Last week we looked at the parsha of Shemot as a paragon of galut (exile), with the theme of the book of Shemot being our transition into redemption. This entails, literally, a process of transition as Israel changes “states” from bondage to freedom. Our parsha this week describes a key aspect of the Divine implementation of the plan for this transition, entailing a good deal of brutality and what our tradition refers to as din (judgment).
This is a particularly difficult phase of the process, and the haftara reflects a similar ambivalence in theme and tone. On the surface, the haftara has a clear connection to the parsha because the navi is excoriating Pharaoh and predicting the final downfall of Mitzrayim. But often the point of the haftara is to draw our attention to themes in the parsha that run beneath the surface.
Our haftara comes from the book of Yechezkel in a section where the navi is prophesying to the nations surrounding Israel, warning of their fates in a future time when justice will prevail and they will be judged for their decisions and actions. The beginning of the haftara is a brief interlude following messages to the kingdoms that constitute what today we call Lebanon. This is followed by Hashem’s message to Pharaoh and Mitzrayim.
If the focus of the haftara was meant to be the message to Pharaoh, then it was not necessary to begin with the last two verses of chapter 28. Not only does the Septuagint have a chapter break here, but the traditional, more ancient divisions of the Hebrew scripture also separate this section from the following text. Therefore, it is evident that the inclusion of this epigraph in our haftara is deliberate.
These two verses (Yechezkel 28: 25-26) speak of the time when Hashem will gather His people from among the nations and will bring glory to Himself in doing so. The navi says that Hashem will do “shefatim,” a word that appears in the context of the Exodus from Egypt. The word is a double entendre meaning punishment from the Hebrew root shft (to judge), but in the context of Divine redemption always denotes wondrous and miraculous afflictions. It is followed by a word that only appears twice in Tanach – both in this chapter – which appears to be a poetic play on the word shefatim, as it comes from changing only a few strokes in the middle letter of the word. The word is shatim, and it describes something nasty that the neighbors of Israel do and for which they will be judged and punished.
What is distinctive about this particular haftara in the context of our parsha, and of the haftara as situated in the book of Yechezkel, is that we are measuring the redemption of Israel by the suffering of our enemies. This is not to say either that they don’t deserve punishment or that we shouldn’t be grateful to Hashem for dealing with our enemies (so that we don’t have to). But our true salvation and our joy doesn’t come from the downfall of the wicked.
Yechezkel, as the only navi (besides Moshe) to receive prophecy outside of the land of Israel, is very affected in his messaging and perspective by the foreign dominance under which he labors. But just as the book of Shemot will narrate Israel’s transformation from liberated slaves to a proud nation in whose midst G-d dwells, so too our future redemption will see us change from expatriates and refugees to proud servants of G-d in our ancestral homeland.