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Reunited

Joseph by Laya Crust

           

Parsha: VaYigash                                   Haftarah:   Ezekiel 37: 15-28

For the last number of weeks we have been reading about our ancestors,  Jacob’s children. More specifically, we have read about Joseph’s trajectory from favoured son at home, to being a slave, and then to becoming viceroy of all Egypt. By the time he was thirty years old Joseph ruled Egypt. He ran the finances and oversaw all of Egypt’s policies.

In this week’s Torah reading Joseph’s brothers still did not know that the leader they were speaking to was their brother. This parsha begins just after Benjamin had been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice had been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers had been told that Benjamin would become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction. Joseph was playing a game with his brothers. 

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902
 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 
Judah, the same brother who decades earlier had suggested that Joseph be sold rather than be killed, stepped forward and begged for understanding. He poured out his heart, recounting the family history to the great Egyptian before him. Judah hoped that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph could carry on the charade no longer. He cleared all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard…” Joseph forgave his brothers. He feasted with them, gave them gifts of clothing and food, and convinced them to return to Egypt and live in comfort. He told them how to get land so they could raise cattle.

Although the story had begun many years earlier with fraternal jealousy, the brothers reunited and rebuilt their family. This was contrary to the patterns we had seen before. Cain killed his brother Abel. Isaac grew up without his brother Ishmael.  Jacob and Esau never truly reconciled. In this story we see Joseph and Judah build the unified family which would become a nation.

VaYigashReunited  by Laya Crust

The haftarah features the prophet Ezekiel. He lived from around 622 BCE – 570 BCE and was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. God told Ezekiel to take two beautiful branches, carve phrases on them and display them. One branch represented the nation of Judah and the other represented Joseph’s lineage, the nation of Ephraim. Ezekiel wrote phrases about the two Jewish nations onto the branches and held the two branches together. The action was to indicate that just as the branches could be rejoined, the Israelites could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation. 

beit horon passagephoto by Yoni Lightstone, tour guide

Ezekiel also told them that God would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v.  21, 22)

Both readings are about unity. In every era and in every generation there are disagreements between different sectors of Jews. We are stronger as a united people. I hope we can learn to discuss, consider, and be united for the benefit of all.

The painting “Reunited”, showing Ezekiel writing on a branch,  is one of the images in my forthcoming book, “ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of Haftarah”. Stay tuned for more information!

Shabbat Shalom,  Laya

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VaYigash

VaYigash                                                                                        Art by Laya Crust

Ezekiel      37 15-28

Ezekiel (prophet) – c.622 BCE – 570 BCE.

Ezekiel was among the 8,000 Jews exiled to Babylonia. Although much of his time was spent criticizing the behaviour of the Jewish people, he kept the spirit of the Jewish people alive during a time of despair. He was a great advocate of individual responsibility, an important trait for each person in the world to  practise no matter when he/she lives.

The haftarah’s message is unity and the unity is expressed through writing on two branches. The storyline gives a message through art and craft. Gd told Ezekiel, a prophet, to take two beautiful branches, polish the branches, carve on them and display them. Naturally this craftsmanship is an art form. The background of my painting is made up of significant phrase from Ezekiel’s speech. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

So, about those branches-  One represented the nation of Judah and the other represented the nation of Ephraim, Joseph’s lineage. Ezekiel wrote the following phrases onto the branches: “For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions” on one, and “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions” on the other. Ezekiel then held the two branches up in front of a gathering of the exiled Jews. He showed that the two groups could be reunited and grow together as one unified nation. He also told them that Gd would gather them from among all the nations and bring them back  to their own land. The text reads, “I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel.” (v. 22)

beit horon passage

Photo by Yoni Lightstone tour guide

This speech by Ezekiel comes right after the vision of The Valley of the Dry Bones. He is preaching unity of the nation, and the revival of their political and spiritual connection to their Gd and their land.

This week’s parsha continues the saga of Joseph and his brothers. We have read how Joseph was sold into slavery. Jacob went into deep mourning believing Joseph was dead when in reality Joseph was imprisoned and ultimately made high vizier in Egypt. He was second only to Pharaoh in his powers. The Middle East suffered a debilitating drought and Jacob’s family was forced to go to Egypt to purchase food. We have read how Joseph recognized his brothers but hid his identity from them. Now, finally, Joseph has revealed his identity and they have all been reunited. The haftarah echoes the family reuniting.

