Monthly Archives: January 2014


The Parsha of Terumah describes the building of the Mishkan, and the Haftarah, the building of the Beit Hamikdash:

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Terumah

It’s obvious what the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash have in common. Or is it?

A House for G-d

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Filed under Sefer Shemot, Terumah

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh – Partners with G-d

When Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat, we pre-empt the Haftorah of the Parsha and instead read the last chapter of Yeshayahu, which mentions both Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat.

The Haftorah describes a vision of the future, a utopia where all evil has been removed from this world and all of mankind worships G-d. The Haftorah ends this vision with the following verse:

וְהָיָה מִדֵּי חֹדֶשׁ בְּחָדְשׁוֹ וּמִדֵּי שַׁבָּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ יָבוֹא כָל בָּשָׂר לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְפָנַי אָמַר ה’:
It will be, on each new month and on each Shabbat, all mankind will come to bow before Me, said Hashem. (Yeshayahu 66:23)

This verse states that commemorating Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat is key to acknowledging G-d’s dominion over the world. In order to understand this, we need to examine the meaning of Shabbat and the purpose of Rosh Chodesh.

The division of the month into weeks is not a natural one. Unlike years and months, which are based on the cycles of the sun and the moon, the week is a human construct (or rather, one commanded to us by G-d). Counting the days, one through seven, over and over again, is the Torah’s way of getting us to identify with G-d’s role in Creation. By doing so, we testify to G-d being the Source of all that exists. When we emulate G-d by ceasing all creative tasks on Shabbat, we make ourselves His partners in Creation.

What about Rosh Chodesh? The month is a natural phenomenon known to all human beings from the dawn of time. Yet the Torah “gives” it to the Jewish People, and makes it a commandment to declare the new moon and determine the date of Rosh Chodesh. This was originally done through a complicated Halachic process that verified the observation of the new moon in the night sky. This determination was based on human effort, not on objective fact; thus, human error was a real possibility. The pre-calculated calendar that the Jewish People have been using for the last millennium and a half is also a human artifact; it also has the potential for error. Such an error would affect not only Rosh Chodesh itself, but any holidays in that month. Would the Passover Seder be on Monday or on Tuesday night? Friday night or Saturday night? The Jewish People get to make that call. But what if we’re wrong?

רבי קריספא בשם ר’ יוחנן לשעבר אלה מועדי יי’ מיכן ואילך אשר תקראו אותם אמר רבי אילא אם קריתם אותם הם מועדי ואם לאו אינן מועדי
R’ Krispa said in the name of R’ Yochanan: At first it said, “These are the holidays of Hashem,” but then it became, “that you shall declare.” R’ Ilah said, [it is as if G-d said] “If you declare them they are My holidays, if not, they are not My holidays.” (Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 1: 57 b)

Even if our astronomical observations are mistaken, or our calculations incorrect, as far as G-d is concerned, the holidays declared by the Jewish People are the actual holidays. This is key to understanding what G-d wants from His relationship with mankind.

First and foremost, we need to know that G-d is involved in the world. It is hard for us to even fathom the alternative, but there are still religions and philosophies that believe that even if there is a G-d Who created the world, He cannot possibly be involved in running it. He is too transcendent, too abstract, too great, to care about what you and I do or do not eat, what you and I do or do not say, or even whether you and I steal, rape, or murder. The Exodus from Egypt proved otherwise; its purpose, as stated in the Torah in Parshat VaEira, is “that you should know that I am Hashem.” It showed all of mankind that G-d has power over the entire world, that He sees what happens in it, and that their actions matter to Him. That is also the purpose of the holidays that are mentioned in the Midrash above, the “holidays of Hashem.” As “זכר יציאת מצרים” , they commemorate the Exodus, the greatest manifestation of G-d’s intervention in the affairs of mankind.

The Midrash takes this a step further. Not only do we need to know and accept that G-d runs the world, but G-d also wants the Jewish People to be His partners in running the world. He handed over the determination of Rosh Chodesh, and with it, the decision of when to celebrate the holidays, to us. Even though we are fallible human beings, and might get it wrong, He wants us to be involved.

