Shemot sig

Isaiah  27:6 – 28:13 and 29: 22,23

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

The haftarah for Shemot is from the Book of Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived during the fall of the kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. At this point the tribe of Judah was the only tribe that had independence. Isaiah’s words are poetic but very strong. He criticizes the Northern Kingdom, the kingdom of Ephraim, describing their drunkenness and gluttony.  He goes on to predict that Judah too will fail. At the end of the haftarah Isaiah does manage to impart some comforting words. He says that the nation of Israel will return to G-d and sanctify Him.

The hafatarah takes place at a very difficult time for the Jews. The sovereignty and power of the northern kingdoms have disappeared and Judah will follow the same path.

This is similar to the situation of B’nei Yisrael in the parsha. Jacob’s descendants had gone to Egypt under the protection of the Pharaoh who was in power during Joseph’s time. They lived in Goshen, separate from the Egyptians. According to the parsha  after Joseph dies the Pharaoh says, “Behold, the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us…”  and that was the beginning of the end of comfortable living for b’nei Yisrael. We can assume they lived in dwellings  similar to those of the Egyptians and had enough to eat. But once the Egyptians noticed them, their numbers, their individuality and their strength those in power became concerned- maybe even paranoid. To counter the success and numbers of the Hebrews  Pharaoh began the process of their enslavement. By the time Moses was born the Hebrews were almost at their lowest point. They had lost their independence, they were enslaved and were building the treasure cities of Pitom and Raamses, and they were commanded to drown any baby boy who was born to them. They were at their most desperate point in their history until that time.  Unbelievably their situation worsened following Moses and Aaron’s appeal to Pharaoh.

I thought about the similarities of the haftarah and the parsha. The greatest similarity was the depths to which b’nei Yisrael had fallen. Unfortunately Jews faced those unbearable conditions and situations numerous times.  The Shoah would be the darkest time in recent history.  As in Egypt the Jews quickly moved from positions of honour and equality to  those of poverty and enslavement. In the parsha the murder of baby boys wss mandated. Of course in the Shoah the mandate was taken further than that.

I wanted to show the hopelessness and pain of B’nei Yisrael in my illustration for the parsha and haftarah of Shemot. In my investigations of imagery  I found a series of woodcuts by Miklos Adler, a Jew from Lithuania who had been transported to Auschwitz and then to Vienna. He was liberated from Theresienstadt. The woodcut I chose shows Jewish slaves labouring under the whip of an S.S. soldier, with a Jewish corpse disregarded at the feet of the Nazi. Miklos Adler did a series of 16 woodcuts, 7 of which were printed in “A Survivor’s Haggadah”  which was edited and compiled by Yosef Dov Sheinson for Pesach, 1946.

There is such darkness and horror conveyed in the images in that Haggadah that I felt it connected the three time periods together- B’nei Yisrael in Egypt, the Jews under the Assyrians, and the Shoah.

Those were horrible periods of time to put it mildly. In the parsha HaShem sends Moses to the children of Israel because He has not forgotten them and will free them. The haftarah concludes with a positive prediction.  Isaiah says that , “[the house of] Jacob shall not now be ashamed…. they shall sanctify the Holy One of Jacob. and shall stand in awe of the Holy One of Israel.” And in present times? We cannot forget the loss of millions of lives and many more millions of their descendants z”l. But we can look with pride at the land we once again own, the innovations and improvements to the world brought by Israeli and non-Israeli Jews and the amount of Jewish learning that exists. We must be ever cognizant and protective of the continued freedom for our people.



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2 responses to “Shemot

  1. If only the world acknowledged what the modern State of Israel has given to it. In the next one, you might tell readers that they can click on the image to enlarge it. They are such incredible paintings and power of the smaller ones gets lost.

    • Thanks Debra. It is disturbing how the world acknowledges certain contributions from Israel on one hand, then soundly vilifies her on the other. Thank-you for the suggestion about the viewing of the paintings.

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