It’s an old adage, that appears in many variations:
Rule #1: [X] is never wrong
Rule #2: When [X] is wrong, refer to Rule #1.
In this week’s haftarah, we encounter just such a situation. Ezekiel’s prophecy does not prove true. So the rabbis tweak the meaning to fit the reality. Ezekiel clearly predicted the re-unification of all the tribes of Israel.
In this haftarah, from Ezekiel 37:15-28, the prophet is instructed to take two sticks, and write upon one of them “Judah and the Israelites associated with him” and upon the other “Of Joseph-the stick of Ephraim-and all the House of Israel associated with them.” Then he is told to “bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand.” (JPS translation.)
וְאַתָה בֶן־אָדָם קַח־לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִֽיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְרָאֵל חֲבֵ֯רָו וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל־בֵית יִשְרָאֵל חֲבֵ֯רָֽו
וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל־אֶחָד לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים בְיָדֶֽךָ
It’s a powerful metaphor – the sticks representing the peoples of the two Kingdoms – Judah and Israel – with G”d, through Ezekiel, foretelling their return to Zion from exile.
No “lost tribes” in this story. G”d tells Ezekiel that all the people of the covenant will be gathered from where they have gone and brought together in their own land, and make of them one nation, under one King. And then G”d promises (v. 22) “Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.”
וְיתִי אֹתָם לְגוֹי אֶחָד בָאָרֶץ בְהָרֵי יִשְרָאֵל וּמֶלֶךְ אֶחָד יִֽהְיֶה לְכֻלָם לְמֶלֶךְ עָשִוְלֹא יִֽהְ֯יֻה־ עוֹד לִשְנֵי גוֹיִם וְלֹא יֵחָצוּ עוֹד לִשְתֵי מַמְלָכוֹת עֽוֹד
I guess we can consider the promise half-true – the people were returned from exile in Babylon and thereafter were one nation, but, in effect, still only the nation that was the southern kingdom, Judah. We don’t really know how many, descended from the tribes that made up the northern Kingdom of Israel might have been among those who came back to a restored Jerusalem and
For the rabbis, the idea that Ezekiel was wrong was too much to entertain. So they reinterpreted Ezekiel’s vision in a non-literal manner as referring to a reunification of the people with G”d and Torah. Rule #2.
In modern times, some see Ezekiel’s prophecy as referring to the reunification of Jews in the Diaspora with the land of Israel. Given that Ezekiel’s original intent was very much centered on a restoration of a united Kingdom of Irael, under one King, with a restored Temple, that’s not too much pof a stretch.
Also, in a broader interpretation, some see it as a prophecy of the reunification of all Jews, of all stripes, everywhere – traditional and liberal. From our mouths to G”d’s ear, it should only be.
OK, let’s play the rule #2 game. Ezekiel cannot have been wrong. The Joseph story is largely about insuring the Divine plan is followed to its inevitable conclusion. (Never mind that we have to undergo several centuries of enforced servitude in Egypt.) Joseph’s reunification with his family is inevitable, and a necessary part of the story, for all of “Israel” must come down to Egypt in order for the story to progress as ordained.
Could the Diaspora, the foundation of a modern state of Israel, the establishment of re-interpretative forms of Judaism, all be part of the plan? Is an eventual schism between the traditional and liberal streams of Judaism (khas v’khalil) inevitable, and part of the Divine plan, which will eventually lead to the true fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy when we are all again reunited as one? Will the lost ten tribes be part of the reunification? (The Mormons and he British Israelites would love that.) Does G”d consider the Christians and Muslims errant children as well, eventually to be reunited as one Israel under one King? (I say this as gadfly and as mere speculation.Do notice that I did avoid suggesting that the Shoah was in any way part of the plan-the Shoah was humanity’s doing, not G”d’s. On the other hand, is it possible that the modern state of Israel seems to have some moral and ethical failings of its own part of the plan – and will it yield an eventual chastisement of medinat Israel for its sins? Not something I wish to see happen, but since we’re speculating, we might as well go all the way.)
History is replete with prophecies that didn’t quite come true as expected. It is equally replete with apologetics for these unfulfilled prophecies. (It is also replete with prophecies that were never meant to be prophecies at all, but were simply eisegeted right out of the text to serve the purposes of particular people. As they say, the Mayan’s probably just ran out of room on the calendar wheel.)
As human beings, we do tend to see things through very short time spans. That Ezekiel’s prophecies have not yet come true of these few thousand years is, on the time scale of our planet, our universe, dare I say, of G”d, insignificant. So yes, the hope that rule #2 will still prove true remains, if we but adjust our time scales.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all practiced forms of rule #2. So many times in their histories, adherents believed that prophecies were speaking of imminent happenings. When, as is it is to be almost invariably expected given our limited life spans, prophecies fail to materialize quickly, we just as quickly turn to an “immanent” explanation. This has become our most eminent explanation. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Rule #1 – I never make bad puns.
Rule #2 – When I make bad puns, refer to rule #1
So let’s close with another version of the rules
Rule #1 – There is no rule #2
©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Vayiggash 5774 – We Are Shepherds
Vayigash 5773 – Let’s Be Judah
Vayigash 5772 – Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G”d Play Dice With the World
Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 – He’s A-Cookin’-a-Somethin’-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 – G”d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?
Vayigash 5764-Incidental Outcomes and Alternate Histories