Tag Archives: yechezkel

Shabbat Parah – Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

(A translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave in Kinor David on 23 Adar 5775 (3.14.15). It was written as a speech, not an essay)

Today is the yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l. This Dvar Torah is in his memory.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah describes the transition between Exile and Redemption. One of the stages is:

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will place in you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Yechezkel 36:26)

The prophet does not explain what the “heart of stone” of Exile is, nor what the “heart of flesh” of Redemption might be, nor how this transition is supposed to take place.

Many years ago, my father and I were discussing making Aliya, and he told me that he is afraid to live in Israel. Not because of the security situation, not because of the economic situation. He said like this: if someone betrays you and harms you, if that person is not Jewish, it is upsetting and disappointing. But if another Jew does this to you, it is intolerable. And he was not interested in putting himself into a situation where everyone around you is Jewish and the person who will harm you is a fellow Jew.

To fear that you will be betrayed is to live with a heart of stone. A heart that is defensive, closed, that is always anxious and distrustful. A heart of Exile.

But my father did make Aliyah. And those of you who knew him, can testify to the fact that he did not walk around with “a heart of stone.”

Pirkei Avot says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות
“You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” (Avot 1: 15)

That is, even if you are worried, if you are sad, or in pain, that is not a reason to pass that forward, so that everyone who sees your angry face will also become upset. Chazal tell us that even if you are living with a heart of stone, you must make an effort that when you meet another person, you at least don’t ruin his day with your expression. This is a minimum, “sever panim yafot”, a pleasant countenance.

But there is another Mishna in Pirkei Avot, and it says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בשמחה
“You should greet every person with joy.” (Avot 3:12)

And this is a completely different experience. This is, when someone runs into you on the street, you see true joy, not just on the face, but from the heart. “How wonderful to see you! How great it is that you are here, and I am here, and we are here together!” That is a “heart of flesh”, a heart that has nothing to fear, a heart that knows to rejoice. That is Redemption.

But how do we reach this? How do we build a society that supports these kinds of hearts, and doesn’t trample upon them?
The prophet of the Haftarah, Yechezkel, says that it will be G-d who will remove the heart of stone from us, and replace it with a heart of flesh. But what about our role? Can it be that we don’t need to do anything, and G-d will do it all?

There is a general rule that “words of Torah that are limited in one place, are expanded upon in a different place” – it doesn’t say what we must do in Yechezkel, but it does say it in Zechariah. Zechariah chapter 8 also talks about the transition between Exile and Redemption, and here, G-d tells us precisely what we are supposed to do:

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּ – דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם: וְאִישׁ אֶת רָעַת רֵעֵהוּ אַל תַּחְשְׁבוּ בִּלְבַבְכֶם
“This is what you must do: speak truth to each other. Judge with truth and justice in your courts. Do not plan evil to each other in your hearts.” (Zechariah 8:16)

This is exactly what my father said: if a Jew undermines another Jew, if he “plans evil in his heart”, to harm him and betray him, it is intolerable. If society accepts it as a norm, then it is not Redemption.

But the truth is, our society here in Israel – which perhaps is not as refined as it ought to be, and still has much to improve – this is not part of our culture here. Even now, with the upcoming elections, the advertisements are all about how this party does not do enough for this segment of the population and that party should do more for that segment. Because we actually do want everyone to do well.

And this is why my father truly enjoyed his ten years here in Israel, years of Redemption, the opportunity to greet every person with joy.

Now that we are entering the month of Nissan, which is the season of Redemption and national joy, and also our family is entering the joyful time of the Bat Mitzvah of the first granddaughter born to Dedushka in Israel, I wish all of us that we will succeed to continue and build a society of joy, a community of joy, and continue to share many joyful times together.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

Leave a Comment

Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot, Yahrtzeit


On Shavuot, we read the first chapter of Yechezkel, known as “Ma’aseh Merkavah” (The Divine Chariot). It describes a vision of many different kinds of angelic beings in a complicated arrangement involving color, light, and motion. Chazal called it “Mercava”, we might say, “G-d’s motorcycle”, or even, “G-d’s UFO.” The Mishna in Chagiga says that it is so esoteric is should not be studied even in small groups, yet it is the public reading for a major holiday.

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Shavuot – where I do my best to at least describe what he was seeing, even if we cannot explain it.

As to why we read it on Shavuot – the source of the connection is in the following verses in the description of Matan Torah:

וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר
They saw a vision of the G-d of Israel, and under his feet was something like transparent sapphire, like the essence of a clear sky. (Shemot 24:10)


וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד ה’ כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
The appearance of the Kevod Hashem, was like a devouring flame at the top of the mountain, in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael.

The real question is why Yechezkel is shown this vision of Kevod Hashem as part of the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Holidays, Shavuot


The Haftarah of Emor, from Yechezkel, describes the role of the Cohanim and the additional commandments that apply only to them.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Emor

The source in the Torah for those commandments is the Parsha, Parshat Emor.

It is so obvious what the connection between the Haftarah and the Parsha must be that it actually makes it difficult to say anything meaningful about it. True, one could discuss the differences in the details of the commandments in the Torah vs. those presented by the prophet Yechezkel, but interesting though that may be, it does not in fact shed any light on the Parsha itself.

But this does: Sanctity and Continuity

Leave a Comment

Filed under Emor, Sefer Vayikra

Emor – Sanctity and Continuity

PDF for Printing – 2 pages

Parshat Emor and the Haftarah of Emor both discuss the commandments and restrictions that apply to Cohanim, the hereditary priesthood of the Jewish People.
The Haftarah of Emor describes in detail the role that the Cohanim will have at the time of the Final Redemption. It reviews their service in the Temple and the additional restrictions that the Torah places on them both during their service and in their personal life. It describes their responsibilities to the Jewish People outside the Temple, such as teaching Torah and adjudicating Halachic issues, and it lists some of the responsibilities of the Jewish People to them, such as the gifts of Challah (first bread) and Bikurim (first fruit).

According to Parshat Emor, the additional commandments are what imparts upon the Cohanim the additional level of sanctity required for service in the Mikdash (Sanctuary). Among the verses that are addressed to them, we find the following commandment addressed to the Jewish People as a whole:

וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ כִּי אֶת לֶחֶם אֱלֹהֶיךָ הוּא מַקְרִיב קָדֹשׁ יִהְיֶה לָּךְ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם:
You will make him sacred, because he offers up the bread of your G-d; he shall be sacred to you, for sacred am I, Hashem, who makes you sacred. (VaYikra 21:8)

As we have learned in previous Parshot, such as Kedoshim, what makes someone sacred is that they act differently than the people around them. The Jewish People have a very long list of commandments; consequently, there is an expectation that the Jewish People will have a higher level of sanctity relative to other nations. Likewise, G-d gave the Cohanim additional commandments to differentiate them from the rest of Israel, with an even higher level of sanctity. But if it is G-d who makes them sacred, as per the end of the verse, what does it mean when the very same verse says, “you will make them sacred”? In what way are we, the Jewish People, able to make the Cohanim sacred?

Rashi, distilling several Midrashim into a handful of words, explains:

וקדשתו – על כרחו, שאם לא רצה לגרש, הלקהו ויסרהו עד שיגרש:
You make him sacred: by force. If he does not wish to divorce his (illegal) wife, punish him until he does so. (Rashi Vayikra 21:8)

One might think that if a Cohen married a divorcee, which is explicitly forbidden in the Torah, then he made a personal choice, and while he may have done something wrong, it does not affect Jewish society as a whole. However, the Torah says: “You must make him sacred”: the responsibility to observe the laws that are unique to Cohanim is theirs, but the responsibility to enforce them is ours.

The verse continues and says: “he shall be sacred to you”. That, too, is not a mere platitude, but is expressed through action. Rashi explains:

קדש יהיה לך – נהוג בו קדושה לפתוח ראשון בכל דבר ולברך ראשון בסעודה:
He shall be sacred to you: treat him as sacred, to speak first in every situation, and to be first to make the blessings at meals. (Rashi Vayikra 21:8)

Our responsibility to keep the Cohanim sacred is expressed through the preferred treatment that we show them. Therefore, the Cohen gets the first Aliya to the Torah, and he is the first to be asked to lead Birkat HaMazon after meals. This is not much to ask; we are not obligated to defer to them in politics or business or even Torah. But this little bit is enough to embed their special status in the culture and consciousness of the Jewish People.

One might have thought that once the Temple was destroyed and the primary role of the Cohanim, to bring the offerings to Hashem, was no longer a part of Jewish life, that the sanctity of the Cohanim would disappear as well. But this has not been the case. More than three thousand years after this commandment was given, the Cohanim are still distinct among the Jewish People. This remarkable persistence is due to the sanctity of the additional commandments that the Cohanim were given, and due to the deference that the Jewish People have continued to show them. As commanded, we have made them sacred.

Ultimately, we will reach the stage of redemption described in the Haftarah, where we once again have a Temple, and need Cohanim to serve there:

הֵמָּה יָבֹאוּ אֶל מִקְדָּשִׁי וְהֵמָּה יִקְרְבוּ אֶל שֻׁלְחָנִי לְשָׁרְתֵנִי וְשָׁמְרוּ אֶת מִשְׁמַרְתִּי:
They will enter into My sanctuary, and they will come near My table to serve Me, and they will keep My charge. (Yechezkel 44:116)

At that time, there will still be Cohanim, distinct and sacred among the Jewish People.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

1 Comment

Filed under Connections, Emor, Sefer Vayikra

Shabbat HaChodesh

This Shabbat is the last of the four special Shabbatot. We read Parshat HaChodesh that relates the commandment of Rosh Chodesh and of the first Pesach, and the Haftarah is of from Yechezkel, describing the dedication of the final Temple.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat HaChodesh

There are so many interesting ideas that the Haftarah brings up in connection with Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and Rosh Chodesh Nissan itself is such an interesting date, it was hard to find just one thing to focus on. So perhaps some day in the future I will write about whether the world was created in Nissan or Tishrei and what difference it makes, and about the Gates of the East and the return to Gan Eden. This time I wrote about the 1st of Tishrei as the New Year for kings.

This is also a chance to summarize the 4 special Shabbatot that prepare us for the season of national independence and achievement:

  • Shekalim on the power and utility of money, which is one of the bases of society.
  • Zachor on the shared values that are worth standing up to protest
  • Parah on the paradoxical nature of Jewish history, and on the potential for change
  • HaChodesh on how we became a nation in the first place.

    May this season bring only good news and joy to the entire Jewish People, wherever they may be.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Shabbat HaChodesh, Special Shabbatot

Shabbat HaChodesh – New Year for Kings

Shabbat HaChodesh is the fourth and last of the special Shabbatot, the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

On Shabbat HaChodesh we read Parshat HaChodesh, the very first commandment that G-d gave to all of Israel as a nation[1]:

(א) וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר:

(ב) הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה:

1) Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, in the Land of Egypt, as follows:
2) This month will be for you the first of months, it will be the first for you among the months of the year.  (Shemot 12)

Not only was this the first commandment that Israel was given as a nation, it is this commandment that made Israel a nation in the first place. In the ancient world, what distinguished a nation from a bunch of tribes was that nations had kings. The Jewish People in exile were still just a large family, a dozen tribes. By giving us commandments, G-d made Himself our king, and made us a nation.

The 1st of Nissan is associated with kings in Halacha. When listing the various new years in our calendar, the Mishna states:

ארבעה ראשי שנים הם באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים :

There are four new years: 1st of Nissan is the new year for kings and for holidays (Mishna, Rosh Hashana 1:1)

What is a “new year for kings?” In the times of the Tanach, people would date their documents based on the reign of the current king, eg: “in the 2nd year of the King Yehoshafat.” The year was incremented not on the date of the coronation of that king, but rather on the 1st of Nissan. Let’s say King Yehoshafat had been crowned during Adar; starting with the 1st of Nissan of that year, we would start dating our documents as the 2nd year to his reign, even though he had only been king for a month.

The “coronation date” of the Jewish People is not the coronation date of a particular human king, like all other nations. Instead, it is the date that we accepted G-d as our king and became a nation, the date when G-d gave us our first commandment: the 1st of Nissan.

The Haftarah of HaChodesh describes the dedication ceremony of the final Temple, which begins on the 1st of Nissan[2]. It talks about the offerings that will be made on that day, in particular, by the leader of the Jewish People, whom Yechezkel calls “nassi.”[3] Surprisingly, the Haftarah begins a few verses before the description of the dedication ceremony, and ends a few verses later. Those extra verses refer to a seemingly unrelated topic: the laws that limit the power of the leader of the Jewish People.

This “nassi” has an important role, especially in the dedication of the final Temple: he must collect the taxes, and he must represent the people in bringing their offerings. He is shown respect: certain gates are opened especially for him, and he is allowed to use certain passages that others are not. But the Haftarah states explicitly that these privileges are only given to him when he is actively representing the nation. When he comes to the Temple as a private person, as an individual, he does not get any special treatment.

The Haftarah goes out of its way to point out that the leader of Israel, whether he be called “king”, or “nassi”, is given power only to the extent that he serves the nation. He represents them, he organizes them, he leads them, but he does not truly rule them. It is not his authority that defines them as a nation. Their years are not dated from the beginning of his reign, but from the beginning of G-d’s reign – the date of the first commandment given to Israel.

The nation of Israel may have many new years, but we have only One King.

PDF for printing, 2 pages
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] Avraham’s commandment of Brit Milah was given to him as an individual and the head of a family.

[2] The Mishkan’s dedication ceremony was also on the 1st of the 1st.

[3] “Nassi”, which is used in modern Hebrew to mean president. It is sometimes translated as “prince”, but a prince in English connotes the child of a king. It literally means,  “one who is raised”, as in “his highness”, or in the case of the Jewish People, “first among equals”. Which is why I went with “president”.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Connections, Shabbat HaChodesh, Special Shabbatot

Shabbat Parah

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot of the spring, and the Haftarah is taken from one of the chapters of comfort of Yechezkel.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat Parah

For the connection between the Parsha of Parah, the Haftarah, Passover, and Purim (yes, Purim), see: Shabbat Parah – Paradox.


Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot

Shabbat Parah – Paradox

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot between Rosh Chodesh Adar and Roch Chodesh Nissan, a time of preparation for the Passover season. At the time of the Temple, Passover included an actual sacrifice that was brought and then eaten at the Seder, and in order to participate, one had to be ritually pure.  Hence the custom to read Parshat Parah, which describes some of the laws of ritual purity, several weeks before Passover.

In addition to the connection to Passover, the date of Shabbat Parah is related also to Purim. The Gemara says,

ואי זו היא שבת שלישית – כל שסמוכה לפורים מאחריה

“Which is the third week? The one right after Purim.” (Megilla 30a).

It could just as easily have said, “the week before Shabbat Hachodesh”, which is how it actually comes out on the calendar. Phrasing it as “after Purim” implies that Shabbat Parah is connected to the events that happened after Purim, and not only to the upcoming Passover.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah begins by describing the shame of exile:

וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ שָׁם וַיְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי בֶּאֱמֹר לָהֶם עַם ה’ אֵלֶּה וּמֵאַרְצוֹ יָצָאוּ:

They came to the nations to which they had come, and they desecrated the Name of My holiness, when it was said about them, “This is the people of Hashem, and they have left His land.”  (Yechezkel 36:20)

The prophet Yechezkel says explicitly that when the Jewish People are in exile, it is a “Chillul Hashem”, a desecration of G-d’s Name. It shows that we failed in our mission to further G-d’s plan for the world, and is an embarrassment to the Jewish People and to G-d Himself.

Why do we need to read this “after Purim”?  Purim was a great miracle; the Jewish People narrowly escaped destruction. But when it was all over, they were still in exile. The Haftarah of Parah tells us that this is not good enough. We must not for a moment think that our salvation on Purim shows that living “spread out among the nations” is an acceptable state for the Nation of G-d.

On the other hand, if even Mordechai and Esther, with all the power that they wielded, were unable to end the exile, then perhaps it was just too hard. We know from the Books of Ezra and Nechemiah that life in the Land of Israel at that time was barely tolerable. The state of the economy, security, even religion itself, were all sub-par, certainly relative to the strong and vital community in Shushan.  Given the problems that they were facing, they must have wondered if G-d was actually interested in them coming back. Perhaps they did not deserve to be redeemed.

The Haftarah of Parah tells us that G-d will not tolerate the shame of exile indefinitely, regardless of the relative merit of the Jewish People:

…לֹא לְמַעַנְכֶם אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי אִם לְשֵׁם קָדְשִׁי אֲשֶׁר חִלַּלְתֶּם בַּגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאתֶם שָׁם:

…וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם:…וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם…

… It is not for your sake that I do this, House of Israel, but for the sake of the Name of My holiness that you desecrated among the nations to which you had come.
… I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land… I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be purified  (Yechezkel 36: 22-25)

When G-d chooses to do so, He will take the Jewish People out of exile and back to the Land of Israel. Once they are there, He will take steps to “purify” them, to make sure that they deserve to live in the Holy Land.

This appears to be illogical, out of order. It would make much more sense if the Haftarah first said, “I will purify you”, and then, “I will bring you to your land.”

This paradox is one of the lessons of Shabbat Parah. The section in the Torah that we read on this Shabbat describes the ritual of “Parah Adumah”: an unblemished red cow is slaughtered and burned, and its ashes are mixed with water to create a solution that is called “purifying water”. This solution is the only way to remove the ritual impurity caused by direct contact with death. Paradoxically, every person involved in the preparation of this “purifying water” becomes impure himself[1].  This law is not meant to be logical or understandable to human beings. To make this point, this commandment is introduced as an “חוקה”, a decree.  As Rashi puts it:

גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה

It is a decree before Me and you have no permission to second-guess it. (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:2)

According to the following Midrash,  this is not only true of decrees that G-d made in the Torah, it is also true of decrees that He has made in history:

זאת חקת התורה זש”ה מי יתן טהור מטמא לא אחד (איוב יד) כגון אברהם מתרח חזקיה מאחז יאשיה מאמון מרדכי משמעי ישראל מעכו”ם העה”ב מן העה”ז מי עשה כן מי גזר כן מי צוה כן לא אחד לא יחידו של עולם … תמן תנינן כל העוסקין בפרה מתחלה ועד סוף מטמאין בגדים היא גופה מטהרת בגדים אלא אמר הקב”ה חקה חקקתי גזרה גזרתי ואין אתה רשאי לעבור על גזרתי.

As it says, “Who makes pure from the impure, not the one” (Job 14). E.g.: Avraham from Terach, Hizkiyahu from Ahaz, Yoshiahu from Amon, Mordechai from Shimi, Israel from pagan nations, the World To Come from the World As it Is. Who makes this happen, who decreed this, who commanded this? The One and Only … as we learned, “everyone involved in the red cow from beginning to end becomes impure, and it itself purifies.”  G-d said, I wrote an edict, I decreed a decree, and you may not transgress My decree. (Bamidbar Rabba Chukat 19)

It would make a lot more sense to us humans if pure would come from pure. Avraham ought to have come directly from the righteous Noach, and not from ten generations of pagans. Israel ought to have come into being in purity and isolation in the Holy Land, not in the immoral filth of Egypt. The World To Come should have been created in the first place, not as an outcome of the World As Is.

But that is not how G-d chose to run the world. Just as the laws of Parah Adumah do not make sense to us, yet we accept is as a decree from Above, so, too, we must accept G-d’s choices in history as a decree from Above.

We might have expected the steps toward redemption to proceed in a logical order, that the Jewish People would first be purified and only then return to our land. We might have expected that the redemption would be led by the purest and holiest of the Jewish People. Yet the Haftarah of Shabbat Parah tells us otherwise. If G-d chooses, the converse can be true: first we return to our land, and only then we are purified. This might not make sense to us, it might not be how we would have done it, but it is a decree from Above, and we do not have the right to second-guess it.

On the first Shabbat between Purim and Passover, we prepare for national redemption, an end to the shame of Exile, no matter what form it takes.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] At a lower level of impurity, avoiding infinite recursion

Leave a Comment

Filed under Connections, Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot

VaYigash: Oseh Shalom Bimromav

The Haftarah of VaYigash begins with the reconciliation of Yehudah and Yosef:

טז) וְאַתָּה בֶן אָדָם קַח לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרָיו,
וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרָיו:
יז) וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל אֶחָד לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים בְּיָדֶךָ:
16) You, son of man, take one branch, and write on it “For Yehudah, and for the children of Israel, his partners” and take one branch, and write on it “For Yosef, the branch of Ephraim, and for all the children of Israel, his partners.”
17) Bring them together into one branch, and they will become one in your hand. (Yehezkel 37)

Yechezkel describes the reunification of the two political entities of the Jewish People during the time of the First Temple: the northern kingdom, Israel, also known as Ephraim or Yosef, and the southern kingdom, called Yehudah. According to the Haftarah, this reunification will be one of the first steps of Redemption; ultimately, the Jewish People will all be one nation with one country. While this might sound obvious, in truth, it is far from trivial.
The Haftarah is not just talking about uniting two different countries called “Yosef” and “Yehudah”; but rather, untiting two different fundamental prototypes within the Jewish People, represented by the terms “Yosef” and “Yehudah”.

Near the end of Parshat VaYigash, Yaakov sends Yehudah to Egypt to prepare for the family’s migration. The Midrash states the following:

ואת יהודה שלח לפניו זש”ה המשל ופחד עמו עושה שלום במרומיו (איוב כה) …א”ר שמעון כל הרקיע של מים והמלאכים של אש ומשרתיו אש לוהט ואין המים מכבין את האש ולא האש שורף את המים יהודה ויוסף זה ארי וזה שור אתמול מתנגחין זה עם זה ועכשיו הוא משלחו אצלו שנאמר ואת יהודה שלח לפניו הוי עושה שלום במרומיו.
And Yehudah he sent before him: It says, “Oseh Shalom Bimromav – He makes peace in His Heavens” (Job 25)… R’ Shimon said: the sky is made of water and the angels are made of fire, but the water does not put out the fire, and the fire does not burn up the water. Yehudah and Yosef: one is a lion, the other is an ox. Yesterday, they were attacking each other, and now Yaakov sends one to the other, as it says, “And Yehudah he sent”?! Thus: “He makes peace in His Heavens.” (Midrash Tanhuma VaYigash 6)

According to this Midrash, Yehudah and Yosef are polar opposites; getting them to cooperate is so difficult, it is comparable to the peace that G-d makes in the Heavens between fire and water.

Not only are Yosef and Yehudah opposites, they are even hostile, “attacking each other.” According to another Midrash, at the beginning of this Parsha, when Yehudah approached Yosef, he was prepared to use violence to achieve his goal of rescuing Binyamin:

ד”א ויגש אליו יהודה…ר’ יהודה אומר הגשה למלחמה, היך מד”א (שמואל ב י) ויגש יואב והעם אשר עמו למלחמה
Yehudah approached him: …R’ Yehudah says, “approach” is for war, as it says, “Yoav and his army approached for war”. (Breishit Rabbah VaYigash 93)

What makes Yehudah and Yosef so different, why is it so difficult to get them together, and why does the Haftarah list their unification as the very first step in the stages of Redemption?

Yosef is driven, from the very beginning, to provide for others. He excels at making the most of all possible resources at his disposal. He speaks all languages, can participate in any culture, can function at the highest levels in government, in economics, and in the sciences. His goal is the betterment of the Jewish People, and of mankind as a whole.

Yehudah, in contrast, represents the inward-facing aspect of the Jewish People. For him, family comes first, and he will do anything to protect them. In his zeal to do so, he sometimes makes mistakes (erring on who is considered “family” and who is not), but he acknowledges these mistakes, takes responsibility and learns from them. King David, Yehudah’s most illustrious descendant, is the ultimate expression of this trait – his definition of “family” included all of Israel, and his life’s goal was to gather them all under his protection. Yehudah has a strong spiritual side: it was King David who composed Tehillim (Psalms), which reflect our unique and personal connection with G-d.

Yosef, then, represents our ability to participate in the world at large; Yehudah represents our unique spiritual contribution as the Jewish People.
These two very different mindsets have been competing within the Jewish People throughout our history. When we work toward the betterment of humanity, as Jews are driven to do, should our contributions be material, or spiritual? Are we a nation like others, or are we a family that needs to protect itself from outside forces? Do we face outward, like Yosef, or inward, like Yehudah? There are practical ramifications to these questions, and over the centuries, it has caused actual conflict. The two sides fight like an ox and a lion, and get along like fire and water.

The Haftarah tells us that in order to bring about Redemption, Yosef and Yehudah need to come together and become one. We need Yosef’s talents and abilities, and we also need Yehudah’s emphasis on our uniqueness. We need to be cosmopolitan and universal, contributing to the world, and we also need to be insular and inward-facing, devoting ourselves to our own connection with G-d.

May G-d, who makes peace in the Heavens between fire and water, also make peace between the different attributes and strengths within the Jewish People, so that we can all flourish and “become one in His hand.”

For more on the differences between Yosef and Yehudah, and a discussion of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David, see R’ Kook’s eulogy of Theodore Herzl. I’m not aware of an English translation, but for partial translation and more analysis based on R’ Kook, see http://ravkooktorah.org/VAYISHLACH-69.htm, and https://www.google.co.il/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.yehatzvi.org%2Fshiurim%2Fparasha%2FMiketz%2520%26%2520Chanuka%2520-%2520Ambivalent%2520Joseph_12_06.rtf&ei=S6ugUumYDaSp4AS0iIDgDQ&usg=AFQjCNG9MrALsT4u6ztcMwuF38VTf9odDg&sig2=rUpwpMKOa5vb4cb5hkbmmA&bvm=bv.57155469,d.bGE

PDF for printing, 2 pages A4

Copyright © Kira Sirote

In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

1 Comment

Filed under Connections, Sefer Breishit, VaYigash