FROM THE TORAH
At the end of last week’s Sedra Miketz, Joseph’s brothers still do not know the true identity of the “food czar” of Egypt. He imposes upon them the impossible dilemma of leaving their young brother Benjamin in Egypt and returning to their father in Canaan. Their father Jacob would then realize his worst fear: that the beloved son of his old age, his wife Rachel’s only other son, would be lost to him as was his brother Joseph. In this week’s Sedra Vayigash, the brother Judah steps forward. He has already committed himself as surety to their father that he would protect Benjamin from an unwelcome fate. Now he pleads with Joseph for the sake of their father. Stirred by either his eloquence or his sincere rendition of the facts, Joseph’s sentiments cause him to reveal his identity to all. Much of the rest of the Sedra discloses Joseph’s strategy of bringing their father Jacob and all of the family of Israel together, safely and separately, into the Goshen region of Egypt. In addition, Joseph’s handling of famine relief is portrayed, though not explicitly, as a fulfillment of his youthful dreams of prominence.
Joseph Reunites His Family
JUDAH APPEALS TO JOSEPH ON BEHALF OF HIS FATHER
Then Judah approaches (Vayigash) Joseph, still not knowing his identity. He speaks humbly to him, begging his forbearance, comparing him with Pharaoh. He reminds Joseph that, “my lord asked your servants if you have a father or a brother” (cf. 42:6ff.). We told my lord that our father is old, with a young son of his old age, and that his brother died, leaving only the one young brother of the same mother. You ordered your servants: Bring him down to me, that I may cast my eye upon him. We explained that the boy cannot leave his father, who loves him; otherwise his father would die. But you told your servants: If your youngest brother does not come down with you, then you shall not see my face again!
This we told our father when he asked us to return for a little more food. He reminded us that his wife bore him two: “One (Joseph) left me, leading me to conclude that he was torn by a beast, and I have not seen him since. Now, if you take this one (Benjamin) from me and disaster befalls him, you would be bringing my white head down to She’ol in grief!” So, my lord, you can see that this is what would happen if I were to return to my father without the lad, with whose life his father’s is bound.
Moreover your servant (Judah) is surety for the lad to my father, whereby if I do not bring him back, I will stand guilty before him for ever! So now, let your servant remain as slave to my lord in place of the boy, and let the boy go up with his brothers. How can I face the evil that would befall my father otherwise?
JOSEPH REVEALS HIS IDENTITY TO HIS BROTHERS
Joseph is unable to restrain himself any longer. So he dismisses everyone else to allow him privacy with his brothers. But his weeping is heard throughout Egypt and in the palace of Pharaoh. “I am Joseph,” he says to his brothers, “does my father yet live?” and his brothers, dumbfounded, are unable to answer him. He has them draw closer. “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold to Egypt. But be not upset, do not blame yourselves that you sold me here, for God has sent me to save life before you!” He explains that the two years of famine will continue for another five years, a time without plowing or reaping, and that not they but God has sent him, to save their lives, and it is God who has established him as “father to Pharaoh,” “lord of all his household,” and “ruler throughout all of the land of Egypt” (cf. 37:5-11)!”
JOSEPH GATHERS HIS FAMILY IN GOSHEN
So now, waste no time, go up to my father, and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph: God has made me lord over all of Egypt; come down to me, do not delay! You shall settle in the land of Goshen and be close to me, you and your children and your grandchildren, your flock and your herd, everything that is yours. I shall sustain you there, for five years of famine remain, lest you and all of your household become impoverished.” You and your brother Benjamin see that it is I who say this to you. Relate to my father all of my success in Egypt. Waste no time, bring my father down here!
Weeping, Joseph embraces Benjamin and kisses all of his brothers. Only then are they able to speak to him. News of Joseph’s brothers is received with favor by Pharaoh and his servants. Pharaoh encourages Joseph to have his brothers load up their animals and go to the land of Canaan. He provides them with wagons to transport their children and their wives and his father. “Come to me, worry not about your possessions; I shall provide you the best of the land of Egypt; eat the fat of the land!”
