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Torah Sparks

December 29, 2001 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 47:28 - 50:26 (Hertz, p. 180; Etz Hayim, p. 293)
Triennial I: 47:28 - 48:22 (Hertz, p. 180; Etz Hayim, p. 293)
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1-12 (Hertz, p. 191; Etz Hayim, p. 312)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(47:28-31) Jacob senses that his death is approaching. He asks Joseph to swear that he will not bury him in Egypt, but will return him to the ancestral burial place at the Cave of Machpelah in the land of Canaan.

(48:1-9) Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to Jacob to be blessed. Jacob says they will be like Reuben and Simon, i.e., equal in status to any of his sons.

(48:10-22) Jacob blesses Ephraim, Manasseh, and Joseph, predicting that Ephraim, the younger, would be mightier than Manasseh, the firstborn.

(49:1-26) Jacob's last words and testament to his sons, not as they are, but as they will be. This poetic passage is considered to be the most difficult in the Book of Genesis.

(49:27-33) Benjamin's blessing. Jacob then instructs his sons to bury him in the family burial place at the Cave of Machpelah. Jacob dies.

(50:1-6) Joseph mourns Jacob. Joseph makes all the necessary arrangements to bury Jacob in the family grave, the Cave of Machpelah, in Canaan.

(50:15-21) Joseph's brothers fear that he will take vengeance on them now, but Joseph reassures them.

(50:22-26) Joseph's last days. He has his brothers swear that when they return to Canaan, they will bury him there (a promise eventually fulfilled by Moses and Joshua). Joseph dies.

This Shabbat's Theme: A Proper "Homecoming"

The time approached for Israel to die. So he called for his son, for Joseph, and said to him, 'Do me this favor, place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty: please do not bury me in Egypt. For when I will lie down with my fathers, you shall transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place' (i.e. the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron)... (Gen. 47:29 - 30)

  1. Similarly, Joseph later adjures his brothers to rebury him in the land of Canaan (50:25). This motif is found in the Egyptian "Story of Sinue", where the exiled courtier asks, "What is more important than that I be buried in my native land?" The biblical examples, however, have an added dimension, for the deathbed requests are bound up with the divine promise of redemption and nationhood in the Land of Israel (cf. 48:21; 50:24f.) (Nahum Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, p. 321)
  2. The burial of Jewish deceased in the Holy Land, especially those who ardently loved the land, were religiously observant, or contributed to the support of Israel, is considered an act of pious devotion...The Bible records that Joseph made the special request to be buried, not in the land where he reigned as vice-regent but in the land of his forefathers, the Holy Land. Burial in Israel is considered by the rabbis equal to be being buried directly under the Temple altar. (Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, p. 70)
  3. In contradistinction to Rabbi Eleazar's view (who held that a person buried outside of Israel would not be resurrected in the End of Days), Rabbi Simai said: The Holy One, blessed be He, will burrow the earth before those buried outside of Eretz Yisrael and their bodies will roll there like bottles (at the time when Resurrection - Tehiat ha-Metim - will take place). (Talm. Ketubot 111a)
  4. It is customary, mainly among traditional Jews in the Diaspora, to place a small sack of dirt from the Holy Land into the coffin or grave of a deceased person who is not being buried there. One can purchase such a sack that indicates its purpose. (Author)
  5. Feeling that his death was drawing near, Jacob sent for Joseph and asked him to swear that he would bring him to Eretz Yisrael for burial... He wanted (thereby) to establish for his offspring the principle that only Eretz Yisrael was their heritage, no matter how successful or comfortable they might be in some other land. This was especially important then, for he saw that his family had begun to feel comfortable in Egypt, that they were being grasped (see 47:27-vayeahazu) by it... (Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, Genesis)
  6. The word Diaspora, from the Greek word diaspora ("dispersion"), is used in the context of a voluntary dispersion of the Jewish people as distinct from their forced dispersion called golah or galut ("exile"). By the same definition, the Jewish communities in the world today, after the establishment of the State of Israel, constitute a Diaspora. The custom has developed of referring to these communities (outside of Israel) as the tefutzot, the Hebrew equivalent of Diaspora (dispersion), in preference to the word golah - exile (since there does not presently exist a forced dispersion). "For behold the days are coming, when I will turn the captivity of My people Israel and Judah... and I will return them to the land which I gave to their ancestors and they shall possess it." (Jer. 30:3)
  7. "Sound the great shofar to herald our freedom, raise high the banner to gather all exiles. Gather the dispersed from the ends of the earth. Praised are You, Lord who gathers our dispersed" (Siddur Sim Shalom, p. 112. The tenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer recited three times daily)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

From our earliest days, the Jewish people have had a powerful attachment to Eretz Yisrael to the extent that some who live outside still desire to be buried there (Jacob, Joseph, our ancestors, contemporary Jews). We all pray daily for our return to our Land. So who's stopping us? Are we still in "Exile" from our Land?

If, for whatever reason, we cannot or do not want to make "aliyah" to Israel what then is holding Jews back from even visiting there at least once in their lifetime? What seems to be the problem in your eyes?

Should we/can we do anything substantive about it for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren?

As we conclude the Book of Genesis, we rise just prior to the reading of the last verse of the Torah portion. At the completion of the Torah reading today, we join in chanting: Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened."

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