Shabbat Vayigash 5784

On Wednesday morning, as I studied my 929 Project daily chapter of Tanakh, I realized that it sounded very familiar. Ezekiel 37 begins with the famous vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. But then it continued with another metaphor, one that sounded even more familiar. Then it hit me that this passage was the haftarah for Shabbat Vayigash. God commands the prophet to perform a symbolic act with two sticks. He is to write on one of them “For Yehudah and the Israelites associated with him,” and on the other, “Of Yosef, Ephrayim, and the Israelites associated with him” (37:16).

The prophet Yehezkel lived through the destruction of the First Temple, the First Jewish Commonwealth, in 587 BCE, and as a priest he was exiled to Babylonia along with the other surviving elites. His career spanned the time before and after the catastrophe, so half the book is apocalyptic prophesies about his own People’s fate, and the other is focused on punishment of Israel’s enemies and new possibilities for his compatriots. While the first half of our chapter is better-known, inspiring even the modern Jewish comic series Dry Bones, it is this week’s haftarah that calls us to pay closer attention, perhaps now more than ever.

The message of the symbolic act with the two sticks is obvious. For too long, the tribes of Israel have been divided and scattered. Soon, though, as God promises, the tribes will be ingathered and will again unify under one banner with one king: “Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms” (37:22). It is no wonder that this passage is read in conjunction with the Torah portion that tells of the reconciliation of Yehudah and Yosef, the ancestors of both kingdoms, along with the rest of the brothers.

While this reunification was a common prophetic hope–Hoshe’a and Yirmiyahu offered similar prophesies–Jewish stick fusion hasn’t been an easy accomplishment. On Shabbat morning, we’ll revisit this hope, in search of symbols of contemporary unity.

Shabbat Shalom and Shalom al Yisrael,

Rabbi David Wise

Candle lighting: 4:13 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28