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The Track, the Trees, and the Splendor

The process of establishing sanctity in Israel was riddled with vicissitudes, from the Shilo sanctuary in Joseph's hereditary portion, to Gibeon and Nov in the portion of Benjamin, and finally to Jerusalem. The same is true of Israel's leadership.


Rabbi Chanan Porat Z"l

1. The Winding Road to Sanctity and Leadership
2. Grafting Two Trees
3. David and Jonathan
4. The Omer Counting - Every Layer in the Building
5. Independence Day - the Foundation of Glory

The Winding Road to Sanctity and Leadership
Har Berakha is located in the hereditary portion of the tribe of Joseph. When the Israelites entered the land of Israel, the first thing they did was make a speedy journey to Har Berakha (the Mount of Blessing). This operation was carried out under the leadership of Joshua son of Nun (see Joshua 8:30-35), and its purpose was to establish a blessing there in keeping with the Torah's command, "When God your Lord brings you to the land which you are about to occupy, you must declare the blessing on Mount Gerizim (i.e., Har Berakha) and the curse on Mount Ebal" (Deuteronomy 11:29).

The process of establishing sanctity in Israel was riddled with vicissitudes, beginning with the Shilo sanctuary in Joseph's hereditary portion, to the sanctuaries of Gibeon and Nov in the portion of Benjamin, ending with its permanent home in Jerusalem. The same is true regarding the establishment of Israel's leadership. It was Joshua son of Nun from the seed of Ephraim who merited conquering the land of Israel. Later, the kingship is handed off to the house of Joseph, then it moves on to Benjamin, and finally it reaches David.

This course - from Ephraim to Benjamin to Judah - is in fact to be seen as an expression of God's own precise desire. The process leading up to the establishment of the sanctuary in Shilo is not one of trial and error. It is not that an attempt is being made to clarify the sanctuary's desired location, and when it turns out that a one place will not do, another location is chosen. Neither is the choice of Saul as king incidental. An entire verse testifies to the fact that were it not for Saul's sin, "God has established your kingship eternally" (1 Samuel 13:13). In the Vayishlach Torah portion, too, we hear that "Kings will be born from your loins" (Genesis 35:11) and from here we can see that the kingship is meant to be in the hands of Saul's tribe, Benjamin. Only after Saul's sin does the kingship move to Judah.

True, in a difficult moment, the Prophet says, "And he rejected the tent of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim" (Psalm 78:67), for there are indeed times when prophecy lets out an exaggerated cry, as in the verse, "The virgin of Israel has fallen; she shall rise no more" (Amos 5:2). But in the Haftorah read on Israel's Independence Day we are told that there will come a time when "the envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim" (Isaiah 11:13).

And should one ask, how is this possible? How could the kingdom of the house of David have ever flowered if it had remained in the hands of Ephraim and Benjamin? The truth is that this is entirely possible, for the part played by Ephraim and Benjamin was not merely meant to lay the ground for the stage to follow, thereafter loosing significance and disappearing from the world. Rather, it continues to have purpose even while the kingdom of the house of David stands on its foundation. How is this so?

Let us demonstrate this in relation to Joseph and Benjamin, very briefly:

Grafting Two Trees
With regard to Joseph, Ezekiel the Prophet reveals to us the great secret in his incredible prophecy of the two trees (Ezekiel 37: 15-28):

"And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: And you, son of man, take one stick and write upon it, For Judah, and for the people of Israel his companions; then take another stick and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions; And join them one to the other into one stick; and they shall become one in your hand. And when your people shall speak to you, saying: Will you not tell us what you mean by these? Say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and will put them with him, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand."

And, finally, regarding that single tree:

"And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd."

Two trees - they are living trees. Ezekiel grafts them. The Torah prohibits grafting different species, but grafting is permitted in the case of the same family.

Grafting always involves a foundation and a scion. The foundation is supposed to possess a high level of vitality and a capacity for taking firm root. The role of the scion, on the other hand, is to produce high quality fruit.

