Haftarah Parshat Vayigash
December 14, 2002
This week’s haftarah is one of a number of prophecies in which Ezekiel lays out his vision of the redemption of the Jewish nation. In the first of these visions, which precedes this week’s haftarah, Ezekiel presents the vision of the dry bones which miraculously come to life – a message of hope representing the rebirth of the Jewish nation. Ezekiel’s parable of the two sticks, found in this week’s haftarah, is a natural progression to this eschatological vision. In this parable, Ezekiel symbolically joins two sticks together, each one symbolizing one of the two parts of the Jewish nation: Israel, the northern kingdom and Judah, the southern kingdom. These two kingdoms split soon after the death of King Solomon. The disintegration of the union between the tribes was not simply political, it was religious as well since it opened the doors to all sorts of idolatrous outside influences on the people. Consequently the dissolution of the unity of the nation also symbolized a loss of loyalty to God.
Ezekiel, the prophet of the exile, was well aware of his people’s tribulations, their faults and their failed destiny. His mission was to apprise them of their errors, to correct and to set them on the course to redemption: “they shall never again defile themselves by their fetishes and their abhorrent things and by their other transgressions.” (Ezekiel 37:23)
His prophecy of reconciliation can only be understood within this context. The reunification of the nation was not without purpose. To the contrary, it represents a return to the nation’s political religious ideal: “My servant David shall be king over them; there shall be one shepherd for all of them. They shall follow My [God’s] rules and faithfully obey My laws…. I will make a covenant of friendship with them – it shall be an everlasting covenant with them – I will establish them and multiply them and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever. My Presence shall rest over them.” (verses 24-27) Ezekiel’s messianic yearnings bring him to look to the past for his model for the future.
Professor Gershom Scholem catalogued three characteristics of messianic expectations: conservative, restorative and utopian. These are the components of Ezekiel’s prophecy for Israel. His messianic expectations looks to the idealized past (restorative) in anticipation of the perfect future. His vision is built upon the restored nation being led by the ideal leader living according to the ideal law (conservative). This ideal condition will ultimately culminate in the unity of God’s nation with God Himself (utopian). The exact details of Ezekiel’s vision may be open to debate, but we can only yearn for its ultimate consummation.
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.
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