Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

Our haftara starts with a couple of verses as a prologue referencing the wondrous “judgments” Hashem will perform to settle scores with those antagonizing Israel (Yechezkel 28:26). It then proceeds to describe Yechezkel’s prophecy to Pharaoh, the king of Mitzrayim. Not the same Pharaoh that enslaved Israel, but it’s clear there’s a straight line connecting them. It’s not so clear why our prophet has been commanded to deliver a message to a foreign king of a distant nation. This is not a common occurrence. To better understand the reasoning, we will want to look more closely at the message and its import.

Pharaoh has set himself up as leader over all of Mitzrayim; he believes this is his birthright and that he rules as god-king. From Pharaoh’s perspective, he is the sovereign master over everything that moves in Egypt, and in particular over the Nile from which everything and everybody draws its sustenance. Hashem tells Pharaoh: You are no god. You are the master of the Nile like the crocodile that lives in the mud and eats the fish that get stuck in his teeth and in his scales. The crocodile also thinks he’s the master of the Nile. But in the eyes of G-d, Pharaoh appears much like the crocodile itself appears to Pharaoh – like a slithering, cold-blooded lizard.


And yet, there is another message to go along with this radical perspective check. Because Pharaoh has set himself up as a god, because he has come to believe that he is the absolute ruler of Mitzrayim, and because the people have accepted this upon themselves, what befalls Pharaoh will affect all of Egypt. The Malbim says that because Pharaoh has become like a god to Mitzrayim, when he falls the entire nation falls with him. Nations should be very careful in setting up sovereign masters over themselves that these masters not become the object of divine retribution.

It’s still unclear what all of this messaging towards Pharaoh has to do with us or why this prophet of Israel is prophesying to the king of Egypt. The navi goes on to explain the mechanism for the downfall of Pharaoh and Mitzrayim. It seems that the nation of Babylon and their god-king have never been properly compensated for the service they performed for Hashem in effecting the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth and the Beit HaMikdash. He was, as the Malbim explains, the emissary of G-d and the rod for His wrath, and Hashem always pays His debts. So Yechezkel is also instructed to say that Nevuchadnezzar and his armies of Bavel should plunder Mitzrayim to receive recompense for the services they have rendered. Thus there’s another important lesson in this story to last for all time: We learn how evil is defeated by evil, as part of Hashem’s plan for His universe.

There are four major exiles that Israel must endure and that were revealed to Avraham at the giving of the covenant. They are Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Here we see anticipated the fall of Egypt at the hands of Babylon. As history progresses each wicked nation will be conquered by their successor until the spiritual heirs of the Romans are finally defeated by the king of Israel upon his triumphant return. May we all merit to see it.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].