Thus, the commemoration of Rosh Chodesh expresses the idea that G-d continues to renew and maintain the world; He is actively involved in history and our actions matter to Him. Shabbat stands for our assertion that G-d created the world; as Creator, He has the authority to command us. Without accepting both of these fundamental beliefs about G-d, the world cannot reach the utopia described in Yeshayahu. It is the mission of the Jewish People to share this understanding with the world, and one of the ways that we accomplish this is through our calendar.

The conjunction of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh reminds us that we are G-d’s partners in perfecting Creation, and in bringing about its ultimate destiny as described in the Haftarah of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, a world where evil has been vanquished and only good remains.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Filed under Connections, Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, Special Shabbatot


The Haftarah of Mishpatim is not read every year. Most years, Purim is already around the corner, and we read the first of the 4 Parshiyot, Shekalim. This year, Shekalim is read during Parshat Pekudei, and we read Mishpatim’s Haftarah from Yirmeyahu.

I once heard the Tanach called, “The book of G-d’s disappointments with humanity”. This Haftarah – Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Mishpatim – is a prime example.

And this connection between Parshat Mishpatim and the Haftarah will hopefully explain just how much patience He has for us.

Rembrandt's portrayal of Jeremiah. After you read this Haftarah, you'll look like this, too.

Rembrandt’s portrayal of Jeremiah. After you read this Haftarah, you’ll look like this, too.


Filed under Mishpatim, Sefer Shemot

Mishpatim – Commitment and Betrayal

The Haftarah of Mishpatim tells the story of how, just a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem, wealthy slave-owners released their Jewish slaves, only to recapture them when the situation quieted down.

G-d’s response is the following:

כֹּה אָמַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָנֹכִי כָּרַתִּי בְרִית אֶת אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הוֹצִאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים לֵאמֹר:
מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תְּשַׁלְּחוּ אִישׁ אֶת אָחִיו הָעִבְרִי אֲשֶׁר יִמָּכֵר לְךָ וַעֲבָדְךָ שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁלַּחְתּוֹ חָפְשִׁי מֵעִמָּךְ וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם אֵלַי וְלֹא הִטּוּ אֶת אָזְנָם:
So says Hashem, the G-d of Israel: I made a covenant with your fathers,
on the day that I took them out of Egypt, out of slavery, as follows:
At the beginning of the seventh year, you shall send away your brother, the Hebrew, who has been sold to you; he will have worked for you for six years, then you will send him free from you. Your fathers did not listen to me, and did not pay attention (Yirmeyahu 34:13-14)

Which covenant is G-d talking about, “on the day that [He] took us out of Egypt”?

First of all, “on the day that I took them out of Egypt”, does not refer to just that one day. The phrase Yetziat Mitzraim, the Exodus, refers to the entire experience from the beginning of the Plagues until the Jewish People entered the Land of Israel. Therefore, when looking for this covenant, we are not limited to the actual day of the 15th of Nissan.
Instead, the phrase refers to the Exodus as a whole, which was, as stated from the very beginning of Shemot, that Hashem would take Israel to be His people, and be their G-d. This was done by means of a covenant between G-d and the Jewish People, and took place at Sinai. The description of this covenant is found in Parshat Mishpatim:

וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה’ נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע:
וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַדָּם וַיִּזְרֹק עַל הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה דַם הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת ה’ עִמָּכֶם עַל כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה:
[Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant; he read it into the ears of the people.
They said, “All that Hashem said, we will do and we will listen.”
Moshe took the blood, threw it on the people; he said, “This is the blood of the Covenant, that Hashem has made with you, based on all these things.” (Shemot 24:7-8)

What was in this “Book of the Covenant,” and what were “all these things” upon which they based their agreement to enter into the covenant with G-d?

Many of us are familiar with Rashi’s opinion, that these events, even though they are recorded in Parshat Mishpatim, actually took place before the Ten Commandments were given, that they committed to “we will do and we will listen” on pure faith, and that “all these things” that Moshe read to them was a record of the miracles of Exodus.

However, Ramban and Ibn Ezra insist on interpreting these chapters in chronological order. According to this view, which is the simpler reading of the text, the covenant follows the Ten Commandments, as well as the laws listed in Parshat Mishpatim. When the Jewish People said, “we will do and we will listen,” they knew very well what they were committing to do. Parshat Mishpatim contains a representative sample of the commandments such as laws of fair conduct in business and interpersonal relationships, laws of justice and morality, and laws of Kashrut and holidays. G-d wanted them to understand what they were signing up for, and had Moshe read it all out to them – “into their ears”, making sure that they heard clearly – before they entered the covenant.

