Parashat Vayechi

The long term historical aim of British society has been to develop a multicultural model of existence where all value systems are equal and to be exalted as valid and worthy of contribution. Alongside this we have seen the concept of individualism as a high ideal and a cultural rebuttal of the age old dictum ‘no man is an island’. In the face of this we see community breakdown, family disintegration and societal value ghettos at war with each other. The Kingdom of God should not reflect these world values. The goal for us is the unity we see in the spiritual realm in the Godhead; a multiple plural unity, a conformity focussing on serving, a giving rather than a gaining of self.

Why did God want 12 tribes? Why not just one? Why design our nation in such a way that it was almost destined to fail? The internal strife, though, was not just because there were 12 sons; it’s the internal dynamics that are the problem. The family is divided because of individual self-interest, jealousy abounds.

Divisions and splits are the inevitable outworking of bad attitudes and the consequences of our actions. The Spirit of God brings unity wherever He is allowed to operate and rule. He has deliberately created multiple unities everywhere: marriage, family, government, society and congregations etc. It’s only when genuine unity breaks out that we will see His will expressed; our egos must be put to death and jealousy in the Kingdom must cease. Communities and congregations must pull together and act as one, the group representing more than just the sum of the whole.

Of course this wasn’t all the sons’ fault. Their father had not helped them. He had shown repeated favouritism and set one against the other, riding roughshod over his sons’ emotions and sense of place in the family structure. And maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to blame Ya’akov either; after all, he tended to rate his sons by their respective mothers, the sons of his beloved Rachel, Yosef and Binyamin, being the most liked. Our natural human penchant for favouring those we like, feel closest to, with whom we identify the most due to vision or outlook on life, causes potential for problems in those who should be dwelling in unity and working for a common purpose: the advancement of the Kingdom.

So important was maintaining this unity of purpose that even Yeshua Mashichanu prayed for it. Read John 17:20-23. Sadly, Jewish disunity is well known, and Yeshua here was speaking to us, His people. Ultimately only God Himself can bring that kind of unity back to Israel. When Messiah returns He will achieve it and Israel will again be the light to the nations it should and can be. But in the meantime we have no excuse but to work for the kind of unity He commands us to have.

It is an oft stated truth that communities are rarely destroyed from without, nearly always from within. Pressure from outside will cause you to draw together, but disputes within are lethal. Factionalism eats away at the integrity of any community. Such problems are not new and show us that humanity still hasn’t changed in over 2000 years! Read 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 3:3-6. Divisiveness is the hallmark of a carnal man, whereas unity (not uniformity) is a hallmark of the Ruach. Divisiveness is highlighted quite clearly as one reason why believing communities struggle to thrive because it sows seeds of mistrust in the leadership and between members of the community.

When faced with a situation you feel uncomfortable with, be it because a word was said against someone or about a situation someone else may be involved in, ask yourself this question: is this person leading you closer to God, or closer to them. Divisive people always lead you closer to themselves; they try to establish a relationship where you NEED them, and they justify their own existence by building a fake dependency relationship.

Shall we all then be and believe the same for unity’s sake? No. Differences of opinion will always arise and so will differences in calling and task within the community, but we are called to see beyond them, beyond our own status or position to the larger picture of Kingdom life. I can assure you right now of one thing, it is highly unlikely that we will have a unity of belief and practice in Messianic Judaism or our communities. That isn’t an issue per se, just as the 12 sons weren’t an issue. It becomes an issue when differences of opinion are used for factionalism and divisiveness.

Of course, no-one wants to be ‘awkward’ in the community – so we’ll have a perfect synagogue life, no? Perhaps not: let me give an agricultural illustration. Read Genesis 3:18, Matthew 13:7, Matthew 13:25-30. The ground from which we harvest good food also brings forth thorns and thistles which are inedible, yet grow on the same life giving earth which God has given for good produce. Surely if God made the foundation of food (soil) good, then it should only produce good fruit? From the parable it is clear that in any good field there are those plants that, despite being given life-giving food, healthy feeding from the Torah and experiences of a living walk with HaShem, will grow and spoil the good harvest if possible. It was just the same 2000 years ago as today; people haven’t changed. In fact, as even more challenging as it may seem, they continue to co-exist in the community, being tolerated because to remove the weed would harm the otherwise good growth around them.

What should our response be to all this? We are called to unity, a blend of diverse people with different talents, shades of belief and understanding, as well as Torah practice. And it would be easy to just say at that point be submitted to the rabbi and all will be well, but that would be too simplistic (even though loyalty is required). In fact it is Yeshua’s own comments that astonish and challenge. Read Matt 20:20-28. Of all the people who could have demanded to BE served and be the centre of attention, He could have demanded it. But no, He points the way to create a harmonious community and synagogue: serve each other and the Lord. Synagogue life is about SERVICE, it’s not about what you need or what you can get from it. With an attitude of service you will better see beyond the petty rivalries and potential factions because such things aren’t service centred but me-centred.

A body divided cannot stand. Accept the authority of G-d and His chosen leaders and take your part and place in the congregation where G-d has placed you. Don’t be a thorn or a tare!

Rabbi Binyamin