It is written in this week’s Haftarah: “Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them to their own land.” (v.21). We see it happening today. Jews from all over the world are coming to Israel. But- you don’t have to be Jewish! Come to Israel! Visit! It’s beautiful there.

Enjoy this holiday time,

Laya

 

 

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VaYigash

joey

This picture is from the Bar Mitzvah of a boy named Joseph, named after his grandfather Joseph, and he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah reading parshat VaYigash, about Joseph.  I portrayed Joseph in his special coat gazing at the stars and dreaming of his future. In the border are symbols of the twelve tribes- symbols of his brothers as well as other images relating to the Bar Mitzvah boy.

The colourful story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its climax in this week’s parsha. The brothers and their father, Jacob, have survived the famine in the land of Canaan but cannot survive much longer. Against the heart broken patriarch’s intuition the brothers must travel to Egypt to get food. They have gone before and met the Pharaoh’s second in command- and had a strange experience there. But this time they go with troubled hearts because they were warned not to come unless they brought their youngest brother, Benjamin.

It is a game Joseph is playing with his brothers, and it’s difficult to understand exactly why he is making the demands he is making. This parsha begins just after Benjamin has been “framed”. Joseph’s personal silver chalice has been “planted” in Benjamin’s belongings, and the Israelite brothers have been told that Benjamin will become enslaved to Pharaoh’s court as payment for the infraction.

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brot...

English: Joseph Converses With Judah, His Brother, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 7 7/8 x 10 3/16 in. (19.9 x 25.9 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The beauty/ pathos of the story unfolds from here.  Judah steps forward and begs for understanding. He pours out his heart, recounting the family history to this great Egyptian before him. Judah hopes that by telling this leader of his father’s frailty the leader may accept Judah as a slave rather than take his youngest brother.

Joseph can carry on the charade no longer. He clears all the Egyptian attendants from the room. The text says, “and he cried,’ Cause every man to go from me.’  And no man stood with him while Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And his voice cried out with weeping, and Egypt heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.”

When I read those phrases I imagine a stately, handsome regent who is always in control. He is a man who has faced one challenge after another but has always kept his wits about him, analyzed, strategized, and succeeded.  He has played with his brothers, waiting for just the right time to reveal his identity.  I think he was “undone”, hearing Judah’s humility and love for Yaakov, the father Joseph hasn’t seen and possibly thought he never would see again. The narrative sets the scene in a compelling way. Joseph is so overcome that he loses his controlled facade. Alone with his brothers he lets out such a cry of anguish that the entire land of Mizrayim (Egypt) hears… What powerful text.

Foster Bible Pictures 0054-1 Joseph Kissing Hi...

Foster Bible Pictures 0054-1 Joseph Kissing His Brother Benjamin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story began many years earlier. Fraternal jealousy instigated a cruel joke at best or a malicious death wish at worst. That behaviour broke a family apart and had a ripple effect on the generations that followed.

The brothers and Jacob are reunited.  Judah will become one leader of the tribes and the other brothers will unite  as a group called “Yisrael”. We know from the text in the Bible that just as they separated when Joesph was sold the tribes of Israel will once again separate and form two kingdoms.

The conflict in the history of the Jews- the competition for leadership, the separation of the nations – is foreshadowed in the story of Abraham’s sons, Isaac’s sons, and now again in the story of Jacob’s sons.

The hafatarah for this week is Ezekiel 37: 15 – 28.  Ezekiel the prophet lived in the early part of the 6th C. BCE.  He was among those exiled to Babylon. In this haftarah he is told by G-d to take two sticks. On one he should write the name of Joseph and his “house” (kingdom), and on the other the name of Judah and his “house” (kingdom).  The two sticks should then be held together signifying that the two kingdoms should and can be reunited. The people of Israel will be gathered from among the nations, they will live righteously , and they will live as one nation. 

We have seen the story played out over and over again. Now we have our own country of Israel. Jews are immigrating there from the four corners of the world. Yet we are divided by traditions, dress, levels of observance, and internal politics. We’ll see how our next chapter unfolds.

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