Since the traditional Jewish lectionary did not firm up until over a thousand years after Ezekiel died, it is highly unlikely that he was thinking of it when he wrote about the sticks of Joseph and Judah. Nevertheless, the way sections of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and the Prophets are read in modern synagogues, aloud, in close relation with each other, helped me understand how the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Scriptures can become “one” in our hands and before our eyes (Ezekiel 37:17).

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord (Ezekiel 37: 1)

The first time I attended a Jewish worship service was during my mission. As my companion and I were riding our bikes to a teaching appointment in Clearwater, Florida, I saw a sign in front of a small synagogue listing the times of their services and welcoming visitors. I don’t remember a vision opening up before me or even experiencing deep spiritual feelings at that time. However, I do recall becoming very excited. My mission president had encouraged me to connect with Jews, and visiting this synagogue seemed like a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Consequently, I suggested attending a service to my companion. He was hesitant. To him, this was yet another example of Elder Kramer’s “greenie” overzealousness. Nonetheless, after I assured him that going to such a service would allow us to talk to some interesting people we might not otherwise talk to (and offering to cook pancakes for him for breakfast), he relented.

And I was right. Although it did not occur to me, being only nineteen, that it might be considerate to ask the rabbi beforehand if we could attend his services, Rabbi Mailer welcomed us warmly and introduced us to an older woman who volunteered to sit beside us and be our guide. And she was extremely helpful and kind, not only pointing out the various features of the synagogue and providing us with yarmulkes but asking us about ourselves—where we were from, what we did as missionaries, and what we were learning. She was especially interested in what we were learning about other faiths. As she said, “It must be fascinating to talk to people about their religions.”

The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: (Ezekiel 37:15-16)

And she was right. Talking to her about her religion was fascinating. And so was the service. I loved the upbeat songs, the heartfelt prayers, and the down-to-earth, almost conversational sermon. However, it was the reading from the Torah that most moved me. Coming from Exodus 13 – 17, this reading was in Hebrew and was chanted in such a way that it gave the words an almost palpable substance. As I followed along in a dual-language volume of the Torah, I felt the joy the children of Israel felt when they were finally freed from bondage, I experienced the fear that they experienced when Pharaoh’s armies came chasing after them, and I rejoiced with them when the waters opened up, allowed them to pass, and then closed up again, destroying their enemies and saving them from capture or worse. I did not do so out loud, but in my heart I joined with Moses and the Children of Israel as they sang, “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation” (Exo. 15: 2).  It was an amazing experience, so much so that I could not imagine the service continuing.

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 another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand. (Ezekiel 37: 16-17)

I was therefore surprised when it did, with another reading. After the Torah scroll was carefully rolled up and “dressed” in a velvet robe, a different reader took the stand, opened a book, and began chanting the story of how Deborah and Barak, both Ephraimites, defeated the Canaanites. This reading from the book of Judges, read less fluidly, with occasional corrections, seemed very different from the previous reading. Instead of the Lord himself clearly and cleanly delivering Israel from their Egyptian oppressors, here mere humans fought their Canaanite captors in a messy, bloody battle, a conflict that ended, ultimately, when a non-Israelite woman, Jael, brought the Canaanite captain into her tent, put him to bed, and then drove a tent peg through his skull.

Confused, I asked our guide what was going on. She said that this was a haftarah, a shorter reading from the Prophets that relates in some way to the Torah reading. As she explained, “The connections between the two readings are not always obvious. It is therefore up to us to discover those connections and find meaning in them.”

It was a brief comment, uttered casually, almost off-handedly, but it started a cascade of discoveries that showed me how intricately intertwined the Hebrew Scriptures and the Book of Mormon are and how spiritually productive this connection can be.

And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. (Ezekiel 37: 18- 19)

Because of this comment, I reread chapter 4 of the book of Judges the next morning and marveled at how the story of Deborah defeating the Canaanites did indeed connect to the story of the Lord drowning the Egyptians—expanding it, amplifying it, intensifying it, dramatically showing how God can also work mighty miracles indirectly, through the efforts of ordinary, flawed human beings. Crushingly aware of my own ordinariness and flaws as a new missionary, I took heart from this inspired insight and began to understand how the Lord could indeed accomplish his miraculous purposes even through someone like me.

But that was not all.

Encouraged, I started studying the entire book of Judges in this way, looking for connections between it and other Scriptures, and, as I did so, I noticed a very interesting connection between Ehud and Teancum. After all, Ehud, a Benjaminite, had attempted to deliver Israel from the Moabites by sneaking a dagger into their king’s palace and quietly killing him while was he was sitting on his throne (Judges 3: 20-23) much as Teancum, a Nephite, had attempted to deliver his people from the Lamanites by sneaking into their king’s tent with a javelin and quietly killing him while he was sleeping in his bed (Alma 51: 33-34).

