Parashat Vayigash and Its Haftara

  • Rav Yoel Bin-Nun
 
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In honor of their wonderful parents and siblings (in-law): Stuart, Joan, Yonatan, Marlena, P'nina, Nissim, Ahuva, and Rena Cantor, for all of their love and support.
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In memory of our parents
Reuven ben Moshe z”l, (Dr. Robert M. Appel) - 17 Kislev;
Chana Bat Menachem Mendel Yitzchak z”l, (Anne Kleiner Appel) - 4 Teves; and
Ita Chaya Bat Yosef Shimon z”l, (Edith M. Agus) - 3 Teves
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The opening phrase of the parasha, "Then Yehuda came near to him," was understood by the midrash (Bereishit Rabba 93) in various different ways: "R. Elazar said: If it be for war, I come; if it be for conciliation, I come; if it be for prayer, I come." My father, Dr. Yechiel Bin Nun z"l, explained that all of these opinions are correct to a certain degree:
 
We find in Scripture “coming near” that creates real-physical closeness, whether for peace or for war… [as well as] for prayer, in a similar sense of unmediated closeness, in the abstract spiritual sense… [Clearly, though, was] a supreme effort to appease the ruler, to calm him down, to speak to his heart, to appeal to his integrity and decency, which he took the trouble to greatly emphasize – to repeatedly use the words “father, an old man, a child of his old age, little brother, mother, lad, dead, soul,” and of course to frequently mention “your servant/my lord,” even though he was unaware how this attitude fulfilled Yosef's dreams in his youth. The intensity of the conciliation is spelled out later, when Yosef identifies himself to his brothers: “Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said: I am Yosef your brother, whom you sold to Egypt” (Bereishit 45:4, and Rashi).[1]
 
What brought about the reversal in Yosef's attitude toward his brothers?[2] Yosef had already heard his brothers' remorse for not listening to his supplications when they threw him into the pit, which they articulated when they were sure (because of the translator) that he did not understand their language. This took place even before Yosef put Shimon in prison (Bereishit 42:21-24).
 
Yosef wept, but he restrained himself and overcame his feelings, and he continued to abuse his brothers. All of his dreams had already come true before his very eyes, including the 11 stars bowing down with Binyamin, and all of them also bowing down especially in the name of their father (Bereishit 43:26-27). At that point, Yosef commanded that his goblet be hidden in his brother Binyamin's sack, so that he be able to keep him with him.
 
The only thing that broke Yosef was Yehuda's description of his father in relation to him:
 
“And your servant my father said to us: ‘You know that my wife [my one beloved wife, Rachel] bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said: Surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since [because no corpse was ever found, and he was riddled with doubt]; and if you take this one also from me, and harm befall him, you will bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.’” (Bereishit 44:27-29)
 
The words of Yehuda (the son of Leah) about his father – that his beloved wife Rachel bore him [only] "two" sons – have undoubtedly amazed every sensitive reader to this day. But Yehuda could not have imagined the impact of his words, and with this he became a messenger of God. His description of Yaakov's mourning over his lost son, who was perhaps devoured by an animal, completely demolished the wall of alienation that Yosef had erected around himself from the moment he first laid eyes upon his brothers.
 
Just as Yaakov lived in the mistake of "an evil beast has devoured him," so too Yosef lived in the mistake of "for God has made me forget":  
 
And Yosef called the name of the firstborn Menashe, for “God has made me forget [nashani] all my toil and all my father's house.” (Bereishit 41:51)
 
Yosef did not attribute negative intent to his father; rather, he interpreted his being sent to his brothers and his being sold in the same way that Hagar was sent away together with "the son of the maidservant" following God's command to Avraham. But now it became clear to him that his father had mourned for him all these years, "and then Yosef could not restrain himself…" (Bereishit 45:1).
 
It is also impossible to ignore the continuation of Yehuda's words and his far-reaching proposal:
 
“Now therefore, let your servant, I pray you, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with me? Lest I look upon the evil that shall come on my father.” (Bereishit 44:33-34)
 
These words of Yehuda are words of repentance for and repair of his suggestion to sell Yosef, and they were heard by God. At that moment, Yosef was focused on his father:
 
And Yosef said to his brothers: “I am Yosef; does my father yet live [= live and love]?” (Bereishit 45:3);
 
But in the test of time, it was Yehuda's words of repentance and repair and his devotion to saving Binyamin that created the path of unity among the tribes of Israel in the face of fragmentation and division. Their impact was therefore greater than the breach in Yosef's erroneous wall that brought him to identify himself to his brothers. It is easy to see this when we examine the connection between the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin in Jerusalem.
 
