• By tour guide and Jewish educator Gedaliah

Parshat Va'eira- “A reed cane”


Beit Midrash Shetach- Parshat Shemot:

"משענת קנה" (יחזקאל כ"ט:ו- הפטרת פרשת וארא)

“A reed cane”

Parshanut of The Land on the weekly Parsha

There are no plants mentioned in relation to Mosheh and Ahron going to visit pharaoh by the river as it appears in parshat va’eira. Nevertheless we can get an idea of the scenery from a description in last week’s parshah mentioning that Mosheh was placed among the סוף (suf). This is a kind of water plant similar to the reeds mentioned in this week’s haftorah known as קנה (kaneh). These two plants at first glance look very similar and often appear together on the banks of water and perhaps make up the scenery behind this event by the river in Egypt. Because these plants represent the agricultural capabilities of the Nile, they are often seen as symbols of Egypt itself which was largely populated only along the Nile River – its source of food and in essence life.

Our haftorah parallels the parshah, in that, both emphasize that the punishment that Egypt receives for its actions against Israel are in order for them to come to know Hashem. In place of putting their faith in other gods such as the Nile itself – again, represented by the reeds- they should come to recognize that Hashem is the one true creator and ruler of the world.

In the case of our haftorah however, Egypt is not being punished for the slavery that happened much earlier, but rather for the lack of support when the nation of Israel was in trouble.

Israel relied on the help of Egypt for some time but when real trouble came as Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem, Egypt was nowhere to be found. While they weren’t the only ones to abandon us at this point, they are certainly among those hinted to in the book of Eicha when referring to Jerusalem’s loneliness as all her friends abandoned her- כל רעיה בגדו בה (א':ב).

The קנה is mentioned a number of times in tanach and by chazal. It is a plant which is very flexible, but strongly rooted. This enables it to survive even difficult storms that can knock over full trees. For this reason, for example, chazal teach us (taanit 20a) that one should always be flexible as a קנה rather than rigid as a cedar tree. Along with this important message we are granted permission to use the קנה to write Torah Tefilin and Mezuzot, as we take from this plant the ‘culmus’- Greek for קנה- fit for use by scribes.

The plant when sharpened was also fit for use for shechitah (chulin 3a), or could be worked into a flute the likes of which were used in the beit hamikdash (Arachin 10b).

While there were a number of positive uses for the קנה, there were also some illegitimate or unfit uses, such as for a scale. Due to its hollow center, if filled with weights on one side it can be used to trick people regarding payment.

Another use that may not be recommended, depending on how strong this particular קנה is, would be as a cane or walking stick. It is not always strong enough to be relied upon. Whats more, being as when sharpened it can be used as a shechita knife, you really want to check it before taking a chance falling upon its sharp broken pieces if it doesn’t hold up!

Yishayahu (ל"ו:ו) admonished Israel for relying on Egypt in place of Hashem. He uses almost the same terminology as he refers to Egypt as a broken or splintered קנה that we relied upon. He described how, in the end, we were wounded from the splintered cane due to our misplaced faith.

While our haftorha is clearly referring to Egypt and how it will be punished for not supporting us in our times of need, it wasn’t preserved in the navi for later generations of Egyptians. The more gentle messages are hinted towards Israel. Firstly, don’t be like Egypt, be there for your friends- especially in their time of need! The main message however is to the nation as a whole. Do your hishtadlut, put your efforts in, but remember- the only one who will really always be there for us in our time of need is Hashem!

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