This week’s Parasha, Vayigash, (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27) begins with what appears to be a hopeless situation that turns into a miraculous reunification and restoration. In his introduction to this week’s Haftarah (Ezekiel 37:15-28), Michael Fishbane connects the themes of the Torah and the Haftarah, “The haftarah emphasizes the theme of national restoration, with specific focus on the promised reunification of the northern and southern tribes, the renewal of the Davidic royal lineage, and the reestablishment of the covenant between God and Israel.”[i] In this passage, there is no judgment, discipline, or chastisement of any kind. It is purely a message of hope and promised restoration, not only of the divided nation (Ephraim and Judah) but of the Davidic dynasty as well.
It is interesting that within this passage, the concept of “one” is mentioned eleven times in thirteen verses. This אֶחָד, is the same word used in the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The unity and singleness of the God of Israel is the exemplar of the oneness that ADONAI desires for the restored people of Israel. Additionally, as prophetic actions often act as mnemonic devices to jolt the memory, perhaps the gathering of the two sticks into one may well have brought to mind the incident in Korach. The people had rebelled against the LORD’s chosen leadership and a plague ensued in which more that 14,700 persons died. It is recorded in Numbers 17 that the LORD required the staff of each of the tribal heads to be inscribed with the leader’s name—Aaron’s name was written for the tribe of Levi. These were then placed in the Tent of Meeting before the Ark of the Covenant. From this action, Aaron and the tribe of Levi was forever set apart for the service of the LORD. Noteworthy in this week’s context is that the staffs of all of the tribes, were individually inscribed, united and then placed where the LORD dwelt, (Numbers 17:7). In Ezekiel, after the reuniting of “Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him” with “Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him” the LORD proclaims that “I (ADONAI) will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezekiel 37:26b-27). This is a powerful promise to a people who at that time were in the Diaspora, in exile, scattered among the nations; many were probably under pressure to assimilate and put off their unique calling and position before the LORD. Ezekiel’s words were words of hope, much like Jeremiah’s when he recorded ADONAI’s promise to wayward Israel;
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
Not only will “all Israel will be saved” one day (Romans 11:26-27), but she will be completely reunited and restored under the Davidic rule of Yeshua, her Messiah and King.
Sadly, we have not yet reached that day. Today, though we are back in the land, and the ability to return is in hands of most Jews in the Diaspora, the majority of Israel remains abroad. In an online YNET article dated 26 June 2015, according to 2015 statistics “the worldwide Jewish population stands at about 16.1 million people with only 6.1 residing in Israel.”[ii] Notice in Ezekiel 37:21, after reuniting Israel, the LORD “will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone.” Just as the reunification will be a divine action, so will the full restoration of the Jews to the land be a divine action. Yes, many have returned to the land today, for a variety of reasons. But we are not a united or unified people. Dr. Meir Tamari comments concerning the Jewish community of Ezekiel’s day, “the rivalry (or disunity) was really an expression of an underlying serious conflict of a spiritual and religious nature that retains its relevance even today.”[iii] This “underlying conflict” not only separates people from one another but separates individuals from their God—one only has to pick up a newspaper or watch the daily news to see the reality of this problem.
Elijah challenged the people on Mt. Carmel, “‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word,” (I Kings 18:21). This is where Israel, and often we ourselves, stand today, “limping between two opinions.” On one hand, we want to serve our LORD and not the idols of modern society. On the other hand, we don’t want to give up our status, our things, our rights, submitting them to the Torah and ADONAI’s control and direction. Remember what the LORD said through Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.” Yeshua told His followers, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened,” (Matthew 7:7-8). ADONAI has prophesied that He has planned for the complete restoration of Israel. We have the promise that the LORD will answer we we call upon His name. The time is now, that we align ourselves with the Word of God, asking Him to do what He has promised to do, what He apparently desires to do – restore Israel and sanctify His name in the midst of Israel. Then, as we acknowledge daily in the Aleinu, the LORD’s ultimate goal will be accomplished, the whole world will know and recognize Him. “Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore,” (Ezekiel 37:28). Shaul wrote to the Philippians, “…that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11). This echoes Isaiah, “…by Myself (ADONAI) I have sworn; from My mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance,’” Isaiah 45:23).
[i] Michael Fishbane. JPS Haftarah Commentary. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002.), p 51
[iii] Meir Tamari. Truths Desired by God: An Excursion into the Weekly Haftarah. (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing, 2011.), p 60