פרשת ויגש is a pretty short parasha for Bereshit (tied with תולדות for second-shortest), with 106 psukim. It sets up the transition to ספר שמות, and is really about how the children of Yaakov become the nation of בני ישראל.
Mitch Wolf (who is a בעל קורא par excellence) liked to point out that the טעמים that start this parasha set up the plot as well. The first notes are קַדְמָ֨א אַזְלָא֜ רְבִ֗יע, which literally means “the fourth one went forward and came”. Yehudah, the fourth tribe, was the one who stepped up to confront Yosef. And this confrontation is so powerful because it reverberates throughout Jewish history. The leadership of Israel through תנ״ך went back and forth between Yosef (for example, יהושע) and Yehudah (for example, דוד). A lot has been written about the meaning and symbolism of each of them as archetypes of leadership, and the dialectic between them; even the kabbalistic contrast between יסוד and מלכות represents this dialectic.
I don’t want to go into that today (Professor Nechama Price gave a shiur on this at the shul about 2 years ago) but I want to look a bit at how it went wrong. The idea of a dialectic is to arrive at a synthesis that puts the best of the two competing ideas together, but the Jews never got that message. The kingdom of Israel after three generations split into two, with the southern kingdom going with רחבעם, descended from יהודה, and the northern kingdom joining ירבעם, descended from יוסף. The split actually goes back further than that; even under the first king, שאול, there was a perceived difference:
But that is too depressing, so I am going to focus on the positive side, looking at the haftorah. Much of this is from Rav Moshe Lichtenstein’s shiur on vbm-torah.org.
The haftorah is taken from the second half of יחזקאל פרק לז. The first half of the perek is the parable of the valley of the dry bones, that we read on Shabbat Chol Ha-Mo’ed of Pesach:
Our haftorah is not so much a vision of a symbol, but a physical enactment of a symbol:
It is part two of יחזקאל‘s consolation. The dry bones coming to life represent the rebirth of individuals as members of the Jewish community. This is a vision of the rebirth of the nation as a whole, and the final reunion of the divided kingdom. Rav Lichtenstein points out one difficulty in the perek: what does it mean that they will ask יחזקאל, הלוא תגיד לנו מה אלה לך? Isn’t that obvious? Of all the symbology in all of תנ״ך, this has got to be the easiest one. He answers that the people are not asking ’what do the sticks mean?“ but ”what’s the point of that meaning?"—why should we (the people of the recently-exiled Judah) want to reunite with the long-lost ten tribes? They were exiled more than a century before, and had been a separate country (often at war with them) for 2 centuries before.
יחזקאל's message is that all Jews are part of the Jewish people: ולא יהיו עוד לשני גוים ולא יחצו עוד לשתי ממלכות. There are two promises here: first, they will be one people and then it will be possible for them to be one country, one political entity.
And the meaning of that depends on how we read the sign that יחזקאל creates:
To Rabbi Yosef Kimchi, the unity is miraculous and fuses them together; the old fissures will disappear and everything will be instantly perfect. The two pieces of wood lose their individual identity to become a uniform whole. It is an eschatological vision similar to that of ישעיה, as we’ve discussed before. But Rabbi David Kimchi thinks יחזקאל has a different model:
And that seems to be consistent with the grammar; the end result is to be והיו לאחדים בידך, ”they shall be united“ rather than והיה לאחד, ”it shall be one“. There are two aspects of this: first, יחזקאל himself that is putting the pieces together. There is no miracle here. It is by (divinely inspired) human effort that the Jews can get back together. After that, כרתי להם ברית שלום. Second, the pieces remain distinct. Each individual has something to add to the constructed whole.
I think that this is a very powerful message about what “unity” really means and what we should strive for as an עם אחד בארץ.