Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Parshat Bo

This week we have the unique opportunity of reading a haftarah that includes a nevuah of Yirmiyahu that parallels the nevuah of Yechezkel that we read in last week’s haftarah. Both nevi’im share a vision of the devastating defeat that Egypt would suffer by the hands of Bavel and her king, Nevuchadnetzar. Likewise, both prophets tell of punishments that would befall the surrounding enemies of Israel, with Yirmiyahu focusing upon 11 specific nations, beginning with Egypt. As both the parshiyot of Va’eira and Bo speak of the plagues that befell Egypt as punishment for their sins, it is understandable that their accompanying haftarot would focus on the ruin and defeat wrought upon Egypt for her sins hundreds of years later. Additionally, the fact that Yirmiyahu declares that the Babylonian enemy would be more numerous than locust connects us back to the parsha itself that opens with the plague of locust.

But in order for us to properly understand this nevuah of Egypt’s defeat, we must realize that it finds its roots in a battle that took place years before the prophecy, a battle that deeply impacted the Jewish nation.

In the final years of the righteous King Yoshiyahu, Par’oh Nicho led his army up to Ashur to challenge the Assyrian Empire. In order to do so, he marched through Israel but was met in Megiddo by Yoshiyahu who was (wrongly) advised to turn back Par’oh’s incursion into the land. There, the Egyptians killed Yoshiyahu in battle, ending the rule of the last righteous king of Yehuda. The Egyptian army continued on their way to Carchemish to fight the Assyrians in a battle that lasted four years. During that time, the nascent Babylonian Empire had grown in strength and it was they who defeated Par’oh and the Egyptian army. And it was at this time that Yirmiyahu addresses his words of prophecy to both Egypt and Bavel.

Yirmiyahu shares his vision of a panicked Egyptian army attempting to flee back to Egypt but being caught and destroyed by the Babylonians. Our haftarah then begins describing the invasion of the Babylonians and the destruction of Egypt—all in repayment for its killing of Yoshiyahu and its failure to support Judea when she was under siege.

Once again, we find words of comfort offered to Israel at a seemingly inappropriate time. But the closing words of our haftarah carry a crucial message for all future generations. These ancient enemies would be punished and would disappear. But Hashem reminds Israel that despite the persecutions and oppression, despite the pogroms and libels, despite the murders and inquisitions—we are the Eternal Nation. Those who attack us will be relegated to the ash heaps of history while we will survive to return and to rebuild.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.