So Joseph provides wagons for the children of Israel in accordance with Pharaoh’s word. He provides them with food for the trip and a change of clothing for each. He gives Benjamin 300 pieces of silver and 5 changes of clothing. He sends for his father 10 male asses laden with the best of Egypt and 10 female asses laden with grain, food and other provisions for the journey. As he dispatches his brothers, he urges them not to be angry on the journey.
They go up from the land of Egypt and reach their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They tell him that Joseph is alive and that he rules over all the land of Egypt. Jacob’s heart stops, he cannot believe them. He hears Joseph’s words through them and sees the wagons that Joseph has sent to transport him, and his spirit is renewed. “Enough!” says Israel. “My son Joseph is still alive. I shall go and behold him before I die.”
So Israel, with all that belongs to him, travels to Beersheba, where he offers sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God calls to Israel in night visions: “Jacob! Jacob!” He answers: “Here I am!” “I am God, the God of your father. Be not afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I shall make you into a great nation. I shall go down with you to Egypt, and in stages shall I bring you up, and Joseph shall close your eyes.” So Jacob leaves Beersheba, and the children of Israel carry Jacob their father and their children and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh sent to transport him. They take their livestock and all that they have acquired in the land of Canaan. Then Jacob and all of his offspring arrive in Egypt, his sons and his grandsons, his daughters and his granddaughters, with him.
CENSUS OF THE HOUSE OF JACOB IN EGYPT
These arrive in Egypt:
Children of Leah,
borne to Jacob in Paddan-aram:
Reuben, firstborn of Jacob,
and his sons:
Enoch, Pallu, Chetzron, Carmi
Shimon and his sons:
Yemuel, Yamin, Ohad, Yachin, Tsochar, Saul son of the Canaanite woman
Levi and his sons:
Gershon, Kehath, Merari
Judah and his sons:
Shelah, Peretz, Zerach
(Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan
and therefore are not counted)
Sons of Peretz:
Issachar and his sons:
Tola, Puvah, Yov, Shimron
Zebulun and his sons:
Sered, Elon, Yachliel
Dinah, Jacob’s daughter
33 counted thus far
Children of Zilpah,
whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter,
borne to Jacob:
Gad and his sons:
Tsiphyon, Chaggi, Shuni, Etzbon, Eri, Arodi, Areli
Asher and his children:
Yimnah, Yishvah, Yishvi, Beriah, Serach their sister
16 more counted thus far
Sons of Rachel,
wife of Jacob:
Joseph and his sons:
(counted although borne to him in Egypt
by Asenath daughter of Poti-phera,
priest of On)
Benjamin and his sons:
Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Na’aman, Echi, Rosh, Muppim, Chuppim, Ard
14 more counted thus far
Sons of Bilhah,
whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter,
borne to Jacob:
Dan and his son:
Naphtali and his sons:
Yachtz’el, Guni, Yetzer, Shilem
7 more counted thus far
The number of Jacob’s descendants who then arrive in Egypt, not including his daughters-in-law, is 66. (This number does not include Jacob himself, who is not his own descendant, nor does it include Joseph and his two sons, who were already in Egypt.) The total number belonging to the house of Jacob in Egypt is 70.
JOSEPH ORIENTS HIS FAMILY TO GOSHEN
Arrangements are made to direct, welcome and orient Jacob and his household for their settlement in Egypt. Judah is sent ahead to Joseph in order to direct Jacob straight to Goshen. Joseph comes to Goshen with his chariot in order to greet his father. He embraces him and weeps upon his neck for a long time. Israel says to Joseph, “I can now die, after having seen that you are still alive!”
Joseph tells his family that he is going to tell Pharaoh that his brothers and his father’s house have come to him from Canaan, that they are shepherds and herdsmen, and that they have brought their flocks and herds with them. If they are asked their occupation by Pharaoh, they should reply similarly to him, telling him that they have been livestock handlers from their youth, and such were their fathers before them, “in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because anyone who shepherds a flock is abhorrent to Egyptians.”
