Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayigash 5778–Two Sticks as One (Revised 5767)

I remember seeing, many years ago, at a CAJE Conference, one of Kenny Ellis’ shtick routines – he would hold up a carrot in one hand and say in a thick Israeli accent “one gezer” (gezer is Hebrew for carrot – and pronounced “geh-zair). In his other hand, he would hold up another carrot and say “two gezer” (yes, we know the Hebrew syntax is wrong, but the joke doesn’t work without it.) He would bring the two carrots side by side and exclaim “Two gezer as one.” (You have to say it out loud to get it.)

Why do I even mention this? Well, to be honest, I have to say it just popped into my head later that same year as I was reading through the haftarah for parashat Vayigash, from Ezekiel 37:15-28. It’s short enough to include all of it:

וַיְהִ֥י דְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה אֵלַ֥י לֵאמֹֽר׃

37:15] The word of the LORD came to me:

וְאַתָּ֣ה בֶן־אָדָ֗ם קַח־לְךָ֙ עֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וּכְתֹ֤ב עָלָיו֙ לִֽיהוּדָ֔ה וְלִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חברו [חֲבֵרָ֑יו] וּלְקַח֙ עֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וּכְת֣וֹב עָלָ֗יו לְיוֹסֵף֙ עֵ֣ץ אֶפְרַ֔יִם וְכָל־בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חברו [חֲבֵרָֽיו׃]

[16] Mortal, take a stick nd write on it “For Judah and Israelites associated with it” and take another stick and write on it “Joseph – Ephraim’s stick – and all the House of Israel associated with it”

וְקָרַ֨ב אֹתָ֜ם אֶחָ֧ד אֶל־אֶחָ֛ד לְךָ֖ לְעֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֑ד וְהָי֥וּ לַאֲחָדִ֖ים בְּיָדֶֽךָ׃

[17] Bring them together, every one of them, as one stick, that they maybe as one in your hand.”

וְכַֽאֲשֶׁר֙ יֹאמְר֣וּ אֵלֶ֔יךָ בְּנֵ֥י עַמְּךָ֖ לֵאמֹ֑ר הֲלֽוֹא־תַגִּ֥יד לָ֖נוּ מָה־אֵ֥לֶּה לָּֽךְ׃

[18] And when any of your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what these actions of yours mean?”

דַּבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַר֮ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִה֒ הִנֵּה֩ אֲנִ֨י לֹקֵ֜חַ אֶת־עֵ֤ץ יוֹסֵף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּיַד־אֶפְרַ֔יִם וְשִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חברו [חֲבֵרָ֑יו] וְנָתַתִּי֩ אוֹתָ֨ם עָלָ֜יו אֶת־עֵ֣ץ יְהוּדָ֗ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתִם֙ לְעֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וְהָי֥וּ אֶחָ֖ד בְּיָדִֽי׃

[19] Answer them, “Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in the hand of Ephraim—and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.”

וְהָי֨וּ הָעֵצִ֜ים אֲ‍ֽשֶׁר־תִּכְתֹּ֧ב עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם בְּיָדְךָ֖ לְעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃

[20] You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed,

וְדַבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵיהֶ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַר֮ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִה֒ הִנֵּ֨ה אֲנִ֤י לֹקֵ֙חַ֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִבֵּ֥ין הַגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָֽלְכוּ־שָׁ֑ם וְקִבַּצְתִּ֤י אֹתָם֙ מִסָּבִ֔יב וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם אֶל־אַדְמָתָֽם׃

[21] and you shall declare to them: Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land.

וְעָשִׂ֣יתִי אֹ֠תָם לְג֨וֹי אֶחָ֤ד בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ בְּהָרֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּמֶ֧לֶךְ אֶחָ֛ד יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְכֻלָּ֖ם לְמֶ֑לֶךְ וְלֹ֤א יהיה־[יִֽהְיוּ־] עוֹד֙ לִשְׁנֵ֣י גוֹיִ֔ם וְלֹ֨א יֵחָ֥צוּ ע֛וֹד לִשְׁתֵּ֥י מַמְלָכ֖וֹת עֽוֹד׃

[22] I will make them a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel, and one king shall be king of them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

וְלֹ֧א יִֽטַמְּא֣וּ ע֗וֹד בְּגִלּֽוּלֵיהֶם֙ וּבְשִׁקּ֣וּצֵיהֶ֔ם וּבְכֹ֖ל פִּשְׁעֵיהֶ֑ם וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּ֣י אֹתָ֗ם מִכֹּ֤ל מוֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיהֶם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָטְא֣וּ בָהֶ֔ם וְטִהַרְתִּ֤י אוֹתָם֙ וְהָיוּ־לִ֣י לְעָ֔ם וַאֲנִ֕י אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים׃

[23] Nor shall they ever again defile themselves by their fetishes and their abhorrent things, and by their other transgressions. I will save them in all their settlements where they sinned, and I will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God.

וְעַבְדִּ֤י דָוִד֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וְרוֹעֶ֥ה אֶחָ֖ד יִהְיֶ֣ה לְכֻלָּ֑ם וּבְמִשְׁפָּטַ֣י יֵלֵ֔כוּ וְחֻקֹּתַ֥י יִשְׁמְר֖וּ וְעָשׂ֥וּ אוֹתָֽם׃

[24] My servant David shall be king over them; there shall be one shepherd for all of them. They shall follow My rules and faithfully obey My laws.