What was the very first of the laws that Moshe read to them?

וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם:
כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים יַעֲבֹד וּבַשְּׁבִעִת יֵצֵא לַחָפְשִׁי חִנָּם:
And these are the laws that you should put before them:
If a person buys a Hebrew slave, six years he will work, and on the seventh will go free. (Shemot 21:1-2)

The commandment to limit slavery was the first among the commandments that formed the basis of the covenant. Additional laws in this chapter in Mishpatim limit the owner’s ability to exploit and oppress his slaves, especially female slaves .
One might have expected the Jewish People, as former slaves in Egypt, to be particularly careful to observe this commandment, to show extra empathy to their slaves and be only too glad to limit or even abolish slavery altogether. However, the Haftarah tells us that it was not kept by the Jewish People, at least not by generations prior to Yirmeyahu’s time: “your fathers did not listen to Me; they did not pay attention, says G-d.”

So when King Tzidkiyahu forced them to make a covenant to release their slaves, and they listened to him and did so, we might have thought that this would actually make G-d somewhat upset. He might have sent a prophet accusing them of caring more for an earthly king than for the King of Kings. He might have been disappointed that the original covenant at Sinai was not sufficient for them and they needed a new one to make them keep this commandment. Instead, we are told that G-d was unreservedly pleased by their actions:

וַתָּשֻׁבוּ אַתֶּם הַיּוֹם וַתַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינַי לִקְרֹא דְרוֹר אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ וַתִּכְרְתוּ בְרִית לְפָנַי בַּבַּיִת אֲשֶׁר נִקְרָא שְׁמִי עָלָיו:
Today you returned, and you did the right thing in My eyes, by proclaiming liberty, each man to his fellow, and you made a covenant before Me, in the house upon which My name is called. (Yirmeyahu 34:15)

They did “the right thing in His eyes”, they freed the slaves, and G-d was proud of them.

Alas, as great as the pride, such was the magnitude of the disappointment.

When they recaptured the slaves that they had freed, not only did they do an evil and repugnant deed, not only did they break the covenant that they had just made with King Tzidkiyahu, they spit in the face of the Covenant of Sinai itself. They did not fail to observe a random commandment, they took the very first commandment that they signed up for, and violated it in the worst way possible.

Instead of showing the empathy to slaves expected of the Jewish People, they acted as if they had no recollection of the Exodus or of their mission to be the nation that does “the right thing in G-d’s eyes.” They rendered the entire covenant between G-d and the Jewish People, null and void.

Mercifully, the Haftarah does not end with this fiasco, but rather with the following verses:

כֹּה אָמַר ה’ … גַּם זֶרַע יַעֲקוֹב וְדָוִד עַבְדִּי אֶמְאַס … כִּי אָשִׁיב אֶת שְׁבוּתָם וְרִחַמְתִּים.
So says Hashem… would I reject the offspring of Yaakov and My servant, David…? For I will return his captives and have mercy upon them.
(Yirmeyahu 33:25-26)

It is a very good thing that G-d has infinite patience. It is a very good thing that He knows that we are capable of more, that our commitment to Torah can be renewed. The Haftarah’s ending tells us that G-d’s commitment to us is eternal. We can mess up, our actions can be disastrous and detestable, but He will find a way to get us back. The destiny of the Jewish People will continue. G-d Himself will make sure of that.

[2] People often ask why G-d did not skip this intermediate step and just outlaw slavery in the first place. This is not a question that we can answer without a deep understanding of the economics of the time. It is not fair to anachronistically judge those generations through a world view which is based on opportunities that were not available to them. Anyway, we see that even this commandment was beyond their abilities.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Filed under Connections, Mishpatim, Sefer Shemot


The Haftarah of Yitro is the vision of the angels saying “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh”, in Yeshayahu. The Sefardim end there, but we continue to the next chapter (thematically linked by the concept of shaking in fear).

