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Haftarah: Vayigash: Wholeness

Ezekiel 37:15-28: Exiles, outsiders in a strange land, cling to each other and remember their past. “It seems so clear now”, the exiled people said to Ezekiel. “We can trace the beginning of our downfall to the split between Rechavam and Jeroboam, the division of Israel into two kingdoms. We were a united nation. We were twelve tribes at the height of our glory under the reign of Solomon. We had good reason to reject his son, but now, as we sit in the Diaspora of Babylon and remember what once was, we realize that we should never have split the tribes between Judah and Joseph. We gained some freedom but we forfeited the strength of our unity.” They were a broken nation trying to save what was left of their relationship with a God, Whom they declared to be a Unity. The shattered nation wondered if they would survive as a single people. Israel had been fragmented for generations until David unified them. They could not maintain the unity more than two generations despite being powerful and in their own home. What would happen to them in exile?


Their concerns resonate even now more than twenty-five hundred years later. We are not always successful at retaining our children in the folds of Israel. We are divided in so many ways, and yet, we share something that keeps us connected, albeit tenuously. Are we destined to always be so split? The original twelve tribes were divided along the same lines of Judah and Joseph. The brothers reconnected but we can still sense the tension and division in their words and interactions. They reunited, but they were not unified. The tension between Joseph and Judah repeatedly played itself out over the generations. How can a fragmented nation relate to God, Who is a Unity, and desires our unity?


Ezekiel’s response to the broken people gathered around their fires in Babylon speaks to us as well. “Take yourself one wooden tablet and write upon it, ‘for Judah and the Children of Israel’, and take another tablet and write upon it ‘for Joseph and all the Children of Israel.” The people watched as the prophet took the two blocks of wood, the symbol of the broken nation and they listened as he continued: “Bring close one to the other, like a single wooden tablet, and they shall become one in your hand.” And they watched in countless groups in cities all over Babylon as the two tablets became one.


The prophet promised his contemporaries that the breach in Israel would be healed. All the different parts would be seamlessly rejoined. Ezekiel agreed with them, and with us, and with all whom, over hundreds of generations, suffered over Israel’s divisions. “I will take the Children of Israel from among the nations to which they went, and I shall gather them. I will make them into a single nation.” They will have one king. They will be unified. Israel will not be the home without conflict. Joseph and Judah will continue, as a whole. The marriage without any arguments may have the absence of conflict, but it does not necessarily have wholeness, true peace. Ezekiel’s single, seamless block of wood was a symbol of a nation that had achieves wholeness, true peace.


“They will no longer be contaminated with their idols and their abhorrent things, and with all their rebellious sins.” Ezekiel does not end his words with reassurance. He uses this opportunity to teach that the nation, once unified, will have spiritual integrity. Their sins resulted from their divisions. As long as we are divided we will not have the strength to withstand the distractions of life. We will remain broken if each of us fights for our own agenda and needs.


Jacob, Judah, Joseph, the brothers and all their families were united. They had food, security, and stability. This family was, these people were, limitless, if only they were unified. They could have had peace rather than exile. As Ezekiel concludes, “I shall seal a covenant of peace with them, and I shall place My Sanctuary among them forever.”


Judah arrived in Egypt ahead of the family. He and Joseph had the opportunity for wholeness, not just peaceful coexistence. There were too many unspoken apologies, anger, questions and explanations. The conflict, at least the outward expressions of it, was gone. The two giants, Judah and Joseph, did not unify. The cracks remained. The family and future nations, suffered for it, and sank into slavery.


I wonder, as I read Ezekiel’s words and hear his voice; are we prepared to strive for the wholeness that slipped from the grasp of Joseph and Judah?

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