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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayechi

Parashat Vayechi

Where is Yosef, the Hebrew, Buried?

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Chazal question why Moshe did not merit to enter Eretz Yisrael even to be buried, while Yosef did merit such. The midrash (Devarim Rabba 2) explains that the one who acknowledged Eretz Yisrael as his land deserved to be buried there, while he who did not do so, was not buried there. When Potifar’s wife called Yosef an ish Ivri, (a Hebrew), Yosef did not deny it and later stated that he came from the Land of the Ivrim (ibid 40:15). On the other hand, when the daughters of Yitro reported that they were saved by Moshe and identified him as an ish Mitzri (an Egyptian), Moshe did not correct them. Therefore, he did not merit to be buried in Eretz Yisrael.
We can illustrate that Yosef’s relationship with Eretz Yisrael played a central role in his life. At first glance, Yosef, viceroy of Egypt, was responsible for his brothers’ leaving Israel and living under his auspices in Egypt. Initially, this was necessary in order to save them from famine. But it seems that after a while, Bnei Yisrael were both physically and spiritually comfortable in Egypt. The pasuk says, "They became entrenched (in Goshen) and were fruitful and multiplied" (Bereishit 47:27). Yosef even attempted to lead a monotheistic revolution in Egypt (see last week’s Hemdat Yamim). The actual slavery started much later when a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Yosef (Shemot 1:8), neither for his contributions to the Egyptian economy nor for his spiritual legacy.
During this comfortable time, it was Yosef, under Yaakov’s guidance, who ensured that the Jews would not forget the land of their heritage. Immediately after the Torah mentions that Yaakov dwelled in Goshen, the Torah tells us that Yaakov, before his death, made Yosef promise not to bury him in Egypt, but only to bury him in Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov was so bothered by the prospect of becoming settled in Egypt that he made Yosef swear not to bury him there in order that his descendants would know that they belong in Israel. Perhaps this is the reason that the Torah, in the context of the period of dwelling in Egypt, repeatedly refers to Yaakov by the name Yisrael and refers to his children as "Bnei Yisrael" (despite the fact that he retained both names). These names are especially highlighted in Yaakov’s blessing to Menashe and Ephraim (Bereishit 48:1-22), sons of the viceroy who grew up in Egypt, who symbolized comfort in Egypt.
This also explains why Bereishit, the chumash of Eretz Yisrael, ends with the oath that Yosef administered to Bnei Yisrael that they should take his bones to the Land of the Jewish people (Bereishit 50:25-26). Yosef was not buried in Egypt; he waited in his coffin until he was buried in Israel. This is also why the sefer, Yehoshua, known for delineating Eretz Yisrael (Nedarim 22b), ends with the story of Yosef’s burial in his land- the Land of Israel. "Yosef’s bones, which Bnei Yisrael brought forth with them from Egypt were buried in Shechem, in the plot of the field that Yaakov bought" (Yehoshua 24:32). Specifically in these times, let us remember the special connection between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.


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