Haftarah – The Passage from Ezekiel Quoted in a Nobel Prize Banquet Speech
The first Israeli to win a Nobel Prize offered a sweeping account of the wanderings of the Jewish people throughout exile in his banquet speech. Dressed in tails and a black tie with a giant black kippah on his head in 1966 in Stockholm, writer Shai Agnon began his remarks, “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”
The obvious connection between the parsha and haftarah is the reunion of the Jewish found in each. In our parsha, after 22 bitter years of separation, Yaakov and his family descended to Egypt to reunite with Yosef. This process is mirrored in our haftarah (Yechazkel 37: 15-28) as the navi prophecies, through a parable of fusing sticks, about the ultimate redemption when the Kingdom of Judah and Kingdom of Israel will again be reunited. Yechezkel was to write the names of Yehuda and Ephraim (representing the tribes of the Kingdom of Israel) and then “bring them close to yourself, one to the other, like one piece of wood, and they will become united in your hand” (37:17). Despite this connection, upon deeper analysis the two passages are in fact quite opposite, and the haftarah provides an important conclusion to the story in our parsha.
Surely, for Yaakov, seeing Yosef again and seeing his children together was a moment of great joy, relief, and gratitude. But as the Midrash explains (see Ramban 46:1), Yaakov and his sons were well aware of the coming exile. Indeed, they knew that this reunification was a temporary highlight of the future history that would include exiles, destruction, and separation, which Chazal tell us is the reason that Yosef and Binyamin cried on each other’s shoulders (Rashi 45:14). They knew their descendant would undergo centuries of anguish, starting with slavery in Egypt followed by the temporary Mishkan in Shilo, culminating with the destruction of the two Temples and ultimately the exile of the people from Eretz Yisrael for thousands of years.
The haftarah, on the other hand, describes a different kind of reunion between Judah and Israel. The ultimate redemption and ingathering of the exiles will be permanent as alluded to by the repetition of the same word five times in four verses: They shall dwell upon the land… they and their children and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David will be a prince for them forever. I shall seal an eternal covenant of peace with them…I shall place my Sanctuary among them forever…Then the nations shall know that I am Hashem who sanctifies Israel, when my Sanctuary is among them forever” (Ezekiel 37:25-28). Unlike the reunion described in our parsha, the reunion in our haftarah is eternal and forever (“olam”).
The parsha contains the first leg in a long and bitter journey of exile to the ends of the earth. Our people have been scattered across the globe and have endured terrible degradations and devastations. Our haftara is the ultimate consolation in describing our final return to Israel that would put an end to the ceaseless wandering and homelessness. Yechezkel’s promise of the ingathering of the exiles to Israel and eternal presence in the Holy Land are among the most beautiful passages in all of Tanakh and it’s no wonder these verses were were quoted by Agnon in his speech where he explains the momentous significance of representing Israel to the nations of the world.
To the august assembly, Agnon humbly concluded his remarks, “If I am proud of anything, it is that I have been granted the privilege of living in the land which God promised our forefathers to give us, as it is written (Ezekiel 37: 25): “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children forever.’”
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a new Oleh to Israel, as well as a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah. Please send comments to Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com
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