This time, I wrote about what this vision has to do with Matan Torah, the topic of Parshat Yitro : The Armies of G-d

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Yitro

Pictures of 6-winged Seraphim are left to your imagination

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Yitro – The Armies of G-d

Parshat Yitro describes Ma’amad Har Sinai, the prophetic experience shared by the entire Jewish People at Mount Sinai. It was a pivotal point in our history, marking our entry into the covenant with G-d and our commitment to accepting His Torah. The experience itself was awe-inspiring, even frightening. As the Torah describes:

וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק
And the whole nation saw the sounds and the lights and the sound of the Shofar, and the mountain was smoking; the nation saw, and shook, and stood far away. (Exodus 20:14)

The Haftarah of Yitro also describes an awe-inspiring prophetic experience. Yeshayahu is shown G-d’s Throne, as it were, surrounded by angels. This vision also becomes frightening, in similar ways:

וַיָּנֻעוּ אַמּוֹת הַסִּפִּים מִקּוֹל הַקּוֹרֵא וְהַבַּיִת יִמָּלֵא עָשָׁן
The pillars shook from the sound of the call, and the house was filled with smoke. (Yeshayahu 6:4)

But unlike Har Sinai, where the overwhelming experience was a prelude for receiving G-d’s Torah and becoming His nation, Yeshayahu’s vision is followed by a message of destruction of the cities of Yehudah.

Why is this prophecy of punishment and destruction introduced by a such a lofty vision, practically a reenactment of the experience of Har Sinai? What does Har Sinai have to do with the failings of Yeshayahu’s generation?

In Yeshayahu’s vision of the Heavenly Court, we read the famous prayer of the angels:

וְקָרָא זֶה אֶל זֶה וְאָמַר קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָא-וֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ:
Each [angel] called out to the other and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is Hashem Tzva-ot! The whole world is filled with His Glory!” (Yeshayahu 6:3)

The Name that the angels use to address G-d, “Hashem Tzva-ot,” is the key to understanding how the vision ties to Sinai, and to the message of destruction.

“Hashem Tzva-ot”, one of the Names of G-d, is usually translated as “Lord of Hosts,” which literally means “commander of armies.” The word “army” is plural, because G-d has two armies: an Army of the Heavens and an Army on Earth. The Army of the Heavens consists of the various angelic beings described in prophetic visions in the Tanach, including that of the Haftarah of Yitro. G-d’s Army on Earth is the Jewish People. We know this to be the case because it says so explicitly in the Torah. When the Jewish People leave Egypt as a newly formed nation, the Torah uses the following phrase to describe them:

וַיְהִי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יָצְאוּ כָּל צִבְאוֹת ה’ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
…on that very day, the armies of Hashem left the land of Egypt (Shemot 12:41)

The purpose of an army is to execute the will of their commander. The angels do this as a matter of course; our tradition tells us that they have no freedom of choice, and no independent thought. Their entire being is dedicated to doing G-d’s will.

The Army on Earth is made up of human beings, the Jewish People. Unlike the angels, we do have freedom of choice. When the Jewish People accepted the Torah, we made a conscious decision to put G-d’s will above our own, and His wisdom above our understanding. That is what it meant when we said, “We will do, and we will hear” (“Na’aseh Ve’nishma”) at Sinai: whatever G-d says, that is what we will do. He is now our commander, and we subordinate our freedom of choice to His Torah.

The Midrash links this decision to accept the Torah to the Haftarah of Yitro:

אמר רבי הונא בשם רבי חייא אלו ישראל שהקדימו עשיה לשמיעה ואמרו כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע (שמות כ”ד) בא ללמדך שגדולים הצדיקים יותר ממלאכי השרת תדע לך שבשעה שאמר ישעיה כי איש טמא שפתים אנכי ובתוך עם טמא שפתים אנכי יושב (ישעיה ו) א”ל הקב”ה ישעיה בעצמך אתה רשאי לומר איש טמא שפתים אבל לישראל אתה אומר בתוך עם טמא שפתים שהם הקדימו עשיה לשמיעה ומיחדין את שמי פעמים בכל יום ואת קורא אותן עם טמא שפתים
R’ Huna said in the name of R’ Hiya: Israel put doing before hearing, and said “Everything that Hashem says, we will do and we will hear” (Shemot 24). This teaches us that the righteous are greater than the angels.

Know, that when Yeshayahu said, “I am a man of impure lips and I live among a nation of impure lips”, Hashem said to him, “Yeshayahu! About yourself you can say “impure lips”, but about Israel you’re saying, “a nation of impure lips”?! They put doing before saying, and unite My name twice a day [by saying Shema], and you’re calling them a nation of impure lips?!” (Midrash Tanhuma Vayishlach 2)

According to this Midrash, the choice of the Jewish People to accept G-d as their Commander makes us greater than the angels themselves. They do not have a will of their own to subordinate to His, and we do.

Moreover, the Midrash points out, this choice was not a one-time occurrence; we accept our commitment to G-d’s sovereignty every single day when we say Shema. When we say, “Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad,” what we mean is that He, and Only He, runs the world. He, and only He, gives commands to all Creation, and only those commands are to be followed; it is only within His framework that we must exercise our free will. Shema is the mission statement of the Army of G-d.

When Yeshayahu received his prophecy, the Jewish People had been derelict in fulfilling their mission. Before being sent to tell them to shape up, Yeshayahu was shown a vision of angels, G-d’s Army of the Heavens, as they chant their motto, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Hashem Tzva-ot.” This vision was meant as a reminder of the dedication expected of the Army of G-d on Earth. Yeshayahu was sent to tell them that they need to do better; they need to hear what G-d has to say and act on it, as they had committed to do at Sinai by saying “Na’aseh ve’Nishma.”

However, when Yeshayahu himself starts criticizing the Jewish People, and says “I live among a nation of impure lips”, G-d gets upset with him. Saying that the Jewish People are “people of impure lips” suggests that our commitment to the Torah was mere lip-service. This is not the case. As the twice-daily Shema demonstrates, our commitment is both real and lasting.

Unfortunately, being that we are not actually angels, and we do have free will and make our own decisions, we occasionally fail to live up to the expectations of Hashem Tzva-ot. We occasionally need to be reminded of our mission, of what is expected of us. That is the purpose of the Haftarah in showing Yeshayahu a vision that was an awe-inspiring re-enactment of Har Sinai, before sending him to remind the Jewish People to execute the Will of our Commander.

That is also the reason that the Siddur has us repeat and recreate this vision of angels chanting “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh”, right before we reaffirm our commitment to the commandments by saying Shema, and again, as we stand, angel-like, at the Amidah of Shemoneh Esrei.

The Army of the Heavens reminds the Army on Earth to do the will of our mutual Commander, Hashem Tzva-ot.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל
Haftarot Unrolled

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The Haftarah of Beshalach is the longest Haftarah of the year, comprising two chapters of Shoftim: the story of Devorah and Barak’s defeat of Sisra, and Shirat Devorah (The Song of Devorah). (Sefardim only read the second chapter, but then they would be missing a serious textual connection to the Parsha: see Death Trap)

I did my best to keep it brief while still explaining what’s going on. I tried to have the translation capture the spirit and intention of Devorah, who was one of the toughest, scariest ladies who ever called herself a “Jewish Mother”. In truth, it would have been even more accurate if I could have used four-letter Anglo-Saxon words, especially in verse 5:30, but then this is intended to be read in shul. I recommend that you fill them in yourself. Trust me, that’s what Devorah meant to say.

Linear annotated translation of Beshalach

This is where Sisra was camped out. Barak and his people were on top of the mountain.

This is where Sisra was camped out. Barak and his people were on top of the mountain.

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Beshalach – Death Trap

The Haftarah talks about the miraculous defeat of the Canaanite general Sisra at the hands of Barak ben Avinoam. However, it does not describe it at all; in fact, it only hints at how it occurred. What went wrong for Sisra? How was it that 900 chariots failed to destroy Barak’s ragtag gang of farmers? What made Sisra’s camp panic and why did he have to run away on foot?

In past weeks, we have seen how understanding the Haftarah can give us insight into the Parsha. This time, it’s the other way around. Some of the information missing from the story of Barak’s victory over Sisra can be filled in by looking at similar text in Parshat Beshalach.