In our case, the base is Joseph and the scion is Judah. This is the bond of "and they shall be one in my hand." The life-giving vitality of Joseph, his power of practical aptitude - "God causes him to succeed in whatever he does" (Genesis 39:3) - is necessary for the kingdom of Judah. And even as the scion bears praiseworthy fruit, it remains bonded to the vitality of the base.

For this bond to thrive, one ingredient is absolutely necessary: humility. To acknowledge the kingdom of the house of David, to acknowledge the fact that upon and above this base sits the glory of David, "the sprout of David Your servant speedily cause to flourish," and "he shall live between his shoulders" (Deuteronomy 33:12). When there is humility, Ephraim does not envy Judah, he has a role to fulfill all along the way.

David and Jonathan
The tribe of Benjamin too has its own unique mission which is bound up with David, the King of Israel. This secret is revealed by an extraordinary verse in the book of Samuel, at the very moment that David and Jonathan meet for their last time in the woods. There, Jonathan says to David, "You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you; and that also Saul my father knows." Jonathan is not simply looking for a job! He understands that he has a task and an important mission to fulfill. Even as king, David is in need of Jonathan as his personal assistant. And while David is violating his covenant with Jonathan's son, Mifiboshet - "I said in my haste, All men are false" (Psalms 116:11) - a heavenly voice calls out saying, "The kingdom of the house of David has been rent."

The brotherly affection which existed between David and Jonathan also contained within it tidings of the kingdom of Israel.

We find, then, that the Joseph-Benjamin-Judah process is maintained throughout. In the Temple, the kingship, and also in the wiping out of the seed of Amalek: Joshua begins - "choose people for us" (Exodus 17:9) - Saul from the seed of Benjamin continues, and after this David. In all three of the commandments which Israel is obligated to fulfill when entering the land this gradated process repeats itself.

This is a Divine process.

The Omer Counting - Every Layer in the Building
We count the fifty days of the Omer in order to know when to celebrate the Shavuot Festival. This process of counting teaches us the value of the process of gradual ascension, from the Egyptian Exodus to the Giving of the Torah. This path - a path of the just which is built stage after stage - finds expression in the fact that each day has its own role. From here we receive an answer to the question of the Minchat Chinukh, why do we not count the number of days remaining? The answer is that we count in order to give expression to the idea that each day has its own special value, the layer which it adds in the great process.

Independence Day - the Foundation of Glory
What is Independence Day? The week of Independence Day in the Omer Counting is a week of Glory ("Tiferet"). Glory is the attribute of Jacob, "Israel, in whom I will be glorified" (Isaiah 49:3). In the midst of the larger glory, each day possesses its unique aspect by which it finds expression, and Independence Day is the day of "the Foundation that is in Glory." My heart tells me that just as there took place a clarification in the transition from the Foundation and the Glory to Jerusalem Day's week of Kingship, "the Kindness that is in Kingship," so will the importance of each and every day of the Counting of the Omer be clarified until the final redemption.

"Foundation" is the trait of Joseph - "a righteous person is the foundation of the world." He is the one who builds and strikes roots, and God causes him to succeed in whatever he does. He supplies grain to the masses. There is no more appropriate a trait for Independence Day than "the Foundation that is in Glory," wherein the glory of Joseph is revealed via Jacob's glorious stature and his authority over all of his children. The State of Israel reveals that Joseph is still alive. Joseph's chapter in the book of Tehillim is Psalm 80, that which begins with the words "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock," and continues "Before Ephraim, and Benjamin, and Manasseh. Stir up your strength, and come and save us." In this Psalm, the word foundation ("kanah") makes its only appearance in the entire Holy Scriptures: "...and the foundation which Your right hand has planted, and the son whom You strengthened for Yourself."

True, there are crises. Joseph faces great trials. His brothers sometimes scheme against him. However, grander heights lay ahead. We shall indeed merit seeing better days. Independence Day is the day on which the State of Israel came into existence and the foundation of Joseph revealed itself. This foundation will act like a base for grafting, upon which shall rest the kingdom of the house of David, the first sprouting of our redemption.

Many of the verses in the above article were taken from or based upon the Soncino Bible in the CD Rom Soncino Judaica Classics Library.

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