Haftarah Parshat Vayigash
December 7, 2013
4 Tevet 5774
In this week’s haftarah, Ezekiel sets forth his agenda for the ideal restoration of the Jewish people in its land. God would remove the children of Israel from exile, gather them together, bring them into the land, and make a united people out of its disparate parts under the leadership of a single king. They would no longer be distracted by idolatry and would be purified so that they might dwell in the land of their ancestors. He leaves them with a prescription for maintaining this idyllic condition: “They shall follow My rules and faithfully obey My laws. Thus they shall remain in the land which I gave My servant Jacob and in which your fathers dwelt…” (37:24-5)
It should not be surprising that one of Israel’s premier poskim (religious legal decisors) of recent years, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, in his collected responsa, Tzitz Eliezer, used these verses in the conclusion of his final teshuva. The prophet of yore and the sage of today wanted to mark the agenda for the future of the Jewish people. Ezekiel was concerned that his people’s unity would be destroyed by their being distracted in every which direction by the idolatry of their neighbors. Waldenberg, on the other hand, expresses concern that his people might be thrown off course by the chorus of inviting ideals and philosophies which offer to suborn his people from the ways of Torah that bind them to each other and the tradition.
Waldenberg’s old-new argument focuses on the by now famous dialectic of Jewish life – what will mold the future of Jewish life? Will the tradition shape Jewish life or will it be shaped by the ideas posited in the modern market place of ideas? Judging by the authorities that he quotes on this question, this battle has been fought at every step in the development of the tradition. His closing warning to the Jewish people harkens back to Ezekiel’s message: “Only through the acceptance of the tradition of Torah law upon us will we merit the materialization of the great goals envisioned by the true and righteous prophets.” (See Tzitz Eliezer 22:99,4)
This message should be taken to heart by those who chose to make Judaism inviting by refashioning its message and agenda at an ever faster and more furious pace to accommodate the whims of the changing audience. A friendly anchor in an ever changing world is sometimes more attractive than frenetic and ephemeral accommodation. Ezekiel was certain that the Torah was and would always be that anchor.
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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