Haftarah – The Destruction of Egypt in the Days of Moshe, Yirmiyahu and Motti Hod
In the early hours of June 5, 1967, Israel launched the existentially risky “Operation Moked”, essentially putting all its military eggs in one basket. The Israeli Air Force, under Maj. Gen Motti Hod, risked everything and sent nearly all 200 of its fighter jets on the attack hundreds of miles away, deep into Egyptian territory. Only 12 planes were held back to protect Israel’s skies and borders. Yet, in two hours, thanks to the divine cloud of glory protecting the Jewish pilots, over 300 Egyptian aircraft were destroyed, 8 radar stations were disabled and specially designed anti-runway rockets utterly devastated Egyptian bases giving Israel the air supremacy it needed for six miraculous days of war that changed the Middle East till this very day.
More than many other haftarot, the haftara for Parashat Bo (Yirmiyahu 46:13-28) is thematically connected to the parsha nearly in its entirety. Both passages describe episodes outlining the destruction of Mitzrayim several centuries apart.
In our haftara, Jeremiah prophesies about the ensuing conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar’s army from Babylonia in the 6th century BCE. Although Mitzrayim was a great power at the time, the prophet describes its destruction and how its people should prepare: “Make for yourself gear for exile, O daughter who dwells in Egypt, for Noph shall be a desolation and a wasteland without an inhabitant” (v. 19).
Surely, the Egyptians who prided themselves on their military might, must have prepared for battle knowing that the mighty Babylonian army was poised to attack. But the navi depicts a different reality. As the Radak explains, Pharaoh’s soldiers fearfully tried to avoid battle with the Babylonian forces (v. 17), and Egypt’s mercenaries—who were supposed to be strong and valiant—were too afraid to take on Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Egypt is brought to its knees and the once great country is decimated. This is similar to Parshat Bo, where Egypt is crippled by the three final and forceful plagues.
A famous question on our parsha helps shed light on the downfall of Egypt in our haftara as well. As Chazal note in many places, the Jewish people were far from perfect as they too, served avodah zara, so why did Hashem intervene to spare Israel and smite Egypt?
Shemot Rabba (17:3) provides an answer based on Israel’s courageous taking of the Korban Pesach in our parsha. Bnei Yisrael needed tremendous faith and security in Hashem as they brazenly sacrificed the god of the Egyptians. Were Hashem not to lead them out the following morning, surely the Jews would have been slaughtered themselves for their treason. This act of bravery and trust in Hashem proves to be the deciding factor and leads directly to the Exodus. It also demonstrates the main difference between the Egyptians and the Jewish people. The Egyptians, who relied on their own strength, saw that a more powerful force was bearing down on them, and they lost faith in their own might. Why engage in a battle you know that you will lose? But the Jewish people demonstrated tremendous faith in God’s ability to fulfill His word and to defeat even the most powerful armies.
This courageous faith in Hashem’s salvation, even while in exile, is highlighted by the last two verses of the haftara, both of which tell the Jewish people not to be afraid, and may also explain a curious grammatical feature. The final two pesukim both begin with the phrase “As for you, do not be afraid, my servant Jacob.” However, in verse 27, when the navi is describing God’s salvation of the Jews, Yirmiyahu uses the present tense: “I am saving you from afar.” In verse 28, when Hashem is describing His holding the Jewish people accountable for their sins, it uses the future tense: “I shall punish you with justice, but I shall not destroy you.” Salvation is always near at hand, while future punishment can be avoided.
The Jewish people’s fearless faith in God coupled with their indefatigable belief that salvation can come at any moment is what separated Israel from the Egyptians at the time of Moshe and Yirmiyahu and in modern times as well. The inherent bravery we developed as a nation certainly played an instrumental role in “Operation Moked” fifty years ago, as once again Hashem brought about the downfall of Mitzrayim and the salvation of Bnei Yisrael.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a new Oleh to Israel, as well as a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah. Please send comments to Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com