JOSEPH’S FAMILY BEFORE PHARAOH
Joseph tells Pharaoh that this father and brothers and their livestock have come from Canaan to Goshen. He presents a few of his brothers to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh asks them about their occupations, they answer that they are shepherds. They characterize themselves as refugees of the famine in Canaan due to the disappearance of pasture for their flocks, “and now please let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.” Pharaoh invites them, through Joseph, to settle in the choicest parts of Egypt, including the land of Goshen. He also offers that any qualified among them might be taken on to be in charge of the royal livestock.
Joseph then brings Jacob his father to stand before Pharaoh, and Jacob blesses Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks Jacob his age. Jacob answers, “The days of my sojournings are 130 years; few and bitter have been the days of my life, and they have not equaled the lifespan of my fathers.” Jacob blesses Pharaoh and departs from his presence.
Joseph settles his father and his brothers in a choice possession in the land of Raamses, as Pharaoh had commanded. Joseph sustains his father and his brothers and all of his father’s household with bread, down to the youngest.
Joseph Rules Egypt
JOSEPH ACQUIRES THE WEALTH OF EGYPT FOR PHARAOH
Meanwhile, the famine is severe in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan. They languish from lack of bread, and Joseph collects all of the money that they spend for bread and brings it to Pharaoh’s palace. When all of the people have no more money to spend, the Egyptians come to Joseph and plead for bread, “for why should we die before you for lack of money?” So Joseph advises them to exchange their livestock for bread, and so they do for the next year. Then, in the following year, after they have transferred all of their livestock for bread, again they plead before Joseph. This time they offer their persons and their land for bread, “and we and our land shall be slaves to Pharaoh; give us seed that we may live and not die” and save the land from desolation!
Thus Joseph acquires all of the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, and he transfers the people to the cities, from one end of Egypt to the other. But he does not acquire the land of the priests, as they do not need to sell their land for food because of the allotment that Pharaoh has provided them. Joseph provides seed for the people to sow the land. One-fifth of the produce will be given to Pharaoh, and the people will keep the other four-fifths to feed their households. In response the people declare: “You have saved our lives! May my lord continue to favor us, as we become serfs to Pharaoh!” Joseph makes permanent this allotment of a fifth of the land’s produce for Pharaoh, and it stands to this day, except for the priests’ land, which did not become Pharaoh’s.
Meanwhile, Israel settles in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. They establish holdings in it, and they thrive, becoming fruitful and numerous, exceedingly.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Vayigash
Unity and Redemption
The word of the Eternal is to me as follows:
You, O son of man, take for yourself a piece of wood and write upon it, “For Judah and for his affiliated of the Children of Israel,” and take another piece of wood and write upon it, “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all of his affiliated of the House of Israel.” Then join them together as a single piece of wood in your hand. When your people ask you the meaning of these, tell them that I, the Lord God, am taking the tree of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and his affiliated Israelite tribes, and joining them with the tree of Judah and making them a single tree, one in My hand.
Let them see the wooden pieces upon which you write. Tell them that I, the Lord God, am gathering the Children of Israel from among the nations all around and bringing them to their Land. I shall make them one nation in the Land, upon the mountains of Israel, and they shall have one king. No more shall they be two nations, divided into two kingdoms. No longer shall they be defiled by their abhorrent idols and by all of their sins. I shall save them from all of their habitations, wherein they sin, and purify them. They shall be My people, and I shall be their God.
My servant David shall be their king, he shall be their one shepherd. They shall walk in accordance with My laws. They shall dwell upon the Land which I gave to My servant Jacob, upon which your fathers dwelled, and they and their descendants shall dwell upon it forever, and David My servant shall be their sovereign forever.