Nevertheless, despite the boldness of these acts, in both cases they accomplished little. Ehud may have helped the Israelites defeat the Moabites, but after he died, the Israelites “again did evil in the sight of the Lord,” and, as a result, the Lord “sold them,” once again, into the hands of their enemies (Judges 4: 1-2). Similarly, after Teancum killed Amalickiah, the Lamanite army retreated. However, Ammoron, Amalickiah’s brother, quickly succeeded him and ramped up the war to another, more intense level. Consequently, the still contentious and still prideful Nephites were put into even more “dangerous circumstances” (Alma 53: 9).  In this way, the story of Teancum joined with the story of Ehud in a very haftarah-like way, by fortifying the idea that external solutions, no matter how daring or heroic, cannot solve internal problems.

This was a very exciting insight for me, especially because, although the book of Alma contains other Judges-like heroes who manage astonishing military victories against overwhelming odds, its most impressive heroes accomplish much more complete “victories” over their enemies not by killing them, dramatically, with swords and spears and stones, but simply by living among them, by serving them, and by convincing them with words to put down their weapons of war and join with them in peace. As a result, I began to see that my “flaws” as a missionary—which principally centered on my shyness and my aversion to contentious door approaches and combative scriptural debates—may not be defects at all but could instead be assets, qualities that enabled me to speak to people more personally, more authentically, more compassionately, and to quietly encourage lasting internal change.

And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. (Ezekiel 37: 20)

In this way, by reading the books of Alma and Judges together, in conversation with each other, I started to “catch the vision,” as it were, of my purpose as a missionary. However, this approach also had a similar effect on my view of the Book of Mormon. As I continued my studies, on my mission and afterwards, I began to see that not only are the heroes in the Book of Mormon closely connected to figures in the Hebrew Scriptures but so are its prophets, its kings, it judges, and its lawgivers. Even many of the events in the Book of Mormon are linked to the Hebrew Scriptures, and they all do so in ways that reinforce, update, explore, expand, and apply ideas presented in these Scriptures—much like haftarot.

In fact, as I worked on a project that eventually resulted in Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon—visiting more synagogues and studying the haftarah cycle more extensively—I saw that the Book of Mormon actually “out-haftarahs” the traditional haftarot (plural of haftarah). Again, as my Jewish guide taught me, these readings from the Prophets were chosen simply because they connect in some way to the readings from the Torah. They do not follow their order of presentation in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, the books in the Book of Mormon do.

Following the order of presentation in Jewish versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, these books, when inverted, can be grouped into quasi-historical periods.




Period Books in the Hebrew Scriptures Books in the Book of Mormon
Period of Origins Genesis Mormon, Ether, Moroni
Period of Receiving the Law Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy 3 Nephi, 4 Nephi
Period of Judges Joshua, Judges Alma, Helaman
Period of Kings 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings Words of Mormon, Mosiah
Period of Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Minor Prophets 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni


In other words, the Book of Mormon is structurally “interstitched” with the Hebrew Scriptures, forming a tightly knit chiastic tapestry, a tapestry that joins together to reverse a downward trend to destruction and dispersal and turns it upward into a more optimistic journey towards redemption.

Echoing the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Mormon shows people engaging in similar sinful behavior in each of these periods and does so in condemnatory terms. However, it also offers evidence that such sins can indeed be avoided or overcome. In its pages, the Book of Mormon provides inspiring examples of people actually heeding prophets, serving as righteous kings, judging righteous judgments, embracing God’s law, and, at least for a time, becoming a holy nation as the Lord charged them to become at Sinai (Exodus 19: 6). It even shows someone so faithful that he is redeemed from the Fall and welcomed back into God’s presence.

In this way, by connecting to the Hebrew Scriptures, both on the micro and the macro level, the Book of Mormon unites with it and transforms a historical endpoint into a spiritual turning point, a place where these connections come together to provide its readers with what Joseph Herman Hertz, a former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, called one of the most important purposes of haftarot, “prophetic hope,”[1] both personally and theologically. Or as the Book of Mormon puts it:

And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; …. And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever. (2 Nephi 29: 13-14; emphasis added)

And all this came from one brief comment from an older Jewish woman while I visited a small synagogue in Clearwater, Florida at the start of my mission. I think Ezekiel would be pleased.


[1] J.H. Hertz, ed., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd ed. (London: Soncino Press, 19790, 20.