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   by Jacob Solomon

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PARASHAT VAYIGASH (HAFTARA) 5771


The word of G-d came to (Ezekiel)… Bring together the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph, so they are one… and become joined together in your hands (Ez. 37:15-17).

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The prophet Ezekiel was a kohen - a priest who spent his earlier life in the Holy Land. His period of recorded prophecy, however, took place after his enforced exile to Babylon - during the period before and after the Destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. His Divine communications were addressed to both those Jews already exiled in Babylonia, and to the people of Jerusalem.

The Book of Ezekiel begins in drama, and climaxes to crescendo. It is a long message with powerful, vivid, and ultra-brilliant images. It starts with the excitement of storms, lightening and fire - the heavens open, and Ezekiel dramatically experiences G-d's words and power. The Almighty calls on him to be a prophet to carry His message to the people through communications emanating from the celestial mobile angelic composition of His throne. The prophecy continues to warn the Jews in the darkest terms of His judgment on them, for their having abandoned Torah teachings and basic morality, preferring false prophets, and an idolatrous and grossly self-indulgent lifestyle. It then leaves the Israelites, removing its focus to the doom of the various nations that misled them. By the time the prophecies of Ezekiel return to the Jews, they become warmer and more kindly. Words of threat are replaced with words of comfort and hope: promising a brighter future for the Israelites, and their revival and unification (the subject of the Haftara) within the Holy Land, with, after the defeat of the nation of Gog, a fully restored Temple and Nation.

The Haftara itself is a continuation of Ezekiel's famous vision of the resurrection of the Israelites in the Promised Land - the vision of the valley where the dry bones gain flesh and come to life. This Haftara brings the second stage - the unity of the people of the southern Kingdom of Judah - exiled to Babylon around 586 BCE, with those of the Northern Kingdom - deported to distant parts of the Assyrian Empire by Shalmanezzer V in 722 BCE. Together they will form a unified Torah observant single nation under His permanent protection. 'I will make them a single nation in the Land… and one king will be king over them. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.' (ibid. 22)

Who will be the 'one king over them'? It will not be the offspring of 'My servant, David' because, three verses later, he is only described as nasi, a 'prince'. Perhaps Ezekiel means that G-d Himself will be the one and only King. The single united nation, Judah and Israel, will fully accept G-d as their King through the acts of living according to His teachings revealed through the Torah in His Land, and 'the nations shall know' (ibid. 28) and recognize that as the ideal for all time.

This week's Parasha relates the permanent happy and fulfilling reunion of Joseph, his brothers, and their father Jacob, after a long and painful separation. It expresses the prophecy that their children will likewise enjoy a permanent happy and fulfilling reunion, after their very much longer and more painful separation. May that be realized, speedily, in our times.

D'var Torah

The following story, told by Rabbi S. Wagschal of Gateshead, England, took place when Hungary fell to the Nazis in 1944. A study of this story of two families not only shows dramatic hashgacha peratit (Divine guidance and intervention within the lives of the individual), but also gives an insight into the message of the 'joining together' of the 'stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah'.

During the initial confusion, many Jews managed to escape over the borders to Romania, which had become less hostile to the Jews, as they realized that Allied victory was not far away. Paid guides escorted them, under the cover of night. One Jewish family decided this they would have to risk escaping this way, rather than face certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

They took up sleeping quarters occupied by several families, where they would wait for the guides to take them over the border. At the stroke of midnight, the guides arrived, and shook the family out of their fitful slumbers. They dressed quickly, in pitch dark, and then grabbed their sleeping child. They hurried through forests and difficult terrain and, as dawn broke, they crossed the border. The child began to cry, they hurried to comfort it, but on opening up its blankets, the awful truth hit them. It was not their baby! This was a boy infant, and theirs was a girl! In the darkness and confusion they inadvertently picked up the wrong child.

By then, there was nothing they could do. No return over the border was possible at that stage.

Meanwhile, as the members of the other family were looking for their boy, they were shocked to find a girl instead. They realized what had happened and after some discussion between the husband and his wife, they decided to keep and raise the helpless girl.

Many years passed. One family settled in Israel; the other in the United States. Hashgacha brought the two fathers together in a 'chance' meeting in the Holy Land. As 'landsmen' - people originating from the same country, they began to reminisce and bemoan what happened to their true children towards the end of the war.

As both men concluded their stories, there was the sound of silence. The truth of what happened on that dark night all those years ago now lay within their grasp…

Those children eventually met as young adults, and married each other.

After the death of King Solomon, the United Israelite Kingdom split into the northern kingdom of Israel (often referred to by the name of Joseph's son, Ephraim) and the southern kingdom of Judea. Except for brief periods, they were not on good terms with each other for the two and a quarter centuries that they co-existed. But they were related to each other: they had the common roots and heritage of the Torah, and, in the cases of Amos and Isaiah, prophets who related to both communities.

The northern kingdom was savagely uprooted and forcibly deported from the Holy Land under the Assyrian Empire. Their new neighbors were not their familiar brethren of Judea, but people with whom they had nothing in common and of whom they knew nothing. The Assyrian conquerors populated the northern part of the Holy Land with strangers: the Samaritans, whom, as the text relates, were dragged from distant parts of their far-flung empire.

Thus Joseph (Ephraim) had left in a hurry from Israel, and had not been heard of in the locality since - as Joseph in the Parasha, and as the family whose little boy had been taken away on that night.

A little over a century later, a similar fate overtook the southern kingdom of Judea under Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Babylonian Empire. They destroyed what was sacred and familiar to them, exiling all but the poor to parts of their empire.

As they suffered in exile, the Later Prophets brought the words of hope to them from G-d. Foremost within them was that their two 'essences' - those of 'Ephraim' of the northern kingdom and 'Judah' of the southern kingdom, would fuse together in the future. They would not be two separate kingdoms occupying the Holy Land as previously, but a united people, a single unit, serving G-d and His leadership, and setting the moral standards for the rest of humanity.

The dark periods of suffering and exile in distant lands, during which time Israel was be laid to waste, would be the time of spiritual preparation for the eventual return, and the permanent and wholesome reconstruction of the Jewish people. It was suffering - famine in Canaan - that caused the sons of Jacob to be, and feel as, a whole family - the fathers of the Torah nation. It was the enforced separation that led to the union of the two children in a very special way, which could affect their countless offspring for generations to come. And it is suffering that has, painfully, created a bond between the very different elements comprising the Jewish people today.

We learn from here that life is to be shared - for the benefit of all parties. We need stressful challenging and often unpleasant situations to bring the best out of us - enabling us to really appreciate people and make more positive and lasting bonds with them. And when they occur, they should be seen as times to build bridges and mend fences with those whom we previously overlooked, shunned, or rejected.

The story is from Dansky M.: As heard from Rabbi Wagschal (1997), pp. 9-10

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers

e-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il

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