A covenant of peace shall I make with them, an everlasting covenant. I shall make them thrive with many descendants, and I shall place My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling shall be over them; I shall be their God, and they shall be My people; and the nations shall know that I, the Eternal, sanctify Israel, with My sanctuary being in their midst forever.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 93:4
Then Judah approaches Joseph, still not knowing his identity:
“Judah approaches him and says,
‘Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word
in the ears of my lord,
and may you not be angry at your servant…’”
“A fertile idea in the heart of a man
is concealed in deep water
and may be drawn up
by a man of understanding.”
It may be likened to a deep well full of cold, fresh water, yet no one could reach that water in order to drink it. Then someone comes along and ties rope to rope, cord to cord, string to string, with which he draws from the well and drinks, whereby others are able to draw from it and drink. Thus Judah does not flinch, he responds to Joseph word by word, point by point (cf. 44:19-34), until he reaches and draws that sentiment from his heart: “Joseph is unable to restrain himself any longer…” (Genesis 45:1ff.).
Genesis Rabbah 93:12
“Weeping, Joseph embraces Benjamin
and kisses all of his brothers.
Only then are they able to speak to him.”
Just as Joseph was able to reconcile with his brothers only after weeping, so the Holy One, blessed be He, is able to redeem Israel only after weeping and supplicating, as was said: “With weeping shall they come, and with supplication shall I lead them; I shall bring them to streams of water, in an honest way…” (Jeremiah 31:9).
Talmud Sanhedrin 89b
Genesis Rabbah 94:3
Whom to Believe?
At the time of the Akedah (cf. Genesis 22:1ff.), the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Abraham: I have tested you with many trials, and you have withstood all of them. Now, be true to Me in this trial, so that it cannot be said that the earlier ones prove nothing….
In the meantime, Satan approached Abraham on the way to the mountain and taunted him, “Now that He is putting you to another task, are you becoming wearied?…You have corrected many and strengthened weak hands; your words uphold the stumbler…but now that the potential of failure comes to you, aren’t you apt to stumble!” (Job 4:2-5) “No, but I walk in my integrity!” (Psalms 26:11) answered Abraham. “But shouldn’t your reverence for God be reason for confidence [in the future]…,” (Job 4:6a) argued Satan, “[how can]…your walking in integrity [to sacrifice your son] be also your hope (ibid.) [for the future]” (Job 4:6b)? rejoined Satan; and Abraham asserted, “What innocent man ever perished (Job 4:7)?”
When Satan realized that Abraham was not being dissuaded by him, he said, “I grabbed a word [from behind God’s veil]” (Job 4:12a): “The lamb for a burnt offering [and not Isaac for a burnt offering]” (Genesis 22:7b)! To which Abraham replied, “Such is the undoing of a liar: Even when he tells the truth, he is not believed!”
So also here, the brothers:
“They go up from the land of Egypt
and reach their father Jacob in the land of Canaan.
They tell him that Joseph is alive
and that he rules over all the land of Egypt.
Jacob’s heart stops, he cannot believe them.”
The brothers, who were liars to their father Jacob, letting him believe that Joseph was dead, are not believed. Rabbi Chiya taught: It is inherent in being a liar that even when he tells the truth, people do not believe him.
Genesis Rabbah 94:3
The Fortitude of a Son
“’Enough!’ says Israel.
‘My son Joseph is still alive.
I shall go and behold him before I die.’”
What did Israel mean when he exclaimed, “Enough!?” First, he meant: The strength of my son Joseph has been “enough” to maintain his righteousness, sufficient against many hardships. Even as hardships befell him, he remained steadfast in his honest piety.
Second, he meant: More than I! My sin is reflected in the prophet’s words, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and declare, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Eternal; my cause is dismissed by my God?’” (Isaiah 40:27) Unlike my son, I have been guilty of yielding my spirit in the face of my hardships.
Third, he meant: But now I feel assured through my son, for whom it can be said, “How great is Your goodness, which You have hidden for those who keep faith with You! You reveal it, in view of all, for those who seek refuge in You. You protect them, in Your secret presence, from the roughest of men, and shelter them, in Your sukkah, from slanderous tongues.” (Psalms 31:20-21)
Genesis Rabbah 86:2
Bringing Jacob Down to Egypt
“Enough!” says Israel.
