Coming Home

Parashat Bo Haftarah: Coming Home

The Torah tells us of how we came to have a right to the land of Israel—our claim to it starting with the promise to Abraham and the sojourning of the patriarchs of Genesis and then the laws given to us in the following books to help us keep the land once we got to it.

We come to the land in Genesis but it is not yet ours.

It is only after 430 years of slavery in Egypt that we are able to proceed to the promised land. The Torah ends just as we are about to cross over into it. The story of the rest of the Tanakh is how we lost the land of Israel and then tried to regain it. We are stuck in a cycle of entering, losing, and regaining the land of Israel.

This week’s torah portion provides a high point in that cycle.

Not only are we finally leaving Egypt, we are also purposely being gifted with a national narrative, a story to help us remember exile so that we might not have to experience it again.

This week’s haftarah, Jeremiah 46, compliments this nicely.

It is the low point of their cycle. We read a threat, a promise of doom, to the nation of Egypt. In the Torah portion, we are promised our land and in the haftarah portion the Egyptians are promised to lose their land.

The language put in the mouths of the Egyptians is interesting. We recount them saying, 

“Let us rise up and let us return 

To our people and to the land of our birthplace.”

It sounds an awful lot like the way we talk about our own national return. This combination of “rise up” and “return” is found describing Abraham returning to Beersheba, Jacob returning to his land, Nehemiah talking to the returning exiles, and Ruth deciding to go back to Naomi’s homeland, to name a few of the occurrences.

Seemingly, both us and the Egyptians function the same way.

We make mistakes, we lose ourselves, and then we want to return, to start over. It’s an empowering thing to imagine that the Egyptians are like us.

We know, in the Torah, that the land of Israel was not always ours. That it had belonged to other people before it belonged to us.

Our national identity was formed more by the story we told and the active choosing of God to plant us in a place rather than by an unchanging link between people and place. We did not arise from the land. For all intents and purposes, it seemed to us as if the Egyptians had. They had been in Egypt forever, linked to it by the Nile. They had no story of entering the land from elsewhere and they had never experienced exile.

To imagine them as impermanent as we knew ourselves to be helped us to understand ourselves as a stronger people.

Moreover, we have something the Egyptians do not. We might both use the same language, we might both long for the ability to return. But God will deny this to the Egyptians and grant it to us.

Our history is cyclic—we will always be banished but also always be granted the ability to come home. Ancient Egypt, however, will disappear once it is finally conquered.

They are not given a chance to return.

See more: Parashat Bo

Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here

Authors

  • Bex Stern Rosenblatt is the Conservative Yeshiva’s Faculty-in-Residence for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States, teaching Tanach, using the techniques of close-reading, theater, feminist readings, and traditional commentators. Bex also directs the CY’s recruitment efforts in North America. After finishing her B.A. in History and German at Williams College, Bex received a Fulbright Grant to Austria. She later earned an M.A. in Tanakh from Bar Ilan University and has also studied at the Conservative Yeshiva and Bina Jerusalem. Bex is the founder of Havruta Tel Aviv, an organization that facilitates guided pair-learning of the Tanakh.

  • The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) is a hub in the heart of Jerusalem for transformative encounters with Torah and Israel powered by a commitment to intellectual honesty, egalitarian values, spiritual growth, and lifelong engagement in the Jewish world. https://fuchsbergcenter.org/

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