Complainers and Those of Misguided Spirit

Here we are in the first parshah of Exodus, and I discovered a fascinating connection between the vastly different Haftorah portions for this week. Normally, there is not a huge difference between what was chosen centuries ago to accompany each Torah portion, but this week, I was struck that the Ashkenazic portion is Isaiah 27:6–28:13 plus a tag-along of 29:22–23, but the Sephardic reading is Jeremiah 1:1–2:3. That’s different!

Usually, I gravitate to the Sephardic portions which I often feel speak more directly to the heart (and get right to the point) while the Ashkenazic portions are more heady (and typically longer). Also, I appreciate the exuberant passion of the Sephardic branch of Judaism (especially since my upbringing and the culture that surrounds me here in the Northshore area of Chicago is so WASPy and Western European).

Last week, we read the end of Genesis. It was powerful and positive. The descendants of Jacob were firmly placed and safe in Egypt, thriving and prospering. Then the shoe drops big-time right in Chapter 1 of Exodus. The Jewish people were promptly enslaved and tormented by a new Pharaoh with a sharp eye on profit margins and the threat of a potential takeover by this burgeoning crowd of successful foreigners. It would be like taking a bunch of properous, professional Northshore families and setting them to hard labor and living in huts.

Or quite a bit like what happened to Jewish families in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party.

This first week into Exodus, we learn two things: God’s people are in serious trouble in Egypt, and Moses has been chosen as their reluctant rescuer and spokesperson for God. The Ashkenazic portion in Isaiah pursues the first, foretelling a global roundup of all those who are “lost” and “cast away” (Isaiah 27:13) to a new understanding and trust in God. I always pay special attention to those add-on verses in Haftorah selections, and this one was especially fruitful:

“Jacob will not be ashamed now, and his face will not pale now, when he sees his children, My handiwork . . . who will sanctify My Name, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and revere the God of Israel!” (Isaiah 29:22-23)

Well, even though that’s where the reading officially ends, look what comes right after it:

“Those of misguided spirit will attain understanding, and complainers will learn [God’s] instruction.” (Isaiah 29:24)

Ah-ha! I found the connection to the Sephardic reading, which I originally thought only focused on the similarity between Jeremiah’s calling as the reluctant prophet and Moses’ calling. But then I saw this, and it reminded me how often I fall into a misguided spirit and complain:

“they have forsaken Me . . . and prostrated themselves to their own handiwork.” (Jeremiah 1:16)

And I’m glad I read both readings, to see afresh how desperately we all need to be rescued by a reluctant but committed and brave prophet, so that we too can attain understanding and learn to trust in the One most worthy of our trust.

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