In the days of the Judges, the tribes of Yehuda and Shimon settled together in the same portion (Shoftim 1:3), and the non-Israelite city of Yevus interrupted between the territory of Yehuda and the tribes of Rachel – Binyamin, Efrayim, and Menashe. David ben Yishai grew up in Beit-Lechem Yehuda on the blessing given to Boaz and Rut at the gate of the city:
 
“The Lord make the woman that has come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, who did build the house of Israel; and do you worthily in Efrat and be famous in Beit-Lechem. (Rut 4:11)
 
David's first attempt to connect with the sons of Rachel occurred while he was still fighting and playing music for Shaul, and especially when he received Michal the daughter of Shaul as his wife and made a covenant with Yehonatan the son of Shaul. That attempt failed because of the evil spirit and jealousy in Shaul's heart against David, until the death of Shaul and his sons on the Gilboa.
 
The second attempt took place when David was crowned as king. David's first coronation over the tribe of Yehuda alone raised him, at the word of God, to rule in Chevron (II Shemuel 2:1-4), because Chevron was the principal city of the tribe of Yehuda. When, however, "all of the tribes of Israel came to the king to Chevron" (II Shemuel 5:1-5), and crowned him as king "over all of Israel and Yehuda," David's first act was capturing Yevus on the border between Yehuda and Binyamin and turning it into "the City of David." Thus, the connection between Yehuda and Binyamin fulfilled the blessing of Beit-Lechem to Boaz and Rut and joined the tribes of Leah and Rachel to unite the tribes of Israel.
 
This idea of ​​Israel's unity is expressed, like "a deed of the fathers that is a sign for the sons,"[3] in Yehuda's devotion to Binyamin. This devotion led to a renewed connection also with Yosef and was reflected for future generations in Jerusalem, the city that joins the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin, and thereby the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel, led by the tribes of Yosef.
 
Yehuda's connection to Binyamin was strong and direct, both in the tribal territories and in the book of Bereishit, whereas his connection to Yosef was weak and indirect, both in the encounter between them in Egypt and in the tribal territories in the land of Israel. After the reign of Shelomo, the monarchy divided, and the tribes of Yosef led the separate kingdom of Israel (Shekhem – Tirtza – Shomron). The split between Yosef and Yehuda prevailed for most of the First Temple period.
 
The vision of unity remained buried in the words of the prophets: 
 
Hoshea 2:1-3: Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea… And the children of Yehuda and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head and shall go up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Yizrael. Say you to your brothers: My nation...
 
Yeshayahu 11:11-13: And it shall come to pass on that day that the Lord will set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people that shall remain from Ashur, and from Egypt, and from Patros, and from Kush [= Sudan and Ethiopia], and from Eilam, and from Shinar, and from Chamat, and from the islands of the sea. And He will set up an ensign for the nations and will assemble the dispersed of Israel and gather together the scattered of Yehuda from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Efrayim shall depart, and they that harass Yehuda shall be cut off; Efrayim shall not envy Yehuda [= with a civil war], and Yehuda shall not vex Efrayim.
 
Yirmeyahu 31:1-5: Thus says the Lord: The people that were left of the sword have found grace in the wilderness, even Israel, when I go to cause him to rest… Again will I build you, and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel… Again shall you plant vineyards upon the mountains of Shomron… For there shall be a day that the watchmen shall call upon mount Efrayim: Arise you, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.
 
Yechezkel 37:15-22: The vision of the two sticks, the stick of Yehuda and the stick of Yosef, that will be as one stick: "And they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all."
 
The prophecy of Yechezkel requires closer examination.[4] The chapter begins with the "vision of the dry bones" that will come back to life and continues with the "vision of the two sticks that will become one stick." Who are the "dry bones" in Yechezkel's prophecy?
 
In my opinion, the "dry bones" were the exiles from the kingdom of Israel who were exiled from Shomron some 150 years before Yechezkel lived. At the time of the exile of Yehuda and Jerusalem, these exiles were already in their own eyes "dry bones." This is indicated by the words, "these bones are the whole house of Israel" (Yechezkel 37:11), which appear once again later in the chapter in the "vision of the two sticks," in relation to the stick of Yosef: "For Yosef, the stick of Efrayim, and of the house of Israel his companions" (Yechezkel 37:16), but they are not mentioned in relation to the stick of Yehuda.
 
The exiles of Yehuda in the days of Yechezkel were stunned and beaten, refugees and exiles, enveloped by the shock of the destruction of Jerusalem and Yehuda with the Temple – but they were not "dry bones." In contrast, the exiles of Shomron and the kingdom of Israel after some 150 years had passed were already true "dry bones." All of their connections to their land and heritage had already dried up and completely disintegrated.
 
The logic of the chapter also teaches this: If only the Jews of Yehuda were to survive and return to their land, the ancient tension between "Yehuda and Israel" would certainly not reawaken; there would be no need for the prophecy concerning the two sticks. But the "vision of the dry bones" is directed at the exiles of the kingdom of Israel-Shomron. If even they, who have lost all hope, will rise from the graves of exile, precisely then prophecy will have to deal with the danger of that terrible schism, which was one of the causes of the destruction and exile. Therefore, the "vision of the two sticks" becoming one stick must come in the wake of the "vision of the dry bones" that will be restored to life from the graves of exile.
 
The exiles of Shomron could not cling to the Torah and the books of the prophets, because the kingdom of Israel clung to the sin of the calves erected by Yerovam ben Nevat. The great majority of the prophets also came from Yehuda (except for Hoshea), and their words did not stand at the center of the world of the people of the kingdom of Israel. Their spiritual and cultural identities rested on the tradition of the fathers of the nation (Yaakov's Bet-El, as the site of the gate of heaven; Bereishit 28:10-22; 35:6-15), and their native landscape. When they were exiled from their land, these foundations could not survive for more than several generations, and they soon became a murky memory, and finally "dry bones."
 
In contrast, the exiles of Yehuda, in a long and painful process, made the Torah and the books of the prophets the center of their spiritual and cultural world. Diaspora Judaism developed from this living connection, taking shape around the synagogue and the study hall. Similarly, Second Temple Judaism and the world of Chazal took form around the Torah and its public reading, as was instituted by Ezra the priest-scribe after he returned from the Diaspora to Jerusalem.[5]
 
Most Jewish leaders believed in the salvation of the Jewish People only by virtue of their loyalty to the Torah, and most of them still think this way today. Only the wondrous prophecies of the two priestly prophets of the destruction, Yirmeyahu (chapters 3 and 31) and Yechezkel (chapter 37), place at the center of the redemption and the return to Zion the people of Efrayim and Shomron, the children of Rachel, "the dry bones" and "the stick of Yosef in the hand of Efrayim," who will rise from the graves of exile in some miraculous manner that is beyond comprehension, because God Himself will fill them with spirit and restore them to life.
 
Today, before our very own astonished eyes, this vision has turned into reality. From the graves of exile arose Jews who had despised and abhorred Diaspora Judaism and the holy books, many of them returning to Zion and reestablishing their ancient Israelite identity – the one founded on the native landscape and connected to the tradition of the fathers, but not necessarily on the Torah and Jewish law. Jewish leaders reacted with anger, surprise, wonder, denial, or self-confidence that this was all just a temporary "accident" that would pass like a shadow. After all, they believed that there is no possibility of continued Jewish existence that is not based on loyalty to the Torah.
 
But the matter will be determined by the will of God alone. If He revived the "dry bones" and resurrected Israelitism, it is clear to anyone with understanding that we are standing before the wondrous drama of the "vision of the two sticks" – Israelitism and Judaism – who are fighting over the identity and the path of "a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, to be known as the State of Israel." This struggle itself is the essence of our lives since Israel's Declaration of Independence. It joins together the two sticks and turns them into a single stick that will not separate again, as stated by God in the prophecy of Yechezkel.
 
