We begin with a quick overview of the Sefer to understand the setting of this perek within Sefer Yechezkel; afterward, we will discuss the details of the Haftara itself.
Sefer Yechezkel - An Overview
Yechezkel was a prophet who lived during the time period of the destruction of the First Temple. He himself was exiled to Bavel, together with the aristocracy of Jerusalem, some eleven years before the "churban," in what is commonly referred to as Galut Yehoyachin. (See Timeline.) It was Yechezkel's job to keep those exiled in Bavel dedicated to God, even though they have left Eretz Yisrael.
In the first 24 chapters of his sefer, in a series of prophecies given during the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th years of Tzidkiyahu, Yechezkel explains how and why the "shechinah" is leaving Yerushalayim and moving to Bavel. His famous vision of the "maaseh merkava" leaving Jerusalem and 'landing' in Bavel reflects his message that the future of Am Yisrael now lies in Bavel.
In chapters 25 through 32, Yechezkel delivers a series of prophecies that censure the many nations who neighbor Israel:
The Rebuke of Egypt for its Haughtiness
Chapter 29 (this week's Haftara) is the first in a set of prophecies concerning Egypt, and it opens by describing the reason for the haughtiness of the Egyptian people:
"I am going to deal with you Pharaoh, king of Egypt ... who said: The Nile is my own, I made it for myself." (29:3)Although this prophecy is given almost one thousand years after the story of the Exodus, the reason for the haughtiness of the Egyptians remains the same. They had become prosperous and powerful because of their natural resource - the Nile River. Its fertile delta and its location near the Mediterranean made Egypt a 'superpower' in ancient civilization.
God is angered by the Egyptian people at this time, just as He was at the time of the Exodus, for they relate this greatness unto themselves instead of unto God. Their control of this wealth and resource led to the haughtiness of Pharaoh and to his attitude that he could enslave other nations. Because of this haughtiness, Yechezkel warns:
"Assuredly, thus says Hashem, Lo I will bring a sword against you, and I will cut off man and beast from you, so that the Land of Egypt will become desolate and lay in ruin, then they shall know that I am the Lord, because he boasted - The Nile is mine, and I made it..." (29:8-9)Even when Egypt will recover from this destruction some forty years later, it will no longer be a mighty empire. Instead:
"...they shall become a mamlacha shfala - a lowly kingdom. It shall be the lowliest of all kingdoms, and shall not lord over other nations again..." (see 29:13-15)A Hollow Cane
"And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am God, for you were a staff of reed for Bnei Yisrael." (29:6)What does this metaphor "staff of reed" ("mishenet kaneh") imply? A "mishenet" (staff) is a walking stick. Usually, a walking stick is made out of strong wood, so that it will support one who leans on it. However, a walking stick made of "reed" ("kaneh") may look like wood on the outside, but on the inside it is hollow. Therefore, it breaks as soon as the user leans on it. This explains the next pasuk:
"When they grasped you with the hand, you would splinter ... and when they leaned on you, you would break..." (29:7)The Historical Background
Chapter 29 opens with a precise date - the 12th of Av, Year 10 (since "Galut Yehoyachin"), in other words, about a year before the first Bet Ha'Mikdash was destroyed. (See Timeline.). Recall that in "Galut Yehoyachin" (the Exile of Yehoyachin - approximately 597 BCE), the aristocracy of Yehuda was exiled to Bavel by Nevuchadnetzar, while the working class remained in Jerusalem. Bavel appointed Tzidkiyahu as a vassal king, on the condition that he remain loyal to Bavel (see II Kings 24:8-17).
Against the advice of Yirmiyahu (who consistently encouraged Am yisrael to accept sovereignty of Bavel - see Yirmiyahu 27:1-13), Yehuda joined its neighbors in a rebellion against Bavel (see Yirmiyahu 27:3). This rebellion was based on a false hope that Egypt would defeat Bavel and come to the aid of its neighbors.
In Yirmiyahu 37:1-10, we even find an instance when the Babylonian siege on Yerushalayim was lifted due to an Egyptian attack! This led to such high hopes in Yehuda (that Egypt would bring salvation) that false prophets such as Chananya ben Azur predicted the imminent fall of Bavel and the return of Galut Yehoyachin within two years (see Yirmiyahu chapter 28).
Nonetheless, as Yirmiyahu had forewarned, Egypt retreated and Bavel returned in the ninth year to continue the siege that ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and Galut Tzidkiyahu. (See Timeline.)
Yechezkel comments on this reliance on Egypt, that caused Yehuda to revolt. Egypt, however, faulted on its treaty, like a "mishenet kaneh." This fiasco led to the final exile of Yehuda and Churban Ha'Bayit.
Yechezkel himself speaks of another perspective on this 'worthless treaty' with Egypt in Chapter 17 (see 17:11-21). There he explains the divine reason why Egypt faulted on their treaty with Yehuda - for Yehuda itself was guilty, for they too had broken their covenant with Bavel (and with God):
"...The king of Bavel came to Jerusalem and carried away its king and its officers and brought them back to Bavel (Galut Yehoyachin). He took one of the royal seed (Tzidkiyahu) and made a covenant with him ... that he must be a humble kingdom and not exalt himself, but keep his covenant ... but he (Tzidkiyahu) rebelled against him and sent his envoys to Egypt to get horses and a large army. Will he succeed? Will he who does such escape? Shall he break a covenant and escape?..." (Yechezkel 17:13-16)Later in the Haftara, Yechezkel (some 17 years later, in the 27th year since Galut Yehoyachin - see Timeline) notes that this prophecy concerning Egypt is about to come true, as Bavel marches its army to Tyre to conquer Egypt. (see 29:17-21). As throughout Yechezkel, the underlying theme is always "v'yadu ki any Hashem" (29:21). These prophecies, when they come true, will ultimately lead Am Yisrael (and all mankind) to recognize that He is God. Mankind is responsible for its deeds and God will bring justice.
For Further Iyun
1. Note the parallels between Yechezkel 29:3 and Shmot 7:12! [Relate to the "tanin." Relate also to Breishit 1:21!]
2. Note the repeated use of Ani Hashem in this Haftara. Relate this to this week's Parsha shiur on Va'eyra.