicts and warns the Jewish
People against, "It is my
strength and the might of my hands that have gotten me this wealth" (Devarim
It is also
reminiscent of the poem, "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley,
about the false arrogance of human
kings, "two vast and trunkless legs of stone;" nearby, on the
sand, a shattered visage, and "on the pedestal these words
appear, 'My name is Ozymandias, King
of Kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far
a Midrash that
attempts to explain the length of the Egyptian Exile, forty years.
Based on the Scriptural account of Pharaoh's dreams, there should
have been forty-two years of famine in Egypt.
Why? Because the words
"the dream" appear three times in that section of Parshat Miketz,
and there were a total of fourteen symbols of famine (seven emaciated cows
and seven blasted ears of corn) in Pharaoh's combined dream.
Because of the Brachah of Yaakov, there were only two years of famine
in Pre-Exodus Egypt. Here, in
Yechezkel we find the payment of the missing forty years.
connections linking Mitzrayim to "forty years" may lie in the
influence of the "Erev Rav," the "mixed multitude" of
Egyptians who left Egypt with the Jewish People only because they wanted to
be with a winner. Their
influence is clear in the great sin of the Golden Calf and it is probably
true that they were behind every unfaithful expression of the Jewish People,
"Let us return to Mitzrayim," for which the Jewish People were
punished with having to wander for forty
years in the desert.
"And I will bring back the Exile of Egypt, and
I will return them to the land of Pathros, into the land of their origin;
and they shall remain there a lowly nation."
"It shall be the lowliest of the kingdoms
and I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the
"And it shall no more be the guarantor of
security for the House of Israel, that would be a reminder of their sin of
turning towards them; and they will know that I am the
also experience a "redemption" of a kind, as a "reward"
for being the "incubator" of the People of Israel, albeit a brutal
"incubator" in the end, though in the beginning Egypt served as a
place of tremendous growth for the House of Israel.
will remain a lowly nation always, and Israel will be cured of its bad
habit, as the RADAK explains, of looking to Egypt for support instead of to
its Father in Heaven.
forget the fact that the Egyptians were their first "masters" and
fully integrate the fact that they are to serve only their true Master, the
"Ribbono shel Olam," the Master of the Universe.
"Son of Man, Nevuchadrezzar (one and the same with Nevuchadnezzar), the King of Bavel, caused his army to serve a great service
against Tzor; every head was made bald and every shoulder was peeled; yet he
had no wages, nor his army, from Tzor,
"Therefore, thus says the L-rd G-d, 'Behold, I
will give the land of Egypt to Nevuchadrezzar King of Babylon, and he shall
carry off her abundance,
and it shall be the wages for his army."
"I have given him the land of Egypt as payment
for the service that he performed for Me,
Here we see
HaShem acting as the Prime Mover of History, and the Righteous Employer.
At the same time that he "uses" Nevuchadnezzar as his
"messenger" for administering deserved punishment, he rewards the
latter for his act, even though it was done, from Nevuchadrezzar's point of
view, purely for selfish reasons.
explains the "baldness" and the "peeling" referred to as
being the result of strenuous and lengthy labor lifting and moving stones
and wood and other items for military use.
The reason that their wages were withheld at the time of the War
against Tzor was that after the defeat of Tzor, a great tidal wave fell upon
the Babylonian soldiers, and washed away all their booty.
"On that day I will cause a horn of triumph to
sprout forth for the House of Israel
David relates "that day" to the forty year Exile of Mitzrayim
whose end will coincide with
the coming to power of the Persian King Coresh, and the defeat of the
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.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU