Parshas Vayechi: Shivat Tzion

Parshas Vayechi Yaakov.  Shabbos Chazak chazak v’nis’chazek. The curtain once again closes on Sefer Bereishis: the end of a sefer, the conclusion of the narratives of the lives of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the end of an era with the end of the life of Yosef ha’Tzadik and his family saga… and the beginning of shibud Mitzrayim.

In the final chapters of Sefer Bereishis, Yosef has reconciled with the brothers, he has reunited with his father Yaakov, he continues to rule over Egypt and the Ancient Middle East, his family has settled in Goshen, and with Yaakov’s death, Yosef has arranged – and executed – Yaakov’s burial in the land of Canaan, in the Me’aras Ha’Machpela.

As Yosef is about to die, like his father before him, he instructs his family: וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶלאֶחָיו, אָנֹכִי מֵת; וֵאלֹקֹים פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֶתְכֶם, וְהֶעֱלָה אֶתְכֶם מִןהָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶלהָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹבand Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I shall die, and G-d will surely remember you and bring you out of this land to the land which He swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov; וַיַּשְׁבַּע יוֹסֵף, אֶתבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אלֹקֹים אֶתְכֶם, וְהַעֲלִתֶם אֶתעַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה, and Yosef made the children of Israel take an oath saying: G-d will surely remember you, and you shall carry up my bones from here (Bereishis 50:24-25).

And with these final words – longing for the Holy Land promised to his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a land from which he was sold at the age of seventeen so many decades ago – Yosef the Righteous dies: וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף, בֶּןמֵאָה וָעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים; וַיַּחַנְטוּ אֹתוֹ, וַיִּישֶׂם בָּאָרוֹן בְּמִצְרָיִםand Yosef died at the age of one hundred and ten years, and they embalmed him, and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt (v.26).

With the hope for Shivat Tzion – the Return to Zion – Yosef dies and Sefer Bereishis concludes.  It is compelling to note that Sefer Bereishis not only ends with the topic of Eretz Yisrael, but begins with it as well.  Why, the first Rashi to all of Chumash famously asks, does the Torah begin with “In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth?”  Should it not have begun with the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh (Shemos 12:1-2) which is the very first mitzvah given to Am Yisrael?  Answers Rashi:

מִשׁוּם כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם נַחֲלַת גּוֹיִם (תהילים קיא), שֶׁאִם יֹאמְרוּ אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם לְיִשְׁרָאֵל לִסְטִים אַתֶּם, שֶׁכְּבַשְׁתֶּם אַרְצוֹת שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, הֵם אוֹמְרִים לָהֶם כָּל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁל הַקָּבָּה הִיא, הוּא בְרָאָהּ וּנְתָנָהּ לַאֲשֶׁר יָשַׁר בְּעֵינָיו, בִּרְצוֹנוֹ נְתָנָהּ לָהֶם, וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ נְטָלָהּ מֵהֶם וּנְתָנָהּ לָנוּ

The message of Rashi is: Hashem created the whole earth and all the land is His!  According to His will, He took the land of Israel from the nations of the world and gave it to us, hence the Land is rightfully ours.

Our journey through Sefer Bereishisכל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים, the blueprint of our lives (Ramban to Bereishis 12:6) – begins and ends with Eretz Yisrael.  אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁרהאלֹקֹיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ  תָּמִיד, עֵינֵי האלֹקֹיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה, וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה, It is a Land which Hashem your G-d seeks out, G-d’s eyes are constantly upon the Land, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Devarim 11:12).

In regard to Yosef’s final request of his brothers, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches: “Joseph made a statement to his brothers just before his death.  Four generations had already been born in Egypt.  Brothers, he said, you know how worried we were about the future of the Jewish community in Egypt after many successful years of sojourning.  You know how concerned we were about the destiny of the people.  We did not know whether we would win or lose the battle against assimilation; perhaps we would disappear in the melting pot of Egypt.  We did not know what the future held in store for us.  Now I can tell you, we won the battle.  The fourth generation is growing up in dedication and consecration to the Almighty.  We will never forget the covenant.  For if the fourth generation can do so, the tenth can as well.  Their covenantal memory and their moral sensitivity are reassuring, and no matter how far we are from that exalted moment of redemption, no matter how far we are from that great moment when the redeemer will finally appear, I am sure and I can trust that the covenantal community will survive.  And when the great redeemer comes, he will find a community ready for him.

“When he said ‘אָנֹכִי מֵת, I shall die’, he was telling them, I can die with peace of mind, reassured by history that the miracle of the preservation of our identity under the most difficult circumstances had already taken place.  We all contributed to this.  I too have a share in it, and therefore I have the right not only to ask a favor of my brothers, but to demand, not only from my brothers, but from the entire nation, from the entire community.  I have a right to force you to take an oath that my bones will be taken to the Promised Land…

“Yosef wanted to be buried in Canaan like Jacob before him.  He wanted to demonstrate the truth that no matter how high an office a Jew might hold in Egypt, no matter how famous and powerful and prominent the Jew is in the general society, his spiritual identity does not change.  He belongs to the covenantal community… We can commit ourselves to discharge our duty (to the state in which we live) in the most perfect manner while not sacrificing our Jewish identity.  Joseph had shown that.  But at the same time that he was very loyal and steadfast as a citizen, his devotion as a citizen – nay, as ruler – did not conflict with his determination to retain his Jewish identity” (Vision and Leadership, p.66-68).

In his Holocaust memoirs, entitled “In Seven Camps in Three Years,” my maternal grandfather, Yitzchak Kaftan a’h, wrote: “Reb Peretz Feder and I slept on one pallet (in the barrack in the camp) and talked continually about the murderers that they were sent by G-d and their end is near.  We suffer now so that Moshiach will come.  Whoever will survive this hell will see a Jewish state.”

May we merit the final and everlasting redemption, when just like Yosef, the Master of Dreams, (cf. