Vayigash: Common Roots

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayigash

We’re cruising into Shabbat shortly but before we do let’s share just
a few words about this week’s haftarah, taken from the book of
Ezekiel, chapter 37. The dominant image of the haftarah is that of two
pieces of wood, one inscribed with the name Yehudah, and one inscribed
with the name of Yosef, who was the father of Ephraim, who in turn
gave his name to one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

These sticks will be brought together by the prophet, in front of the
people, to represent a healing of the split in the ancient nation of
Israel between a northern kingdom (Yosef/ Ephraim) and a southern
kingdom (Yehudah.) The haftarah is thus linked to the Torah portion,
Vayiggash, by the image of Yehudah and Yosef coming together- in the
Torah portion, it was the two brothers who were reconciled years after
the older brothers threw Yosef into the pit and sold him into slavery,
and in the haftarah, the reconciliation is social and political.

The word for “stick” in the haftarah is “etz,” which can also mean
tree, branch, or chip of wood, according to the haftarah commentary of
Shimson Raphael Hirsch, who understands the image of the two “etzim”
as a bringing together of two branches from the same tree. In this
interpretation, it’s not only about separate kingdoms coming together
politically, but a renewed understanding of the common history and
destiny of the Jewish people- we are branches that share common roots.

Seen this way, the imagery of the haftarah could not be more timely.
The Jewish world is going through rocky times, with scandals,
financial pressures, and the violence in Gaza. We will not all agree
on the right policies to address our challenges, but we can strive to
remember that we are linked together as a worldwide kehillah
[community]. We need each other to achieve the brit shalom – the
covenant of peace- which the haftarah holds out as our hope and our
shared ideal.

Shabbat Shalom,


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