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United We Stand

The major theme of Parshat Vayigash is the reunion of Joseph and his father. It is this reunion that ostensibly motivated the selection of Ezekiel 37: 15 - 28 for the haftarah.

Ezekiel lived around the time of the destruction of the First Temple, which was also about 150 years after the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. He envisioned (prophesied?) a time when these two kingdoms comprised of the twelve tribes would once again be united. The key metaphor for this is contained in verse 16 and 17: "Mortal, take a stick and write on it, 'For Judah and Israelites associated with it' and take another stick and write on it, "Joseph's - Ephraim's stick- and all the House of Israel associated with it'. Bring them together, everyone of them, as one stick, that they may be as one in your hand". When the people ask him what he is doing he replies that he is demonstrating God's plan to reunite Israel into one strong kingdom in the Promised Land. Ezekiel, seeking to comfort the recently exiled and vanquished Israelites, offers the biblical reunion of Jacob's family as a vision of hope. Similarly, the rabbis attempt to extend Ezekiel's comforting vision of reunion to the scattered Jewish world. Thus, when we read of Joseph's and Jacob's reunion followed by the haftarah of Ezekiel's vision we are to infer that if such a miracle happened once, it can happen again.

I suspect, however, that there is another, albeit, oblique link between this haftarah and the parasha. To detect it one must know, which the rabbis did, that one of the most theologically challenging selections regarding reunification, of a sort, in the entire Hebrew Bible is found in Ezekiel immediately preceding the haftorah. Chapter 37: 1 - 14 contains Ezekiel's famous vision of bodily resurrection. The idea of resurrection was and is troubling. It purports to not only the survivability of the soul but also an eternal relationship with a particular corporal body. However, what does this have to do with the weekly parsha? After all, this is not the selection.

I think the connection is found in Vayigash (47:8 - 9). Pharaoh asks Jacob: "How many are the years of your life?". To which he cryptically replies, "...the years of my sojourn [on earth] are one hundred and thirty..." His response begs a question, which is highlighted for us by the bracketed "on earth": where else would this sojourn take place? In light of the central biblical image used to describe something which occurs at or around the time of death but is separate from burial, namely "to be gathered to his kin", Jacob seems to imply that he knows that there is a part of him that will survive his bodily life. That is to say, his answer to Pharoah's question suggests that he understands that the sum of his life includes something more than just the years he "sojourns" on earth, but also a sojourning on a different plane of existence. In other words, he seems to be implying that his soul (or some aspect of him) will survive in someway and somewhere after the demise of his body.

If it is the case that Jacob is alluding to a belief that his soul will survive his death then the haftarah may well be functioning as a commentary on what this means. On the one hand, Ezekiel's vision of reunification of the two kingdoms can be understood that upon death the souls of Jews will be reunite in the source of all souls, God. The idea of the survivability of the soul, as we now call it, is consistent with rabbinic theology. On the other hand, Ezekiel's other vision, the one about resurrection, offers a different notion of the idea of reunification. The later case is much more problematic and therefore it is probably good that the rabbis only hinted to this possibility.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah