Parashat Shemot (Names)
Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardic)
This week, we have two different readings from the Haftarah portion.* The Ashkenazi Jewish people (those in the diaspora who lived in countries such as Germany, Poland, Russia, etc.) and the Sephardic Jewish people (those who lived in Spain and in various Arab countries) sometimes have separate readings due to their different sects of Judaism. Historically, each sect of Judaism adopted its own tradition of weekly Scripture reading which explains the different readings between the two people groups.
For those of you to whom those terms may be new, or wonder why I even mention this, I would like to offer an interesting point: Did you know that one of the earliest - if not the earliest - recorded accounts of reading from the Haftarah is found in Luke 4:16-21?
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. Now He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Yeshua our Messiah followed the beautiful tradition of reading aloud the Haftarah portion in the synagogue; we, His followers, get to follow in His footsteps and learn together that which He did. Reading the weekly Scripture portions not only shows us the consistency of the word of God, but also reveals to us the depth and richness of what is written in the New Covenant.
This week’s Parashah gives me much hope that amid hardships and situations that may seem hopeless, our God sees, remembers, and will redeem any given situation. As we read in Exodus 1:8, “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” That king decided to make the lives of the children of Israel miserable and increased their hardships through slavery. The king eventually orders infanticide:
But Pharaoh charged all his people saying, “You are to cast every son that is born into the river, but let every daughter live.”
Yet, God saw every hardship that Israel endured, and even though it seemed hopeless, He remembered His covenant and His plan of redemption:
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage ascended to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.”
Not only did He remember His covenant, but He also set in motion a way to redeem His people physically and spiritually from slavery. He does this through the supernatural calling of Moses:
And the LORD said, “I have certainly seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their outcry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.”
The other day, while driving with my family, we heard a song in Hebrew that spoke about the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1979. The title of the song is “It Will Be Good”. As my wife and I listened to the powerful lyrics, we were amazed at how relevant they are today; not much has changed in Israel’s reality of war, but our hope that things can get better remains steadfast. Even as I write this commentary, I am encouraged that things will get better and that, just as in the days of old, our only hope is in the Lord.
God is our only hope, and I can confidently say that we will stand in awe of the God of Israel, as is written in the Haftarah portion:
Therefore, this is what the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, says concerning the house of Jacob: “Jacob will not be ashamed now, nor will his face turn pale now; But when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, they will sanctify My name; Indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.”
As the instability throughout the world will only continue to grow, and as we go through hardships and situations that may seem hopeless, let me remind you that our God sees, remembers, and can redeem any situation.
*Wondering why Israel is reading a different parashah than the Diaspora this week? This is why. In the Diaspora, many Jewish holidays are celebrated for two days, while in Israel they are only celebrated for one day. When the extra day of celebration falls on Shabbat, Diaspora communities replace the chronological Torah portion with the portion corresponding to the festival. Israeli communities have already finished the holiday in question, and therefore read the regular portion.
The following Shabbat, Diaspora Jews continue in the sequence of Torah portions where they left off, while Israeli Jews have already moved forward to the next parashah. This discrepancy is rectified in the month of Av (which parallels the Gregorian months of July and August) when Diaspora Jews read two Torah portions, while Israeli Jews read one.
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