In days to come Jacob will take root,
Israel will bud and blossom
and fill all the world with fruit. — Isaiah 27:6
This Torah portion for this week is Shemot, which means “names,” from Exodus 1:1–6:1, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 27:6–28:13; 29:22–23.
In the Torah portion this week, God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites that God had heard their cries and that redemption was at hand: “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers . . . appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt . . .’” (Exodus 3:16–17).
The Jewish sages ask, why wasn’t Moses told to go to Pharaoh first, begin the redemption process, and then go to the Israelites to tell them that redemption was at hand? In fact, why did the Israelites need to know anything was going on behind the scenes at all?
The answer is hope.
The children of Israel were at the end of their tether. They had been enslaved for centuries, and any hope of it ending was quickly fading away. Things only got harsher in their embittered lives. God told Moses to go to the Israelites first in order to reignite the flame of hope within them. They needed the encouragement in order to hang on just a bit longer. If they had lost all hope, and with it, their faith, they would not have been worthy of redemption. God, in His mercy, sent Moses on an emergency mission to breathe life into their ailing souls.
Similarly, this week’s Haftorah, taken from the book of Isaiah, begins with a prophecy about redemption. Isaiah spent most of his prophetic career predicting doom and warning of exile. However, he also prophesied about redemption. While the rest of the Haftorah follows the theme of rebuke and warnings for the Jewish people, it begins with a message of hope. There is a saying in Judaism: “God sends the medicine before he sends the illness.” In other words, God gives us hope so that we can withstand our trials.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslev, a revered rabbi in the 19th century, said: “It is forbidden to give up hope!” Hope is the fuel of faith. If we lose our hope, we run out of faith, and if we run out of faith, we won’t make it to redemption. So hang on and cling to hope, no matter what your circumstances. Throughout history the Jewish people have done just that.
We never gave up hope that we would return to Israel even after millennia in exile, and that’s why we are here today. It is not surprising that there is a single word title for Israel’s national anthem: Hatikvah, “The Hope.” Let it be your anthem today.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President