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Haftarah Parshat Vayegash

Haftarah Parshat Vayegash (Ezekiel 37:15-28)
January 7, 2017 /9 Tevet 5776

Joseph and Judah, whose conflict began with Judah’s sale of Joseph into slavery, ends with their reconciliation in this week’s parashah when Judah stands up for his brothers’ welfare before Joseph, who has become the Egyptian viceroy. This story foreshadows the perpetual struggle between the two nations that made up the Jewish people in biblical times, the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judea. These nations constantly wavered between conflict and conciliation.

Ezekiel’s message in this week’s haftarah speaks of ideal times when this constant conflict will be replaced by unity and harmony: “The word of the Lord came to me, And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it, ‘Of Judah, and the Israelites associated with him’; and taker another stick and write on it, ‘Of Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all of the House of Israel associated with him.’ Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand.’ (37:15)

The Hasidic tradition is renowned for taking stories and prophecies from the biblical tradition and transforming them into religious psychological messages of concern to the “modern” believer. Rabbi Shalom Noah Berezovsky, the Slonimer Rabbi (Jerusalem 20th century), saw in the conflict between Judah and Joseph, the conflict between two disparate types of religious personalities: one, the person who accept upon themselves the absolute ‘yoke’ of belief in God’s kingship (Judah) and the other, the people who totally yearn for God (Joseph). These two aspect of religion are constantly at odds with other. The object of the complete religious personality, according to Berezosky, is to realize Ezekiel’s prophecy and to unite them, since neither can really exist without the other. (Netivot Shalom Bereishit pp. 284-6)

Why is there a need for both the cerebral and the emotional? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for each of these different types of personalities to pursue according to its own appropriate needs? Berezovsky proposes his interpretation as a solution to one of the great religious dilemmas facing moderns – How is one to confront God’s silence in our religious experiences?  When faced with this existential religious dilemma, he suggests that the only possible antidote is to combine these two qualities – strength of faith and passion for God. Together, they will provide a bridge which can span the loneliness of alienation from God.    

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

  • Underwriters:  Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab.
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