This is the text of the Haftarah, describing Sisra’s defeat:

יג) וַיַּזְעֵק סִיסְרָא אֶת כָּל רִכְבּוֹ תְּשַׁע מֵאוֹת רֶכֶב בַּרְזֶל וְאֶת כָּל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ מֵחֲרֹשֶׁת הַגּוֹיִם אֶל נַחַל קִישׁוֹן:

טו) וַיָּהָם ה’ אֶת סִיסְרָא וְאֶת כָּל הָרֶכֶב וְאֶת כָּל הַמַּחֲנֶה לְפִי חֶרֶב לִפְנֵי בָרָק וַיֵּרֶד סִיסְרָא מֵעַל הַמֶּרְכָּבָה וַיָּנָס בְּרַגְלָיו:

טז) וּבָרָק רָדַף אַחֲרֵי הָרֶכֶב וְאַחֲרֵי הַמַּחֲנֶה עַד חֲרֹשֶׁת הַגּוֹיִם וַיִּפֹּל כָּל מַחֲנֵה סִיסְרָא לְפִי חֶרֶב לֹא נִשְׁאַר עַד אֶחָד:

13) Sisra summoned his entire armored division, 900 iron chariots, and all the people that were with him, from Charoshet HaGoyim, to Nahal Kishon.
15) Hashem caused panic to Sisra, and all the chariots, and the entire camp, by the sword, before Barak; Sisra got down from his chariot and ran away on foot.
16) Barak chased the chariots and the camp, all the way to Charoshet HaGoyim;all of Sisra’s camp fell by the sword, not a one was left.

And this is the text of the Parsha, as it describes the defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea:

ז) וַיִּקַּח שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת רֶכֶב בָּחוּר וְכֹל רֶכֶב מִצְרָיִם וְשָׁלִשִׁם עַל כֻּלּוֹ:

כד) וַיְהִי בְּאַשְׁמֹרֶת הַבֹּקֶר וַיַּשְׁקֵף ה’ אֶל מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ וְעָנָן וַיָּהָם אֵת מַחֲנֵה מִצְרָיִם:

כה) וַיָּסַר אֵת אֹפַן מַרְכְּבֹתָיו וַיְנַהֲגֵהוּ בִּכְבֵדֻת  וַיֹּאמֶר מִצְרַיִם אָנוּסָה מִפְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי ה’ נִלְחָם לָהֶם בְּמִצְרָיִם:

כח) וַיָּשֻׁבוּ הַמַּיִם וַיְכַסּוּ אֶת הָרֶכֶב וְאֶת הַפָּרָשִׁים לְכֹל חֵיל פַּרְעֹה הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם בַּיָּם לֹא נִשְׁאַר בָּהֶם עַד אֶחָד:

7) Pharaoh took six hundred of his best chariots and all the cavalry and officers.
24) Toward morning, Hashem looked at Egypt’s camp with pillar of fire and cloud, He caused panic in Egypt’s camp.
25) He removed the wheels of the chariots, and drove it hard. Egypt said, “Let’s run away from Israel, for Hashem is fighting for them against Egypt.
28) The waters returned and covered the chariots and horsemen, all of Pharaoh’s army that were coming after them in the sea; not a one was left.

Repeated use of identical phrases in the Tanach is not coincidental, it is intentional. By making two texts parallel, the Tanach tells us that the two events they describe are parallel as well.

Consequently, we may ask the same questions about Pharaoh: how was it his 600 chariots failed to defeat a ragtag gang of slaves? What caused his army to panic? And how exactly does G-d “remove wheels of chariots”?

What we do know is that while the Jewish People crossed the sea on dry land, the same was not true for the Egyptians. As the pillar of cloud softened the ground, the chariots and horses churned it into mud. Anyone who has ever gotten their car stuck in muddy terrain will know that no matter how hard you rev the engine, the wheels only dig further in. The same is true for chariots, only worse: unlike most car engines, horses have feelings, and frustration makes them lash out. With horses kicking and screaming all around, the chariot becomes a trap for the people inside it. The only way out is on foot, while trying to dodge the hooves of the panicked horses.

The defeat of Sisra and his 900 chariots happened the same way. From the fact that he had to run away on foot, we know that his horses were unusable. The implication is that here too, the problem was muddy terrain.

In the Land of Israel, there is no rain from the months of April through September.  Sisra would never have taken his chariots out if there were any risk of mud.  We can thus infer that Barak drew him out to Har Tavor in early summer, in May or early June.  Sisra must have seen this battle as golden opportunity to get rid of all Jewish resistance forever in one fell swoop while providing an excellent training exercise to his army of chariots.

One can only imagine what the men waiting on the top of Har Tavor felt, seeing this deadly force arraigned against them. Surely they were going to die…. Some suggest[1] the plan had been that while Sisra would be busy slaughtering them in the valley below Har Tavor, the forces of Ephraim would attack from the rear, and Zevulun from the west. But they would get slaughtered either way.

It is at this point that Hashem intervened. It happens very rarely, but it does happen, that there is a serious rainstorm in early summer, which causes instant flooding and terrible road conditions. A tiny swerve “from the stars in their paths” as Devorah called them, and Sisra’s army of chariots turned into a death trap. The reversal was total: the slaughter that Barak had anticipated did take place – but not of them, of their enemies. “Not a one was left.”

Similarly, in the Parsha, when the Jewish People were standing with their backs to the sea, with Pharaoh’s chariots bearing down on them, they surely felt that they were about to be slaughtered. There was no chance, no hope, of them surviving this battle. When Hashem intervened, and the chariots turned into death traps, the reversal was total: of their enemies, “not a one was left.”

The response of Moshe at the sea and Devorah at Har Tavor was identical as well: to compose a “Shira”, an epic poem, describing how their paralysis and fear turned to success and jubilation.

This is what Pharaoh was riding on

This is what Pharaoh was riding on. Until he wasn’t.

PDF for printing, 2 pages A4
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל



[1] Daat Mikra, upon which I relied heavily for the translation.

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The Haftarah of Bo, like the Haftarah of Va’Eira, is directed to the nation of Egypt.

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Bo

There are several connections to the Parsha, such as Reason To Fear

There are also locusts, which the Haftarah uses as a metaphor for armies.

Locusts covering a tank in Australia, 1974

Locusts covering a tank in Australia, 1974

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Bo – Reason to Fear

The Haftarah of Bo has several different allusions to the Parsha: the defeat of Egypt, a reference to locusts, the repetition of the word “bo”, the first use of the term “Tzva-ot”. However, the ending, where Yirmiyahu speaks to the Jewish People about their upcoming exile, seems to be irrelevant, both to the Haftarah itself, and to the Parsha. Why were these two verses included, and what do they add to our understanding of the Parsha?
Let us look at those verses in the Haftarah:

(כז) וְאַתָּה אַל תִּירָא עַבְדִּי יַעֲקֹב וְאַל תֵּחַת יִשְׂרָאֵל ….
(כח) אַתָּה אַל תִּירָא עַבְדִּי יַעֲקֹב נְאֻם ה’ כִּי אִתְּךָ אָנִי ….
27) But you, My servant Yaakov, do not fear! Do not be frightened, Israel! …..
28) You, My servant Yaakov, do not fear, says Hashem, for I am with you;….

In general, when G-d tells you not to be afraid, that is a sign that you probably have several excellent reasons to be very afraid. The Temple is about to be destroyed, Yerushalaim burned and its people exiled, so there is no shortage of reasons to fear. Which of them, specifically, is G-d addressing? How is knowing that He is with us meant to calm those fears?
In order to understand this, we need to look at a very similar set of verses, back in Breishit. Right before Yaakov took his entire family down to Egypt, G-d said this to him:

(ג) וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי הָאֵל אֱלֹהֵי אָבִיךָ אַל תִּירָא מֵרְדָה מִצְרַיְמָה כִּי לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם:
(ד) אָנֹכִי אֵרֵד עִמְּךָ מִצְרַיְמָה וְאָנֹכִי אַעַלְךָ גַם עָלֹה…
3) He said, I am the G-d of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt,
for I will make you a great nation there.
4) I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will definitely bring you up….
(Breishit 46)

As the Children of Israel were on their way to Egypt, with no plans for return, at the beginning of the very first Exile of the Jewish People, G-d tells Yaakov: “Do not be afraid”. What is he afraid of? He knows that if he stays, his family will starve to death, and in Egypt, they will be cared for. So it is not their physical survival he is worried about. Rather, from the fact that G-d reassures him by saying: “I will make you a great nation there”, we can infer that his fear was that the mission G-d entrusted to Avraham would fail. They would go to Egypt, they would die there, their children may or may not remember that their destiny lies elsewhere. The Children of Israel would last a generation or two, and then disappear among the other tribes in Egypt, or within Egyptian culture itself. There would be no Jewish People. There would be no Torah, no Land of Israel, no unique relationship with G-d.

