For the sake of oneness and unity
The State of Israel encompasses people of “every tribe and tongue, people and nation” (Apocalypse 5:9) and John the Evangelist added :”After this, I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race people and tongue” (Apocalypse 7:9). It maybe intriguing to refer to the Book of Revelation that was written in Patmos by the very old evangelist who had known and accompanied Jesus to speak of today’s Israel population as the State of the Jews (Judenstaat). In particular with regards to the actuality of the reading portion “Vayiggashויגש – then Judah went up to (Joseph)” (Genesis/Bereishit-בראשית 44:18-47:27).
In the previous weeks, we dealt with the seizure of a birthright (Jacob/Isaac), the sale of a brother (Joseph), i.e. powerful moms and wives. The chapters of Bereishitבראשית (the Book of Genesis) constitute the fundamentals of human history and developments. They include some specific constant elements or “invariants” that recurrently question our society and conscience till the issues will be resolved in the future as the Prophets foretold.
Interestingly, the haftarahהפטרה (prophetic reading) of this week is from the Prophet Ezekiel 37:16-28. It refers to the two sticks that should reunite Joseph and his son Ephraim with Judah so they will “no more be divided into two nations… they will be My people and I will be their God”.
Chapter 37 of the accounts of the Prophet deals with the great vision of the dry bones that progressively rise from the earth and dust of the valley. They are reviving, bodies are to be shaped anew with sinews, muscles, skins and souls, bones matching bones (vetikrevu atzamot etzem el atzmoותקרבו עצמות עצם אל עצם). The Hebrew text suggests that the process of reviving each human being allows them attaining full consciousness of who they are to be beyond death.
Midrash Exodus Rabbah states that, at the time of Exodus, some children of Israel were too eager or, on the contrary, too slow to leave Egypt and thus perished in the desert, as things happened with the sons of Ephraim.
All these traditional comments may either be fascinating for the believers or pious God seeker. Jews can spend years on some few key verses of the TaNaKH or the Talmud. True, we feel that our memory capacity (zikkaronזיכרון) cannot be obsolete. It speeds us into the future and encodes the verses with revised possible meanings for each generation.
Again, each Jew is told (it is a vivid tradition) that s/he personally participates in the Exodus at Pessach-פסח/Passover and be present at the giving of the Written and Oral Laws at Mount Sinai on Shavuot-שבועות/Pentecost. In a very similar way, each Christian Orthodox and Catholic faithful is present at the bread and wine shared by Jesus as a present-day event. “Zechorזכור –Remember”upgrades, updates and prompts the move and even the jumping rush into the future”: it is definitely not a stiff memorial of old.
Thus, “zekhor et yom hashabbat lekodshoזכור את יום השבת לקדשו – remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12) is a commandment that goes far beyond our own feelings or agendas. It recalls that “we were slaves in the land of Egypt” and that this miracle brings us back to the very first days of the creation, at a stage when there was “full unity” (“yom echadיום אחד – day one, not first”; Bereishit 1:5).
Indeed, God Himself rested on the seventh day! Are we aware of such a reality when Israeli Jews often don’t greet the non-Jews on that day wishing “Shabbat shalomשבת שלום”. We must pay much consideration to the commandment firstly respected by God?
This sort of problem shows with the relationships between Judah and Joseph. Who is really doing something for the sake of God and humankind? Who will endure or disappear?; and why? Joseph decided to keep Benjamin as a slave while the others would go and come back with Jacob. Since Judah did not come back with Joseph when they had sold him, Yehudah took the plight to redeem his soul with Binyamin.
Joseph was deeply moved and explained to them that he is their brother whom they had sold and that this was for the sake of saving all the family in due time. Such is the true and real challenge of our faith. Personal fates can become particularly meaningful over decades for the enhancement of a totally unexpected situation.
When Judah came back to Egypt with Yaakov, Pharaoh honored Israel and the 70 people who came with Jacob (Exodus/Shmot-שמות 1:5). They settled in the rich area of Goshen. On the other hand, Yaakov left the Land of Canaan, died in Egypt and was buried in the Land of Canaan with Pharaoh’s blessing (Genesis 50:6).
This tracks back again and again to the “70” nations. The root twists from the “shin to sin Hebrew letters”. “Shevaשבע’ = 7” – “Shiva’hשבעה – seven days of mourning, cf. creation); “shivi’imשבעים – Aramaic: shavi’inשבעין” = 70. A sort of oath totally in force: “shava’שבע – to adjure”.
To begin with, Joseph questioned his brothers and Judah about his father because he was not convinced that Yaakov was still alive. Interestingly, Jacob had cheated his father Isaac and the tribe entered Egypt first to be saved and then enslaved, bearing the burden of sin.
Yaakov/Israel’s descent came into exile as the image of the 70 nations of the world. This firstly turned to be a blessing because they were fed at satiety: “save’aשבע – sated, fulfilled, satisfied” as in “she (Israel) will eat in this world, have plenty in the messianic days and leave over for the world-to-come (olam atidעולם עתיד)” (Tractate Sukka 52b).
There is a strange move: let’s think it over: say we sold our brother for a project that cannot be resolved by any kind of anticipation whose solution. It would pre-suppose that he would save our family although we sinned as our father sinned before us; and thus we are as all the nations of the world. We are to enter a place of blessing and eat at satiety, feel or get wealthy.
You bet! we would subsequently be taken as slaves with the privilege to be freed by God’s Will. So, let’s take a mirror, call our psychoanalysts, rabbis, confessors, gurus, this move is persistent and concrete in personal life and the spiritual history of our communities. Is it a fluke, a wigging out episode, a bogus? Or simply a true event, full of peps…
This does track back to Lamech’s laments: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-seven” (Bereishit 4:24). Because, Jews or Gentiles, we have been redeemed – like in bank speech “over long-term” – as the descent of a murderer. This changes wrongdoings into blessings by God’s understanding and wisdom. It does not mean that misdeeds ever can be signs of “blessings”; it implies that wrongdoings can be corrected and overcome, controlled and pardoned by Divine Presence.
The reality matches with Lamech’s words with Jesus’ response to Peter-Kaipha: “Not seven times, but seventy-seventy times you must forgive” (Matthew 18:22).
Then again, new clash: God is done with His creatures and decides to erase everything with a full flood. God thought it over and chose to save Noah and each sort of living being by couple. Noah’s descent, i.e. his three sons Japheth, Ham, Shem and his grandsons, are the Seventy different nations determined by their tongues. Again, the will of power will inspire them to build a tower to “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the world” (Bereishit 11:4-9). Consequently, God decided to scatter them though it took centuries before people met with the natives in America and China-Japan, Africa and vice versa.
This linguistic breaking down according to Noah’s grandsons was ethnically consistent for many generations. It is rather a symbol opposing the first Hebrew consonant “alefאלף” to the sixteenth letter “ayinעין”, from “unity, teaching” to “70, division, source, eye, multitude”. It is of course not scientifically correct.
There are more than 3,000 living tongues and dialects in the world at the present. When a language disappears, some others show elsewhere! English is our Modern Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Lingua Franca vernacular. Nonetheless, it is fragmented in local hip hop, expressions, various “Anglo” and Pidgin dialects.
Just as the Chinese ideograms are visible marks of unity. Still, they are pronounced differently throughout continental China and overseas. are designed differently all over the world. We know that languages developed from instruments corresponding to weird sounds of some awkward dinosaurs to sophisticated human tools. Human language is indeed the only vocal instrument that can articulate and express such feelings as reconciliation.
The Talmud considers that God deliveerd His Word in 70 languages at the Sinai, Hebrew being the major element (Shabbat 88a) in a way that shows some similarity with the coming of the Spirit overshadowing “both Jews and converts to Judaism… al yet hearing in their own tongue (Acts of the Apostles 2:11).
Although the matter was a bit amazing and obscure, each member of the Sanhedrin was supposed to speak (all) the seventy languages of the nations (Sanhedrin 17a, Menachot 65b). This should be a source of reflection at the presence in all religious communities.
The conflict that is accounted this week between Joseph and Judah is still in force. When the kingdom of Israel disappeared, the only entity that subsisted was Judah. As Jews, we are the only descendants of a small part of the Twelve tribes.
The rest of the “Klal Israelכלל ישראל” (Fulfillment of the Community of Israel) is a prophetic hope envisioning the ingathering of the whole House of Israel. It does include those who assimilated throughout history and vanished in various cultures and areas.In this view, the work that is carried out by “Shavei.org” to gather in the scattered and exiled and bring them back to Zion in the name and for the sake of unity is a great and remarkable task. It also questions about the real dimension of Redemption.
It is important to be aware that most of Israel’s tribes acculturated among the pagans and certainly adopted their lifestyles, beliefs. Some Chassidic movements are at least aware of the “sheilahשילה” (question) as connected to the Noahide Laws reaching out the 70 Nations (ChaBaD) (blog: “Noah is avant-garde”).
The Noahide Laws are at the orgins of the Church decree taken by the first Synod of Jerusalem and the edict pronounced by the Jewish-born first bishop of Jerusalem Yaakov/Jacob. He could not even figure out any split from among the Jewish community. On the other hand, by citing the Noahide rules, he gave the rule that allowed the Non-Jews… (not the Jews who were and basically remain the natives of the Church) to enter the Covenant.
The revival of the dry bones and the bringing together of the two parts of the sticks “Of Judah and the Israelites associated with him” joined to “Of Joseph – the stick of Ephraim – all all the House of Israel associated with him” (Ezekiel 37:15-23) is a very long-term process.
It is theologically admitted that the Holy One positively accepts and responds to every true prayer for unity.
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)