Background

The Haftorah this week is from the Book of Ezekiel, Chap. 28:25 to 29:21. Yemenite Jews begin the Haftorah one verse earlier at Chap. 28:24.



The prophet Ezekiel came from a priestly family and he prophesied around the time of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The text states that Ezekiel was the son of ?Buzi? - according to the Targum (cited by Radak in his commentary on Ezekiel 1:3), this is a reference to the prophet Jeremiah, who was scorned (bazu in Hebrew) by the people. Hence, Ezekiel was in fact the son of Jeremiah. Though he began to prophesy in the Land of Israel, most of his prophecies were delivered in the Exile of Babylon, to which the Jews were dispersed by the evil Nebuchadnezzar after the capture of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple in 586 BCE. Ezekiel?s most well-known prophecies include his vision of the Merkavah, the Heavenly Chariot, and that of the dry bones restored to life in the valley of Dura. Ezekiel died in Babylonia and his tomb is located in the village of Kefil, outside of Baghdad, Iraq. The Talmud in Tractate Baba Batra (14b) notes that the book of Ezekiel begins by telling of destruction, but concludes with consolation.



Summary:

The Haftorah begins with Ezekiel?s prophecy that G-d will gather the Jewish people from among the nations and bring them back to the Land of Israel. The Jews will build houses and plant vineyards and they will dwell in the Land in safety and security. G-d promises to punish the neighboring nations that have persecuted Israel. The prophet then predicts Egypt?s devastation, both because of Pharaoh?s arrogance and because Egypt caused Israel to place its trust in them rather than in G-d. Ezekiel says that Egypt will be conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and will lie desolate for forty years, after which the Egyptians will be allowed to return. Egypt, says the prophet, will never again be a great kingdom: ?It shall be the lowest of the kingdoms and shall no longer exalt itself above the nations? (Chap. 29, verse 15).? G-d will then cause Israel to blossom and the people shall see that the prophet?s words have come to pass.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

Both the Parsha and the Haftorah describe G-d?s punishment of Egypt. The Parsha contains the plagues that G-d sent against Egypt as punishment for their enslavement of the Jewish people, while the Haftorah foretells that Egypt will be conquered by Babylonia as punishment for its arrogance and sins.



A Divine Defense



After prophesying that the Jewish people will return to their homeland, Ezekiel conveys G-d?s promise that the Jews will dwell in the Land of Israel in tranquility: ?And they shall dwell upon it securely and they shall build houses and plant vineyards and dwell securely when I shall execute judgments against all those who plunder them from all around them, and they shall know that I am the L-rd their G-d (Chap. 28, verse 26).?



The Question:

What is the connection between the first part of the verse ? that the Jewish people will dwell securely and G-d will punish their enemies ? and the latter part - ?they shall know that I am the L-rd their G-d??



The Answer:

The Metzudat David places special emphasis on the word B?asoti (?when I shall execute?) in this verse, stressing that it is because G-d will execute judgment against Israel?s neighbors that the Jewish people will then be able to live in security. As a result, says the Metzudat David, the Jewish people will then know that ?I am the L-rd their G-d? who upholds their judgment against the nations. In other words, when the Jewish people see that G-d passes judgment on their tormentors, thereby enabling them to live peacefully, they will then come to fully recognize G-d as their shield and protector.



The Lesson:

The violence and terror directed against Israel over the past 15 months have had a dramatic effect on the national psyche. It has clearly brought about a marked shift in political attitudes, as well as arousing a greater sense of patriotic duty and communal spirit. Yet the tragedies and horrors that have accompanied the violence have occasionally raised questions in people?s minds over the meaning of it all. After everything that the Jewish people have been through, after all the suffering and sacrifice, why must we endure yet another prolonged assault on our very existence? Such doubts, as we saw above, are clearly not a new phenomenon, because that is precisely the concern addressed by the prophet Ezekiel.



When a nation is under attack, as Israel is today, and when it sees its enemies acting with seeming impunity, it is hard to ignore the irksome philosophical and theological questions such events seem to raise. G-d?s reply to those questions, as it were, is both clear and unequivocal: Israel?s neighbors will be brought to account for their assault on the Jewish people. Our enemies can not act with impunity, because there is no impunity in this world. Those who dare to harm the Jewish people will one day have to face the Divine music for their actions. When that time comes - and it surely will come ? and when the people of Israel witness the punishment that is meted out to our foes, then all of our doubts will be erased, our fears will be removed and we will ?know? that G-d is our shield and our protector.



Singing in the Rain



In the Haftorah, Ezekiel prophesies against Egypt, saying that G-d has declared that He will punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their haughtiness and arrogance: ?Speak and you shall say: ?So says the L-rd G-d: Behold, I am upon you O Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great crocodile that lies down in the midst of its rivers who said, ?My river is my own and I made myself (Chap. 29, verse 3).???



The Question:

The verse quotes Pharaoh as saying ?My river is my own and I made myself.? What is wrong with such a statement? As king of Egypt, wasn?t Pharaoh entitled to say that the river belonged to him?



The Answer:

Rashi explains that the meaning behind Pharaoh?s statement was: ?I do not need the heavenly powers, for my river provides all of my necessities.? Since Egypt was primarily reliant on the Nile as a source of water, rather than on rainfall, the Egyptian ruler began to disparage G-d, suggesting that he had no need of Divine assistance or sustenance. Pharaoh mistakenly believed that the river was the source of his power and wealth, which led him to deny G-d. Hence, Pharaoh?s statement that ?My river is my own and I made myself,? and the sentiment it expresses, are worthy of punishment.



The Lesson:

The past week has been a wet one in Israel, with rain pouring down throughout the country seemingly non-stop since this past Sunday. Certain areas at higher elevations, such as Safed, the Golan and Jerusalem, have had snow as well. While such weather may inconvenience people as they go about their daily routine, the downpour is in fact a welcome blessing for the country, because it provides much-needed water for the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel?s national reservoir. In recent years, the amount of rainfall has been disappointing, leading the water levels in the Kinneret to sink to unprecedented lows.



Unlike Egypt, as we saw above, Israel is reliant on its annual rainfall to ensure a steady and sufficient supply of drinking water. The fact that Israel must anxiously await each year?s winter rains, hoping and praying that they will be sufficient to refill the Kinneret, compels us to ponder each year, again and again, just how much we are dependent on G-d. In this sense, then, the rains of the past week are a double blessing ? they not only provide us with water to drink, but they also serve as an important reminder for us of our own human frailty, something which necessarily makes us humble and contrite. Let us hope and pray that just as the Pharaoh of old was brought low because of his arrogance, so too will our present foes, and that our own appreciation for G-d?s blessings will be amply rewarded.