“My son Joseph is still alive.
I shall go and behold him before I die.”
Rabbi Berechia taught in the name of Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simone: This may be compared to the efforts of leading a cow to slaughter when the cow refuses. What do they do in that case? They lead her son before her and she follows him against her will and not for her benefit.
Thus would Jacob our father descend to Egypt only by means of chains and shackles. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: My firstborn son, and I should bring him down with such disgrace?! Even if only to prevent Pharaoh from doing the same, I should not bring him down with such disgrace! Instead I shall lead his son before him, and thus shall he go down after him against his will and not for his benefit.
Yet He brought down the Divine Presence to Egypt with him. Rabbi Pinchas taught in the name of Rabbi Simone: Whence do we have it that the Shechinah came down with him? From what is written: “The Eternal was with Joseph!” (Genesis 39:2)
Genesis Rabbah 94:9
Who brought the census to 70?
“All of the souls who come with Jacob to Egypt,
aside from the wives of Jacob’s sons,
the sons of Joseph,
who were born to him in Egypt,
all of the souls of the house of Jacob
who came to Egypt
Recognizing that Jacob was not his own descendant,
the Rabbis wonder
who might have been counted
in addition to Joseph and his two sons
to bring the total number belonging to
the house of Jacob in Egypt to 70.
Rabbi Levi taught in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman: It was Yocheved, the future mother of Moses, who brought the count to 70.
But why, then, is Yocheved not mentioned
among those who come to Egypt with Jacob?
(Cf. Genesis 46:8-27)
Perhaps Yocheved is the additional descendant of Leah
who was not mentioned in the list
of Leah’s 32 named descendants
who were born to her in Paddan Aram and came to Egypt,
thereby justifying the total number of 33 given at its conclusion!
(Cf. Genesis 46:8-15)
But we have: “The name of the wife of Amram was Yocheved daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt (not Paddan Aram)!” (Numbers 26:59) Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman resolves the difficulty: The wording of the verse indicates that she was born to Levi in the land of Egypt, but she was conceived in the land of Canaan. Specifically, she was born at the gates of Egypt, so she was already born when she was brought into Egypt!
There are those who say: It was Serach daughter of Asher who brought the count to 70 (even though she is already counted in 46:17 among the children of Zilpah! but see below and Yefeh Toar at end). She and her city were besieged by Joab when the Ephraimite, Sheva ben Bichri, rebelled against King David and sought refuge there. “A wise woman called out to Joab from the city…, ’I am one who seeks the welfare of the faithful of Israel (shelumey emuney Yisrael)’”—I am the one who completed the count of Israel in Egypt (hishlamti minyanan shel Yisrael)—“’but you are seeking to kill city and mother in Israel!’ and Joab replied, ‘Far be it from me to swallow up or to destroy…surrender only Sheva ben Bichri and I shall lift the siege.’ Said the woman to Joab, ‘Indeed his head shall be thrown over the wall to you!’ and so, through her wisdom, she persuaded the people to behead Sheva ben Bichri and to throw his head down to Joab. Joab sounded the shofar, all of his men departed from the city to their homes, and Joab returned to the king in Jerusalem.” (II Samuel 20:1-22)
But how did she persuade her fellow townspeople to behead Sheva ben Bichri?
Especially in light of the Torah law:
“Do not return a fugitive slave to its master…,
but let him reside with you in the place of his choosing…!”
“The woman spoke to all of the people in her wisdom” (II Samuel 20:22): Do you know of anyone who has prevailed against David? They asked: What does he demand to lift the siege for a fugitive accused of rebelling against the king? A thousand men, she replied, and is not the price of a thousand men better than the destruction of your entire city! What if each one of us, they proposed, contributes what he can afford. Well, she said, maybe I can convince him to give up a little. So she pretended to go and appeal to him, reporting back to the people a reduction of the ransom from a thousand to five hundred, then from five hundred to one hundred, from one hundred to ten, and then from ten to a single fugitive. Notwithstanding the law protecting the fugitive, the people were led by her to compare favorably the price of the ransom to the destruction of their entire city, starting as high as a thousand men, and so “they beheaded Sheva ben Bichri and threw his head down to Joab” (ibid.).
