What This Week's Haftorah Portion Says About Faith in All Matters
This week’s parasha, parshath Bo (Exodus X, 1-16) tells of the last of the Ten Plagues which G-d rained down on Egypt. This plague devastated the country and forced Pharaoh to the conclusion, of his own free will, that he should allow the Israelites to leave for the desert as Moshe had demanded.
The haftara which accompanies the parasha is Jeremiah XLVI, 13-28. It predicts the humiliating defeat which a later king of Egypt would suffer in the cataclysmic battle of Carchemish at the hands of the Babylonians, and Egypt’s subsequent collapse and subjugation. The central message of this prophecy seems to be the sin and folly of Israel’s making an alliance with Egypt, a major military power of the day. The sin and folly was imagining that such an alliance would provide security while Israel neglected her contract with the only Force in the universe which matters, the covenant at Sinai exemplified by the Torah.
The prophet makes this very clear in the concluding verses of the passage: Amar Ha-Shem Tzeva-oth Elo-hei Yisra’el, hineni poqed el Amon miNo ve‘al Par‘o ve‘al Mitzrayim ve‘al eloheiha ve‘al melacheha; ve‘al Par‘o ve‘al habotechim bo. Unethattim beyad mevaqshei nafsham uveyad Nevuchadnetzar melech Bavel uveyad ‘avadav ve’achrei chen yishkon kimei qedem, ne’um Ha-Shem. Ve’atta al tira ‘avdi Ya‘aqov, al techath Yisra’el, ki hineni moshi‘acha merachoq ve’eth zar‘acha me’eretz shivyam ,veshav Ya‘aqov, veshaqat vesha’anan ve’en macharid. Atta al tira ‘avdi Ya‘aqov, ne’um Ha-Shem, ki ittecha Ani, ki e‘ese kala bechol hagoyim asher hiddachticha shama ve’othecha lo e‘ese chala, veissarticha lemishpat venaqqe lo anaqqekka.
“Said Ha-Shem of Hosts, G-d of Israel, I am visiting on Amon of No and upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt and upon her gods and upon her kings; and upon Pharaoh and all who trust in him. And I shall give them into the hand of those who seek their lives, and into the hand of Nebuchadnetzar, king of Babylon and into the hand of his servants, and afterward he will dwell as in days of old, Ha-Shem has pronounced. And you, fear not, My servant, Ya‘aqov; be not dismayed, Israel, for I shall save you from afar, and your descendants from the land of their captivity, and Ya‘aqov will repent, and will be quiet and at ease, and none will make him afraid. You, fear not, My servant, Ya‘aqov, Ha-Shem has pronounced, for I am with you, for I shall make a full end of all the nations amongst whom I have exiled you, and of you, I shall not make a full end; I will punish you for judgment, but will not completely wipe you out.”
The prophet here is reminding us of what the Torah makes very clear: that Israel is an ‘am levadad ishkon uvagoim lo ihchashav (“People dwelling alone and not counted among the nations,” Numbers XXIII, 9). Israel, the Torah-nation, so long as they are striving to be the mamlechet kohanim vego qadosh (“kingdom of kohanim and holy nation,” Exodus XIX, 6) for which they were intended. Israel, learning Torah and living by its timeless, eternal precepts, has no need for alliances with foreign powers and will survive any exile, relying on their Father in Heaven.