Rabbi Oury Cherki
Shemot (Haftarah) - Unconditional Love
Translated from Hebrew. Published at the Noahide World Center website and in Shabbat B'Shabbato.
There is a dispute about which Haftarah should be read for the Torah portion of Shemot. The Ashkenazim read the passage that starts with “In the time to come Jacob will take root” [Isaiah 27:6], while the Sephardim read, “These are the words of Jeremiah” [1:1]. The second Haftarah is read in the first week of the Three Weeks, between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av. The custom of the Sephardim is perplexing, since without any apparent reason they read a passage which is read in a different context, in fact one referring to Divine punishment. We might suggest that the reason for this stems from the fact that in earlier times a different Haftarah was read, similar to the custom of the Yemenites and the congregations of Baghdad and Tunis, who read the passage beginning, “Notify Jerusalem about its abominations” [Ezekiel 16:2]. In reference to this it is written in the Mishna, “Rabbi Eliezer said: One should not read the Haftarah ‘Notify Jerusalem.'” [Megillah 4:8]. Even though the halacha does not accept this Mishna (Megillah 25b), it would seem that the story told in the Talmud was enough to restrict the use of the Haftarah. “It is said that one man read ‘Notify Jerusalem’ in front of Rabbi Eliezer. The rabbi said to him, ‘Before you check the abominations of Jerusalem go and check the abominations of your own mother! A check was performed, and it was found that there was indeed reason to suspect her of improper behavior.” In the communities listed above the original custom was preserved.
However, the truth is that this rejected Haftarah is truly wonderful! Except for the introductory verse which openly condemns the people, it is filled in the verses that follow with the love of G-d for His people. “And I passed over you and saw you wallowing in your blood. And I said to you, You shall live in your blood! And I said to you, Your shall live in your blood! I made you ten thousand, like the plants in the field, and you multiplied and grew, and you came with charm, your breasts developed and your hair grown, but you were naked and bare. I passed by you and looked at you, and behold your time was the time of love. And I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness, and I swore to you and made a covenant with you – so says G-d – and you became Mine. I bathed you with water and washed your blood away, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth, I put tachash leather on your feet, I bound you with linen and covered you with silk. I covered you with ornaments, I put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I put a ring in your nose, earrings on your ears, and a crown of glory on your head. You wore gold and silver, and your clothing was linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil. You became extremely beautiful, and you were suitable for royalty.” [Ezekiel 16:6-13].
The many expressions of the dedicated treatment that the lover gives his beloved, while showing disappointment in her traitorous actions, clearly demonstrate that at the heart of the matter there remains a powerful love by the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the community of Israel. This is what protected us when G-d redeemed us from Egypt, when we still did not have enough merits to be redeemed, and it is what protects us today, in the time of our own redemption, in the era of the State of Israel.
A small fraction of the same sentiments appears in parallel Haftarot. One example is in the words of Jeremiah: “I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal era” [2:2]. Another is in the words of Isaiah: “Yaacov will not be ashamed now, and his face will not pale” [29:22].