6 Tevet 5768
December 15, 2007
Religion, in some sense, constitutes the struggle to understand the significance of the lives that we lead and the events which challenge us. Each individual has his or her own challenges. Each generation has its own means for meeting what confronts it. Yet, it is sometimes possible to discern some overarching themes in that which we confront and some grand plan in that which at first glance seems unique.
Ezekiel faced, in his generation, a people torn asunder: one people into two nations – Israel and Judea. He was also confronted by the pain of exile and homelessness. He could not look at this situation without linking the two. He concluded that the people\’s subjugation and exile was, at least in part, caused by the disintegration of the nation\’s unified integrity. For Ezekiel, one nation, under one king and one God could be seen as an anthem. To this end, the thought of the reunification of the people\’s two struggling parts was his unique innovation to the nation\’s eschatological dreams and a keynote of his prophecy. (See R Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 723-4) This message is the focus of this week\’s haftarah: \”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 take another stick and write on it, \’of Joseph – the stick of Ephraim – and all the House associated with him.\’ Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand.\’\” (verses 15-16)
Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (20th century Israel) saw in this prophetic message the divine culmination of the process by which the Jewish people was formed. The life of the Jewish people was formed at every stage by division and struggle. This process, which according to Breuer was a natural process (is he here invoking Darwin?), produced the line which would ultimately become the Jewish people. Beginning with the patriarchs and matriarchs, each generation was marked by struggle. There certainly was no harmony to be found among Jacob\’s children, who constituted the tribes of Israel. Their conflicts were not mere sibling rivalry but were deeply rooted in the struggle for primacy and power. Reuben, the first born, lost his predominance through his sin with Bilhah, yet still seeks to maintain his position as leader. Judah, the fourth born from Leah, takes on the mantle of leadership with both tragic and positive consequences. Joseph, Rachel\’s first born, sees himself as leader. The die is caste for a struggle that will far outlast this aggregate of brothers. It is a struggle as natural as breathing and life itself. So natural – so dynamic – so potentially productive – so potentially destructive. (See M. Breuer, Pirke Bereishit, pp. 244-6)
Ultimately this divisiveness must give way to the oneness implied by God\’s existence. His oneness demands that we conquer the natural processes which have led us to divide ourselves and separate ourselves from one each other. This banner, raised by Ezekiel, should be ours as well.
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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