וְיָשְׁב֣וּ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָתַ֙תִּי֙ לְעַבְדִּ֣י לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽשְׁבוּ־בָ֖הּ אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם וְיָשְׁב֣וּ עָלֶ֡יהָ הֵ֠מָּה וּבְנֵיהֶ֞ם וּבְנֵ֤י בְנֵיהֶם֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם וְדָוִ֣ד עַבְדִּ֔י נָשִׂ֥יא לָהֶ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

[25] Thus they shall remain in the land which I gave to My servant Jacob and in which your fathers dwelt; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, with My servant David as their prince for all time.

וְכָרַתִּ֤י לָהֶם֙ בְּרִ֣ית שָׁל֔וֹם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָ֖ם יִהְיֶ֣ה אוֹתָ֑ם וּנְתַתִּים֙ וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֣י אוֹתָ֔ם וְנָתַתִּ֧י אֶת־מִקְדָּשִׁ֛י בְּתוֹכָ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

[26] I will make a covenant of friendship with them—it shall be an everlasting covenant with them—I will establish them and multiply them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever.

וְהָיָ֤ה מִשְׁכָּנִי֙ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וְהֵ֖מָּה יִֽהְיוּ־לִ֥י לְעָֽם׃

[27] My Presence shall rest over them; I will be their God and they shall be My people.

וְיָֽדְעוּ֙ הַגּוֹיִ֔ם כִּ֚י אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה מְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל בִּהְי֧וֹת מִקְדָּשִׁ֛י בְּתוֹכָ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

[28] And when My Sanctuary abides among them forever, the nations shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel.

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. 22b) “Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.”

(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 southern kingdom – almost 120 years had elapsed between the destruction of the northern kingdom and the exile of the southern tribes around 586. Add to that the 40 years of exile. Were only the descendants of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi among the returned exiles? We may never know for sure.

In Talmud, Midrash and other rabbinic sources, we first learn of the river Sambatyon, the raging river that was only still and crossable on Shabbat. It is said that G”d encircled the lost tribes with the river, and that the retained faith of the lost tribes kept them from violating the Shabbat by crossing the river then. With the coming of Moshiach, the lost tribes will be returned and reunited with all of Israel, it is said.

Needless to say, many Christians went searching for the elusive river and the lost tribes – more Jews to convert. Legends and myths abound in both Jewish and Christian sources.

And according to Church of Latter Day Saints belief, the Bible is the stick of Judah, and the Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph. (This may offer you some insight as to why Mormons continue to posthumously baptize Jews murdered in the Shoah despite continually agreeing with Jewish leaders to stop the practice.)

Radio evangelist Hebert W. Armstrong claimed that descendants of the lost tribes were spread throughout Europe. This became the underpinning of more contemporary millennialist and apocalyptic expressions of Christianity.

And what of today? If the Samaritans, the Lemba, Beta Yisrael, the Abayudayah, Bukharan, Igbo, Bnei Menashe, Pashtun, et al, are, as they claim to be, descendants of the lost tribes – many of them being allowed to return to Israel and considered Jews – perhaps Ezekiel’s prophecy may finally be coming true? There are those who adhere to the Anglo-Israelite theory, claiming the the British, and the royal houses of Britain, are descended from the lost tribes. There are even similar theories about the Japanese and the Kurds.

The whole “lost tribe” thing is a fascinating journey that one could spend an entire lifetime researching. Just Google “lost tribes of Israel” and you’ll see what I mean. And all because of these passages from Ezekiel.

Time permitting, I commend to you further investigations into Jewish sources about the lost tribes, and thence to following these threads in Christianity and other religions.

Yet all of this has been one giant digression, for my purpose in referring to these words of Ezekiel from our haftarah for parashat Vayigash is of an entirely different nature.

I want to alter Ezekiel’s vision a little bit. I ask pardon of all for the liberty I am about to take with these sacred words from our sacred texts, but for me they express a contemporary hope ultimately more important than the reunification of all 12 tribes of Israel. It is the unifications of all Jews.

From the Book of “I Made it All Up Ezekiel:”

[15] The word of the L”rd came to me: [16] And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it “Of the rabbis, the Sanhedrin, Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim, Achronim, and all the Israelites associated with them–strict followers of their traditions and interpretation”; and take another stick and write on it, “Of the Jews who give tradition a vote but not a veto, and all the Israelites associated with them.”

[17] Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick again, joined together in your hand.

[18] And when any of your people ask you “Won’t you tell us what these actions of yours mean?” [19] answer them “Thus said the L”rd G”d: I am going to take the stick of tradition and I will place the stick of liberalism upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined by My hand.”

And now I offer you a choice of two possibilities-choose that which feels best for you-

[20] You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed, [21] and you shall declare to them: Thus said the L”rd G”d: I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. [22] I will make them a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel, and one king shall be king of them all. Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

OR

[20] You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed, [21] and you shall declare to them: Thus said the L”rd G”d: I am going to take the Israelite people, wherever in the world they live, [22] and make them again one people, never again to be divided.

and either can end as Ezekiel (really) did:

[23] Nor shall they ever again defile themselves by their fetishes and their abhorrent things, and by their other transgressions. I will save them in all their settlements where they sinned, and I will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I shall be their G”d.

The fractious and ever-widening divisions between liberal and traditional Judaism (and even the divisions within these segments) may be our undoing. Is it foolish to imagine a future where liberal and traditional Jews can sit together under their vines and fig trees unafraid? Cannot these two sticks be joined – if not as one, at the very least, living in respect with each other? A wide G”d accepts that there may be as many true paths to G”d as there are people.

My G”d’s sanctuary abide among us all forever, and may we all know that the L”rd sanctifies all the children Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian

©2017 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Vayigash 5777 – Orange Default Swaps
Vayigash 5776 – Things Better Left Unsaid (Redux 5763)
Vayiggash 5775 – Rule #2
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

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About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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