Jeremiah 46: 13-28
Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -586 BCE
Do you remember the short story by W. W. Jacobs called “The Monkey’s Paw”? We read it in school. It’s a chilling story about wishes that are granted by a mysterious monkey’s paw. The wishes are indeed granted but in horrifying ways with devastating results.
Many of us have experienced odd weather in the last few weeks. December arrived without a snowflake in Toronto, Canada where I live. Many people wished for a “White Christmas” or skiing weather for the winter break. Their prayers answered. We had extraordinary snow and ice storms in North America that moved all the way from the mid west to the east coast.
but the blackouts and lack of heat and electricity were quite difficult- especially for those people who went without power for 10 days.
And of course Israelis and others around the world saw their share of devastating beauty with the snow and ice storms and flash floods they experienced only a month ago.
That brings me to this week’s parsha and haftarah. In parshat Bo, Moshe as G-d’s mouthpiece warns Pharaoh that if he doesn’t free the children of Israel there will be dire consequences. Three more plagues are visited upon the Egyptians. After the plagues of locusts and darkness Pharaoh loses patience with Moses. He wants the threats and the plagues to stop. Menacingly, Pharaoh proclaims to Moshe , “Go from before me, take heed of yourself. See my face no more- for on the day you see my face you will die.” Moshe answers, “You have spoken well. I will not see your face again.” Pharaoh’s threat is taken seriously. He will never see Moshe again, but the payoff is that his eldest son- and the eldest of all Egyptians die. Pharaoh’s wish came true- but it came at a horrific price.
The haftarah is from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived most of his life in Israel, witnessing both sieges of Jerusalem (597 and 586). In this haftarah, after the fall of the First Temple, he warns the Children of Israel not to ally themselves with Egypt. He prophesies that Egypt will fall under the hands of Babylon. The illustration shows Egypt being confronted by Jeremiah. That is represented by Pharaoh (Egypt) facing Moshe (Jeremiah). The background suggests the wall paintings found on ancient Egyptian frescoes and scroll paintings. The images Jeremiah uses in his warnings about Egypt are painted here- the heifer, gadflies, serpent, locusts, and trees that will be cut down. It is intriguing that the images the prophet uses echo the plagues visited upon the Egyptians.
Pharaoh’s decree not to see Moshe’s face again not only had negative implications, it had terrible results.
We are starting a new year in the Gregorian calendar. And we are entering the month of Shevat- the New Year for trees in the Jewish calendar. Many of us have a tradition of thinking about the coming year and making wishes or resolutions. We often make unnecessary or light-hearted wishes and resolutions. This year may we reflect more seriously on our realities. May we weigh what is important and what is not. Let’s not wish for good things- let’s work towards realizing them. May we achieve a year of health and peace and integrity. And the world will become a better place through cooperation and respect.
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