It is taught by the Rabbis: If gentiles should demand, “Surrender to us one of your number for us to kill, or we shall kill all of you,” let all of them be killed rather than forfeit one soul of Israel. However, if the gentiles should specify to them whom to surrender, such as Sheva ben Bichri, then they should hand him over rather than let all of them be killed.
Said Rabbi Judah: Even when the gentiles specify whom to surrender, if they have not succeeded in trapping the entire city in their siege, so that there is a chance that the Jews might elude the gentiles’ attack, “let all of them be killed rather than forfeit one soul of Israel!” However, if all of the city is trapped by the gentiles, so that the specified victim would inevitably suffer the same fate as the rest of the Jews, then they should hand him over in order to save the entire city. Such was the reasoning of Serach daughter of Asher, when she “spoke to all of the people in her wisdom” (ibid.), that is, with a reasoned argument: Since he will be killed and you will be killed, give him to them so that you will not be killed!
Yefeh Toar (Samuel ben Isaac Ashkenazi Jaffe, 16th cent., Constantinople): Serach daughter of Asher is counted only as one among the children of Zilpah. Therefore we can say that she completed the count in that she was considered as two because she was both pious and wise and she lived many days. A completed individual is regarded in the plural.
Midrash Hagadol Genesis 47:27
The Power of Good Tidings
“Israel settles in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen.
They establish holdings in it, and they thrive,
becoming fruitful and numerous, exceedingly.”
This teaches that they embraced the land and grew and thrived thereby to an abundant degree. So consider how good tidings and consolations have an effect. Jacob and his sons were devastated by the loss of Joseph, but when they were informed of his existence and thus consoled, what does Scripture say? “The spirit of Jacob their father is revived!” (Genesis 45:27) Likewise the brothers and their tribes awakened and blossomed like growth from the earth!
Thus shall it be when the bearer of good tidings comes to us, in the words of the prophet, “How lovely upon the hills the feet of him bringing good tidings!” (Isaiah 52:7) and “Get yourself up on a high mountain, you who bring good news to Zion!” (Isaiah 40:9) Whereupon we shall come to life, be fruitful and multiply, for it is written, “He who is left in Zion and the remnant in Jerusalem shall be considered holy, all who are recorded as living in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 4:3)—thus says the Master of mercy!
Mordechai Margulies: The author (generally acknowledged to be Rabbi David Adani, 14th cent., Yemen) concludes his commentary on the Sedra with words of consolation as was his wont.
Otzar Midrashim Pinchas ben Yair 17
The Difference between Egypt and Canaan
“Israel settles in the land of Egypt…
and they establish holdings in it…”
“When you come to the land of Canaan,
which I am giving you for a possession,
I will put the affliction of tsara’at
in the house of the land of your possession.”
Why did He associate the land of Canaan with the affliction of tsara’at?
The Holy One, blessed be He, was saying to them: Consider the origin of the land of Canaan, how Ham, son of Noah and father of Canaan, sinned in the nakedness of his father (Genesis 9:22), and for that Canaan was cursed (Genesis 9:25). You also, when you sin in your land, you shall be seized by affliction just as Canaan was punished!
“The land of Canaan,
which I am giving you for a possession…”
“For a possession” can be understood in contrast to what He said to them earlier, when they were still subject to the divine decree: You shall be slaves in the land of Egypt (cf. Genesis 15:13); and then “Israel settles in the land of Egypt…and they establish holdings in it” (Genesis 47:27), literally, “they are possessed by it”: the land seizes them and holds onto them! This means that if they tried to leave the land before the end of the 400 years of exile and servitude in Egypt that God foretold to Abraham (Genesis 15:13), they would not be able to leave, like one who is held against his will!
