Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musing Before Shabbat
Vayigash 5767- Two Sticks As One

This past summer, at CAJE, 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-pronounced "geh-zair). In his other hand, he would hold us 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 as I was reading through the haftarah for parashat Vayigash, from Ezekiel 37:15-28. In this haftarah, 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.)

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 still and crossable only 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 millenialist 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 even 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 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, 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 these two sticks - 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 load. [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.


[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.

You can read on in the real text through the end of the haftarah -- do what you will with verses 24 & 25 -- verses 26- 28.

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

Shabbat Shalom,


©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester


Some other musings on the same parasha:

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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