Haftarah Parshat Vayigash
December 22, 2012
9 Tevet 5773
When Judah confronts Joseph, at the beginning of this week’s parasha, it is a confrontation which has brewed for a long time. After all, it was Judah’s behavior which had led to the current impasse. Joseph’s youthful, narcissistic behavior may have provoked his brothers to hate him, but it was Judah who had urged the others to sell Joseph. Now Joseph has the upper hand and it is Judah who must address the conflict he has somehow birthed. In the end, the struggle between these two brothers ends in reconciliation.
This episode foreshadows the conflict between the northern kingdom, Israel, for whom Joseph was the symbolic founder, and the southern kingdom of Judah. For the prophets, this conflict was a tremendous concern for which the Torah story could only serve as a source of inspiration that the internecine conflict might somehow ultimately be resolved. Ezekiel deemed this problem so severe that he saw the reconciliation between the two parts of the Jewish people as a prerequisite for the messianic restoration of the nation. His prophecy symbolizes this concern: “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. Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick joined together in your hand. (15) Thus said the Lord God: I am going to take the Israelite nation from among the nations that they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter and bring them to their land. (21) I will make them a single nation… and one king shall be king of them all. Never shall they be two nations and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. (22)”
This concern over internecine conflict seems to be a problem that never goes away. It resonates in the following midrash which projects this anxiety into Jacob’s deathbed message to his children (the tribes – the Jewish people): “the Rabbis said: [Jacob] commanded them (his sons) regarding dispute (mahloket). He said to them: ‘All of you should be one assembly’, as it is written: ‘Take a stick and write on it…’ The word “haverav” is written “havero” meaning that the children of Israel will be become a single unit [acting with each other as friends]. Prepare yourselves for the redemption [by carrying out this wish], as it is written: ‘And I will make you into a single nation.’” (Bereishit Rabbah Theodore- Albeck edition p. 1250)
In this midrash, God does not miraculously bring peace amongst the different factions of the Jewish people. Rather, He makes it a prerequisite of redemption. It is an expectation that we not let our differences divide us. In the scheme of things, the whole is apparently greater than the parts.
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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