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Forging the Future Through Unity

Parshat Vayigash

This week’s parsha of Vayigash marks the climax of the Yosef story. The saga that monopolized our attention with its various twists and turns, the account of the tensions within the Israelite family that kept us riveted for these past weeks, finally comes to a conclusion. In an emotionally charged monologue, Yehuda bravely pleads with the viceroy of Egypt to accept him as a replacement for the beloved youngest son of the elderly Yaakov. Upon hearing the words of his brother beseeching him to be allowed to save the favorite son of his father, a son born not to his (Yehuda’s) mother but to his mother’s “rival” for his father’s affection, Yosef was convinced that the brothers’ hatred and enmity that led to his enslavement had been conquered. Yosef could no longer restrain himself and tearfully reveals his true identity to a shocked family.

This heartwarming episode was not simply a satisfying conclusion to the story but the beginning of the fruition of the Brit Bein Habetarim, the covenant of the pieces, the promise given to Avraham Avinu. It was this reunion that would bring Yaakov and his entire clan down to Egypt where they stayed for hundreds of years and became, for the first time, “Am Yisrael,” the nation of Israel, as Hashem had promised. But it was not simply the emigration of the clan from Canaan to Egypt that was significant. Beyond that, it was the reunification of the disparate parts of the family making them whole once again that was so important. After all, one cannot build a cohesive nation unless it began with a united family. And it is this idea that the navi Yechezkel expresses in our haftarah as well.

After the death of Shlomo HaMelech, the nation split into two kingdoms. The tribe of Yehuda remained faithful to the Davidic leadership while the Northern tribes, led by Yerovam, a leader of the tribes of Yosef (Melachim A 11:28) broke away from the South and established their own independent state. Once again Yehuda and Yosef took opposing positions. And so it remained. Hundreds of years after the division of the monarchy, after both kingdoms had been exiled, Yechezkel addressed the divided nation and reaffirmed the lesson taught in Sefer Bereishit: there can be a future for the nation of Israel only if Yehuda and Yosef come together. And so, at the command of God, the prophet takes two sticks, writing the name “Yehuda” on one stick and that of “Efrayim” on the other, and places both in his hand where, miraculously, they merge into one. Hashem explains the significance to His prophet and tells him that God will bring the entire nation back to their land where, never again, will they be divided.

There can be no future without unity, no redemption without accord. And although the rabbis of the Talmud disagree as to whether this prophecy remains in effect after so many invasions caused the assimilation of once-distinct nations, we see indications today that remnants of the “lost” tribes may well be returning home. It is for us, therefore, to ensure that differences of opinion never lead to permanent division.

The lesson of the parsha and the haftarah must be learned and heeded in our day.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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