December 26, 2009
9 Tevet 5770
This week\’s parasha records the dramatic confrontation between two brothers, Judah and Joseph, and the subsequent reunification of all of Jacob\’s sons. The tension between these two brothers mirrors the reality of the tribal configuration after the death of King Solomon, the last king of the unified kingdom. Joseph is associated with the northern kingdom, Israel, and Judah, with the southern kingdom which bore his name. This lack of national unity bothered the prophet, Ezekiel. He considered it the ultimate national sin, surpassing, or perhaps, at the very least, contributing to the nation\’s betrayal of its covenant with God. Consequently, Ezekiel saw national unity as a necessary condition for rectifying all other national ills. (R. Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 723-4)
The above principle is the crux of Ezekiel\’s prophecy: 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 of Israel associated with him.\’ Bring them close to each other, so that they will 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 all the tribes of Ephraim associated with him and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick…I will make them one nation …never again shall they be divided… I will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people and I will be their God.\” (Ezekiel 37:15-23)
The idea that national unity was a precondition for reconciliation with God was Ezekiel\’s innovation. Neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah saw this as a prerequisite for the reestablishment of God\’s order. (See Isaiah 11:13-14; Jeremiah 23:5-6) Also, although
Ezekiel\’s message of unity was intended to raise morale, it is far from an optimistic prophecy. Ezekiel was a cynical prophet. He did not have much hope that human beings were capable of rectifying their sorry situation on their own. It would be necessary for God to step in and \”fix\” things.
This conclusion, of course, raises a serious existential question. Are human beings capable of fixing things, of saving themselves? One has to wonder sometimes. Ezekiel was pessimistic. If it wasn\’t for God, that is.
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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