"Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the LORD. "'Because you said, "The Nile is mine; I made it," therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush.'"
- Ezekiel 29:9-10
"'Because you said, "The Nile is mine; I made it," therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush.'"
This Torah portion for this week is Va'eira, which means "and I appeared," from Exodus 6:2-9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25-29:21.
In this week's Haftorah reading, Egypt was still learning the same lesson that God came to teach them in this week's Torah reading. In the Torah portion, we read further into the Exodus story and saw seven out of the 10 plagues that had come to Egypt. This was God's way of humbling an arrogant Pharaoh who refused to let God's people go. But it wasn't until after the final plague - the death of the firstborn, which we will read about next week - that Pharaoh finally was brought to his knees.
In the Haftorah reading, once again, God was faced with an arrogant Egypt and a prideful Pharaoh. The prophet Ezekiel predicted Egypt's downfall, which would occur for two reasons: One, because they reneged on their promise to help Israel against the invading Babylonians; and secondly, because they denied God and placed themselves above God.
Here's the great irony. God makes it so that those who place themselves on the top are going to find themselves on the bottom, while those who are low and humble are the ones who are ultimately honored and esteemed. The Jewish sages put it this way, "He who runs after honor, honor will run away from him. But he who runs away from honor, honor will chase him."
In the Haftorah reading, God said, "Because you said, The Nile is mine; I made it,' therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin . . ." Let's dissect that for a second. In Egypt, the Nile River was considered a god. So for Pharaoh to say, "The Nile is mine; I made it," he was essentially claiming that he created God. Not only does the Nile, his god, belong to him, but Pharaoh claims to be its creator as well! Could there be a more prideful declaration? God had no choice but to put Pharaoh in his place.
Consider the following: The Nile, as important as it was as a river that provided water for Egypt, was just a passageway for the water that ultimately landed in the ocean. There is a saying that all rivers flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. The humility of the ocean - the fact that it is lower than any of the rivers - is the source of its power. The ocean is vast and wide, teaming with life, because of its lowliness.
The message for us all is to live with humility. Humility is no sign of weakness. In contrast, it is the source of our power. The higher we place ourselves, the lower God will bring us down. As the psalmist wrote, "But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity" (Psalm 37:11).
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President