|January 23, 2010
This Haftarah represents the first of a series of prophecies against Egypt and the first of a group of declarations against foreign nations. They are found in Jeremiah 46-51. Each of these chapters begins with the phrase, The word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations. The Haftarah for Bo is unusual because it mentions Nebuchadnezzer (also referred to as Nebuchadrezzar), as the instrument of Egypt's punishment and hints at a relationship which becomes more developed in Ezekiel, and in the some of the stories in the book of Daniel, where Babylon begins to be viewed as the eventual tool for our people's return.
Jeremiah strongly counseled the leaders of the Kingdom of Judah not to engage in an alliance with Egypt. His counsel was disregarded and the Egyptians were defeated by Nebuchadnezzer in the fourth year in the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah in 604 B.C.E.
This incident took place prior to the Temple's destruction yet it foreshadows the future relationship between Babylon and Israel. Babylon might have been the instrument of Israel's destruction but it will also become God's tool and means of providing redemption.
The Haftarah is linked to the Torah portion through language and metaphor. Just as Moses comes (Bo) and supplicates himself before Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzer comes in judgment against Pharaoh. Just as the Torah refers to the Egyptians being plagued by locusts, the Haftarah understands the population of Egypt to be as numerous as locusts. In spite of their numbers they will be shamed and handed over to the people from the North. The Haftarah concludes with an admonishment. We will be punished for our transgressions but we will not be abandoned.
What message can this reading impart to us? If we take a leap and listen to the message as if it were being delivered to a person or to a family in lieu of a nation does Jeremiah have anything to say to us?
When life appears to be bleak and we feel overwhelmed by outside pressures the prophet challenges us to find courage. Life for so many of us rarely requires courageous acts we are so far removed from living on the edge. When did you last need to be courageous and when was the last time you needed to help a person find the necessary courage to make a difficult decision? Having courage, being courageous is linked to having faith and to belief in one's self. If we don't remember where we left our courage perhaps this morning's Haftarah can help us find the way.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.