Light from the Sidra

Vayigash ('And he came near..'). 19th December 2015. 7th Tivet 5776.

Torah: Genesis 44:18-47:27.Ezekiel 37:15-28

Healing the world

From what I can tell from the front page headlines of the tabloids and gossip magazines, the public seems obsessed with celebrities breaking up and getting together again. Whether it’s rock bands or couples, it seems that everyone wants to know about who’s breaking up with whom, who’s getting together with someone new and who’s getting back together. And the tabloids will tell you that the stories they bring you, whether by raking through the dustbins of celebrities or by hacking their mobile phones are in the public interest.

Breaking up and making up seems to be a feature of the history of Israel. Genesis is all about Israel’s good and great dividing and uniting again. And this is not to satisfy our prurient interest; this really is in the public interest. In Genesis, even the salacious material such as an attempted homosexual gang rape, Judah impregnating his daughter in law and the sons of Joseph attempting to kill their brother because they don’t like his dreams, are intended to teach us lessons about the world in which we live, ourselves and God’s programme of ‘Tikkun Olam’ through Messiah.

Nowhere is that more so than in the account of Joseph and his brothers. Through a remarkable set of circumstances – being sold into slavery, going to prison on a false charge of attempted rape, interpreting the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s top ministers, interpreting Pharaohs’ two cryptic dreams – Joseph becomes the virtual ruler of Egypt and so saves the world. In the process, he is reconciled to his brothers and he sees his father again.

Jacob and Esau’s sibling rivalry went far beyond the norm. Esau was so serious about killing his brother that Jacob had to spend twenty years away from home before the brothers were reconciled but the reunion was superficial because for centuries to come the Edomites remained Israel’s enemies.

The same was so in the case of Isaac and Ishmael. Although God promised to make Ishmael a nation, and blessed him for the sake of Abraham, he had to be banished with his mother because Isaac was the child of promise, the son through whom God would bless the nations. Ishmael, on the other hand, was to be ‘a wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone’. Although the two sons of Abraham came together to bury their father (Gen 25:9), to this day there is conflict between Ishmael and Israel.

The world is fragmented. Brothers can’t get along with one another. Married couples fight, cheat on each other and break up. As the climate summit in France last week demonstrated, we live in disharmony with the environment and although our leaders give lip service to reducing the gasses they think are contributing to climate change, everyone knows they’ll do very little if anything to change the situation. Nations go to war and we. People are at dis-ease with themselves. They are paranoid and schizophrenic; they are depressed and angst-ridden. Why? We think we know the reason but, in reality, we don’t because if we knew the source of our troubles, we would be on the way to finding the solution. Instead of recognising and admitting our own guilt, we blame others.

Rabbi Lionel Blue has been credited with saying that Jewish people are like everybody else, only more so. Certainly that seems to be the case in the history of Israel thus far. In Israel, we see the world in microcosm. And the solution to Israel’s problems, especially in the story of Joseph and his brothers is a picture of the solution to the world’s problems in the future.

In Genesis 3 we saw that God’s very good creation went pear-shaped. Mankind’s basic problem is our alienation from God. Once that breach is mended the rest should be a piece of cake. Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, depends on the repair of the relationship between man and God.

The road to reconciliation begins with the first step. In the case of Joseph and his brothers, Joseph takes the first step. Or does he? God had been working behind the scenes ordering the affairs of Joseph, so that his brothers would come to him. And that has been the way since the Garden of Eden. God took the first step to repair the relationship between himself and man, and he would do it through the ‘seed’ of a woman; the offspring of a woman who would deal a death blow to the Satan but would do it through suffering. Because of man’s disobedience and fall in the Garden, the distance between ourselves and God is almost infinite. Someone has to take the first step toward the other.

In the story of Joseph and in the history of Israel, we see dress rehearsals for the ultimate play. Rejection and suffering are the very tools that God uses to save the world and bring about reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. And in our Haftarah we see Judah and Israel united in the future through the Messiah, referred to in Ezekiel 37 as David.

When David was king, he unified the twelve tribes which became fragmented after his death. Messiah unifying the tribes of Israel will also have a beneficial effect on the nations for when he sanctifies his name in Israel, the nations will know that he is Adonai.

It took more than ten years for Joseph to be reunited with his brothers. Since the distance between man and his Creator is almost infinite, it will take more than ten years even for God to set things right between himself and the world. But who will make the giant leap for mankind to God? The 'seed of the woman', that’s who; the Messiah.

The Messiah, the son of Joseph has come. He has suffered and been rejected, but God has exalted him to the highest place in the universe. All that remains now is his for his people to recognise their plight and come to their loving Brother for the bread of life. And what with the result of that be for the rest of the world? Writing to Jewish and Gentile followers of Messiah in Rome in the New Testament, alluding to Ezekiel 37, he says that when the Jewish nation is reconciled to their Messiah, Jesus, it will be ‘life from the dead’!

At the festival of Shavuot in 33 C.E., 3,000 Jewish people publicly repented and turned to Jesus, accepting him as Messiah. And the world has never been the same. Are you spiritually alive or dead? If you don’t know, make certain by turning right now in repentance to Jesus the Messiah who says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.’

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