But later, when they come to the land of Canaan, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to them: Don’t imagine that you are possessed by it and that another servitude is going to be imposed upon you. No, your relationship to this land will be at your discretion: it is you who will possess and hold on to it! Just be careful lest you ravage the land by your evil deeds and I impose the affliction of tsara’at.
Genesis Rabbah 98:2
Tanchuma Nitzavim 1
Abarbanel on Ezekiel 37:23
Unity under One King and One God
“Take for yourself a piece of wood and write upon it,
‘For Judah and for his affiliated of the Children of Israel,’
and take another piece of wood and write upon it,
‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all of his affiliated of the House of Israel.’
Then join them together as a single piece of wood in your hand…
I shall make them one nation in the Land…”
When Jacob was ill and about to die, he called to his sons, “Come together!” (Genesis 49:1) and “Assemble!” (ibid. 2). As these words of invitation bear the same meaning, their redundancy would seem to transcend their immediate time and place, in accordance with Jacob’s words between them, “And I shall tell you what shall befall you in the end of days” (ibid. 1). More than calling his living sons together from their places in Egypt, he was calling to their future descendants in the divided kingdom: “Come together” from the ten tribes (that had separated themselves after the death of Solomon), and “Assemble” in unity with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin!
The Rabbis teach: He was imploring them to repair the division, “Make all of you a single assembly!” That was “the word of the Eternal” to the prophet, “You, O son of man,” take two pieces of wood to represent “Judah and his affiliated of the Children of Israel” and “Joseph/Ephraim and all (ten tribes) of his affiliated of the House of Israel,” respectively, to “join them together as a single piece of wood in your hand” (Ezekiel 37:16), the word for “affiliated” in each case (chaverav) being written in the singular (chavero) to indicate that the Children of Israel would become a single unity. Thereby they would prepare themselves for redemption, for what is written after those words? “I shall make them one nation in the Land” (ibid. 22)!
From practical experience we know that a bundle of reeds held together is strong enough to withstand a single blow whereas the same number of reeds held one by one are vulnerable to the weakest of blows even by an infant. So it is that Israel will not be redeemed until all of Israel unify into a single bundle, as it were, in accordance with the words of the prophet, “In those days and at that time, says the Eternal, the Children of Israel will come together with the Children of Judah, weeping as they go, seeking the Eternal their God” (Jeremiah 50:4); when they are united, they shall be worthy to receive the Divine Presence!
“No longer shall they be defiled
by their abhorrent idols and by all of their sins.
I shall save them from all of their habitations,
wherein they sin, and purify them.
They shall be My people, and I shall be their God.”
Our Rabbis taught that when Israel cast off from themselves the yoke of the kingdom of David (after the death of his son Solomon), they cast off from themselves at the same time the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven. This is the point of the prophet’s words: “Then they will no longer be contaminated by their idols and their detestables and with all of their sins” (Ezekiel 37:23). For this was the underlying reason for the division of nations and of the kingdoms.
The prophet thus continues: “I will save them from all of their settlements in which they have sinned” (ibid.). While commentators have interpreted this to mean that He will save them from further sinning at Dan and Beth El, where the House of Israel sinned by the worship of calves, it is more correct to understand the “settlements in which they have sinned” to refer to the lands of their exile, as Moses foretold, “The Eternal will scatter you among all of the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, wherein you shall worship other gods unknown to you or your fathers, of wood and of stone” (Deuteronomy 28:64).
And because they had become contaminated and defiled in their idolatrous sins, the prophet says, “I will purify them,” meaning that He will purify them from every sin and iniquity so that they can be close to Him and to His service. Then, “they shall be My people, and I shall be their God…”: Just as they cast off from themselves two kingdoms, the kingdom of the House of David and the kingdom of Heaven, here He expresses their intent to restore both of them. In reference to the kingdom of David, He says, in the next verse, “David My servant shall be king over them…” (Ezekiel 37:24). In reference to the kingdom of Heaven He says here, “They shall be My people, and I shall be their God!”
Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman