April 19, 2024
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Parashat Vayigash

This week’s haftarah from Sefer Yechezkel marks the closing of the geula (redemption) section of the book, a section that includes chapters 36 and 37. The theme of a reunification between Judea, the Southern Empire and Yosef (Ephrayim), the Northern Empire, mirrors the highlight of this morning’s parasha and explains its choice as the haftarah. Hashem’s command given to the navi to take two branches/sticks and write “Yehuda” upon one stick and “Yosef” upon the other, is reminiscent of the directive that Hashem gave to Moshe (after the Korach rebellion), to take 12 staffs and to write the name of each tribe’s leader on his staff—and Aharon’s name of the staff of Levi. The clear contrast between these two seemingly similar acts, is, as Rav Amnon Bazak points out, that the purpose of Moshe’s action was to differentiate Aharon’s tribe from the others, thereby designating him to be Kohen Gadol, while the purpose of Yechezkel’s action was to reunite the tribes, thereby making them one nation, once again. The difference is clearly underscored by the fact that each staff was returned to its individual tribal leader while the two branches of Yechezkel were fused into one.

But we would be missing much of the significance of the prophet’s actions were we not to understand the background to our haftarah. Yechezkel prophesied over 150 years after the kingdom of Shomron had been destroyed and the bulk of her population had been exiled. At the same time, the Kingdom of Yehuda was under siege by the Babylonian hordes, and the long-threatened prophecies of its destruction had begun to come true. HaRav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l surmises that the navi’s nevua of an eventual reuniting of the two antagonistic kingdoms proves that the antagonism had still remained—even after these many years, and even after the disappearance of the northern kingdom! The prophetic “eye” of Yechezkel perceives Israel, scattered and dispersed throughout the nations, as still being divided and in opposition to each other throughout the centuries!!

In describing what he sees in this division, Rav Hirsch uses the most powerful words that, in truth, may very well reflect the Jewish world of his time (mid- 19th century) but, frighteningly, describes our world today as well. He sees the exiled from Shomron as preaching an “irreligious” philosophy, dismissing all Jewish experiences and accentuating assimilation. Those exiled from Judea, writes Rav Hirsch, are those “religious” in name alone, discounting, as they did, the importance of honesty and truthfulness, of respecting others and of avoiding hateful speech. In summary, Rabbi Hirsch tells us:

“Religious nihilism, fanatical enmity towards every … Jewish point of view … is the stamp of Ephrayim-Israel, (while) picking out which mitzvot should be kept (and) mechanical carrying out those which are kept, is the reproach from which Yehuda-Israel cannot escape.”

These harsh words should cause us to ask the troubling question: Do these descriptions apply to our world as well? And, if all of them do not—then do even some of them. Perhaps more disquieting is the fact that the division within our communities has continued since the Yechezkel’s very message in this week’s haftarah, were sounded. A prophecy that predicts a long-lasting period of disunity, conflict and, yes, even hatred, might haunt the Jewish nation for thousands of years.

I opened this article explaining that this reading marks the closing of the geula section of Sefer Yechezkel. But, what is also true is that the opening part of the chapter is the well-known prophecy of the “Valley of the Dry Bones.” The promise that Hashem will bring the seemingly “dead” nation back to life is followed by this week’s message that the nation could be “reborn” only when she can renounce the divisions and the hatred; only when the two sticks can reunite and become one.

Zecharya taught his lesson over 2500 years ago. And we, who have been suffering the consequences of such hatred recently, should realize that it’s about time we learn that lesson.


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

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