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Vayigash 5766

Parshat Vayigash
(Ezekiel 37:15-28)
January 7, 2006

Ezekiel\’s prophecy, while an affirmation of God\’s redemptive power to reunite the Jewish body politic into a single unit in order to redeem the nation, still has a dark side. The reunification of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel would not be the product of human initiative since Ezekiel viewed human beings rather pessimistically. If human beings were to be redeemed, it would occur only through Divine fiat, since human beings were incapable of repair or redemption without God\’s intervention.

Reconciliation and redemption would simply have to wait until God enacted Ezekiel\’s symbolic representation: 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 (haverav)\’; and take another stick and write on it, \’Of Joseph – the stick of Ephraim – and all the house of Israel associated with him (haverav).\’ Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand. And when any of your people ask you: \’Won\’t you tell us what these actions of yours mean?\’ answer them: \’Thus said the Lord God: I am going to take the stick of Joseph – which is in the hand of Ephraim – and the tribes associated with him (haverav), and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.\’ (Ezekiel 37:15-19)

This passage makes it very clear who controls the scene. Ezekiel symbolically foreshadows God\’s actions. The nations of Judah and Israel are the objects of God\’s actions. This pessimistic viewpoint apparently was not shared by all those who read Ezekiel\’s message in the rabbinic period. The following midrash captures a \”rereading of this passage, which plays on the fact that the word for \”associated with him (literally his fellow[s]) – havero\” is written (ketiv) – \”his fellow\” in the singular while it is read tradition (keri) which means \”his fellows\”:

The sages said: \”Jacob in his parting message to his children warned them against disputes.\” Jacob said to his sons: \”You should all consider yourselves a single assembly, as it is written: And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it… to the house of Israel…\’ (Ibid.).\” The word \’havero\’ is written in this passage in order to imply that the children of Israel made themselves into a single assembly. It was as if they had said to themselves: \’Prepare yourselves for redemption. Immediately after this declaration, Ezekiel says: \’And I [God] will make you into a single nation\’ (Ibid.)\” (Genesis Rabbah 98:2 Theodore Albeck ed. 1250. See note 12)

This midrash transforms Ezekiel\’s prophecy into a message in which the children of Israel play an active role in their redemption. They are vital participants in the unification of the nation. It is only when they act that God plays a role. We share this rabbinic vision, both its optimism and its activism. We are certain that when it comes to repairing the world and redeeming it, we are partners with 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.

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