Rav Kook’s obituary of Herzl, with his references to Achav and Yoshiyahu
 
R. Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook was perhaps the only Jewish leader who realized this vision in his own vision. This is what he said in the eulogy that he delivered in Yafo for Binyamin Zev Herzl a week after his passing (about a month after R. Kook arrived in Eretz Yisrael), under the title: "The Eulogy in Jerusalem":
 
We must understand why two Messiahs necessary, the Messiah the son of Yosef and the Messiah the son of Yehuda [according to Sukka 52]. After all, the ultimate objective is one leader for everyone – "And David My servant shall be their prince forever" (Yechezkel 37:24-25). However, just as God created man with body and soul, and corresponding to them the forces that strengthen the body, perfect, and develop it, and also the forces that strengthen the spiritual soul, refining and perfecting it; and ultimate perfection is that the body should be strong and courageous and properly developed, and the soul should be healthy and strong and developed, drawing with its enormous strength all the courageous and strong forces of the body to the end of the good and pure intellect, the will of the Supreme one in His world –   
So too He prepared these two forces in [the people of] Israel, a force corresponding to the human body, which strives for the benefit of the nation in its status and material perfection, this being the proper foundation for all the great and holy plans of Israel, to be a holy nation to God, the God of Israel, and to be one nation in the land, a light for the nations. And the second side is the power to perfect spirituality itself. The difference between them is that regarding the first side there is a model [= nationalism, culture and universal values] for Israel among all the nations of the world, just as we are similar to them in our bodies. The second side is something unique to Israel, about which it is stated: "Lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Bemidbar 23:9), because of God's Torah and the supernal holiness that is unique to Israel, the holy nation.
From the outset, the two general forces were prepared in the two tribes who had been prepared to reign in Israel, Efrayim and Yehuda…
The trait of national affection in the form of generalities and materiality revealed itself in Achav, who had great affection for Israel and embraced the action of his father, Omri, who added a city in the land of Israel. And those who interpreted the Torah symbolically said (Sanhedrin 104b): All of them will enter the World-to-Come, as it is written: "Gil'ad is mine" – this refers to Achav, who fell at Ramot-Gil'ad”… But with all of this he did not recognize the value of the Torah and the holiness of God, in which all of Israel's advantage lies. Therefore, he followed the ways of Izevel and the abominable statutes of the gentile nations that prevailed at that time.
In contrast, Yoshiyahu strengthened the spiritual side in a manner unparalleled among all the kings, as Scripture testifies: "And like him was there no king before him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moshe" (II Melakhim 23:25)… It was therefore in Achav and in Yoshiyahu [both of whom fell in battle] that the two points of Yosef and Yehuda gathered, the force of the Messiah the son of Yosef and the Messiah the son of David…
And now, as the heel of the Messiah the son of Yosef, the vision of Zionism appeared in our generation, tending toward the most general [national] side. And because of our lack of preparation, the forces do not unite…
Therefore, we should pay attention, to strive toward the unification of the stick of Yosef and the stick of Yehuda, to rejoice in the arousal of the desire for healthy human life that is stirring up in the nation, [and at the same time] to know that this trait is not the [unique] objective of Israel, but only a proper base, which will grow in its own way.[6]
 
According to Rav Kook's vision, what is essential is the union of the two forces, the force of Israel and the force of Yehuda. This is the "vision of the two sticks."
 
This is also the essential idea in Israel's Declaration of Independence:
 
"A Jewish state in Eretz Ysrael, to be known as the State of Israel."
 
The Jewish authorities who think that the Zionist State of Israel is merely a corridor toward "messianic salvation" in accordance with the Torah may not have considered the fall of Yoshiyahu, the greatest penitent of all generations, in Megiddo. But R. Kook saw in his vision that each of the two forces alone would not last, because Israelitism alone and Judaism alone are too weak to bear the burden of salvation, despite all the devotion found in each of them. Only the unification of the two sticks into one stick can create a proper and worthy foundation for Israel's salvation. Indeed this is also the vision of the Declaration of Independence and the secret of the strength of the Jewish-Israeli identity that is forming in the State of Israel, with all the twists and disputes of the two sticks that cling to each other and join together.
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] Introduction to Eretz Moriya – Pirkei Mikra Ve-Lashon, pp. 24-25.
[2] What follows is an abridged version of what I wrote in my shiur for Parashat Miketz and in an article about Yosef and his father, "Ha-Ta'ut Ha-Kefula," Megadim 1 and on my website. 
[3] See Midrash Tanchuma and Ramban, beginning of Parashat Lekh-Lekha.
[4] What follows is an abridged version of what I wrote in my book, Nes Kibbutz Galuyot (Tel Aviv, 2011), pp. 290-297.
[5] Compare Ezra chapter 3 to Nechemya chapter 8.
[6] Published in Ma'amarei Ha-Ra'ayah, vol. 1, pp. 94-95, based on the source, Ha-Rishon Le-Yafo (Jerusalem, 2006), pp. 109-116.