So G-d tells him: this, you don’t have to worry about. I will take care of it. I am with you. I am with you as you go down to Egypt, and I will be with you as you go up from Egypt.

Similarly, the Haftarah speaks to the Jewish People, shortly before their impending exile to Babylonia. Here too G-d says: “Do not be afraid, Yaakov! Do not be afraid of losing your identity as Yaakov, as the Jewish People, do not be afraid that your destiny is over, that your relationship with Me is gone. I am with you. ”
But the Haftarah is not for Parshat VaYigash in Breishit, it is for Parshat Bo. How does it connect back to Bo?

In Parshat Bo, we read about the Jewish People finally leaving Egypt. It is here that G-d’s words to Yaakov, “I will also take you up”, come true. Just as G-d told Yaakov, his family has become a “great nation.” They leave Egypt not as a collection of individuals, but rather as “the Children of Israel”, G-d’s own force in this world:

מא) וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה
וַיְהִי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יָצְאוּ כָּל צִבְאוֹת ה’ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
At the end of 430 years, on that very day,
the armies of Hashem left the land of Egypt (Shemot 12)

Parshat Bo provides closure not only to Yaakov’s fears and G-d’s promise to be with him, but also to a promise that G-d made to Avraham, 430 years earlier. At the covenant called “Brit Bein HaBetarim” (Covenant between the Parts), G-d told Avraham that an exile is a necessary part of the plan, including the pain and suffering that it will cause his children. Then, too, G-d needed to calm Avraham’s fears:

א) אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הָיָה דְבַר ה’ אֶל אַבְרָם בַּמַּחֲזֶה לֵאמֹר אַל תִּירָא אַבְרָם…
1) After these things, Hashem spoke to Avram in a vision saying, “Do not fear, Avram”… (Breishit 15)

Avraham was afraid not only of the pain and suffering of slavery; he was also afraid that the exile will cause the Jewish People to lose their identity and their unique relationship with G-d. G-d’s side of the covenant was the promise that He would make sure that the exile would have the effect of turning them into His nation.

When G-d sealed this covenant, which was done, according to local custom, by walking through a path formed by objects cut in half, the Torah describes it thus:

וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בָּאָה וַעֲלָטָה הָיָה וְהִנֵּה תַנּוּר עָשָׁן וְלַפִּיד אֵשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָבַר בֵּין הַגְּזָרִים הָאֵלֶּה:
17) And it was that as the sun came; and it was dusk; there was a pillar of smoke and a flame of fire that passed between those pieces.

G-d walked through the path represented by a pillar of fire. That was when the decree for the exile in Egypt was sealed, and the process began.
In Parshat Bo, the exile that began at Brit Bein HaBetarim ended:

וַה’ הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם יוֹמָם בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן לַנְחֹתָם הַדֶּרֶךְ וְלַיְלָה בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ לְהָאִיר לָהֶם לָלֶכֶת יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה:
21) And Hashem walked before them by day as a pillar of cloud to guide the way;
and at night, as a pillar of fire to give them light; to walk day and night.
(Shemot 13)

Four hundred and thirty years later , on that day, the Children of Israel walked out of Egypt, and G-d walked with them.
In the Haftarah, as the Jewish People leave for a new exile, the first one since Egypt, they are just as afraid for the future of their children as Avraham and Yaakov had been. G-d uses the same words to reassure them:

(כח) אַתָּה אַל תִּירָא עַבְדִּי יַעֲקֹב נְאֻם ה’ כִּי אִתְּךָ אָנִי
You, My servant Yaakov, do not fear, says Hashem, for I am with you

The Haftarah tells us that just as G-d was with us as the exile to Egypt began, and just as He was with us when it ended, so He will be with us in all the exiles. He will not reject us, and He will not let us reject Him. Whether or not we see the pillar of fire leading us, He is there with us.

May we see the end of all our exiles, speedily and in our day.


[1] According to Rashi, 430 years has at its starting point the Brit Bein HaBetarim with Avraham; he calculates the time from Yaakov entering Egypt as 210 years. See the Ramban and Ibn Ezra on this verse for alternate calculations.

PDF for printing, 3 pages A4
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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