Haftarah Parshat Vayigash
December 31, 2011
5 Tevet 5772
The confrontation between Joseph and Judah at the beginning of this week’s parasha foreshadows a dispute which would exist within the Jewish nation throughout biblical times. What began as a match of wits between two brothers who were unwittingly vying for supremacy and control over their family would, generations later, blossom into a dispute between two full-fledged Jewish nations, Judah and Israel.
Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (20th century, Israel) sees something even deeper in this conflict. He points out that this conflict is the last of a great many other disputes found in the book of Genesis. One might even say that conflict is a primary characteristic of the human interrelationships found in the book. Breuer derives from this observation that while unity is most certainly a Jewish ideal, conflict is the existential norm in life for our forbearers, in particular, and for human beings in general.
Breuer does not view conflict as necessarily a bad thing since conflict ultimately leads to the determination of truth and ultimately to God’s oneness. In fact, he wants to claims that when it comes to disputes the Jewish people are unique, in that despite its incessant disputes, the Jewish people has, nonetheless, managed to maintain a semblance of unity. People often forget, he adds, much of the best of Jewish thinking was born of disputes, witness the Mishnah, Talmud, the canonization of the Bible, the creative works of Maimonides, the Zohar (the list goes on) all of which were born of conflict. Still, unlike other religious communities, the basic unity has been maintained. (See Pirke Bereshit, pp. 244-7)
The reconciliation between Joseph and Judah, at the beginning of the parasha, born of their posturing with each other over the fate of their brother, ultimately foreshadows unity. Ezekiel’s message in this week’s haftarah makes this unity an explicit requirement of redemption: “The word of the Lord came to me: And you, son of man, 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 become one stick, joined together in your hand. And when any of the 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 of the tribes associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand…I will make them a single nation in the land” (Ezekiel 37:15-22)
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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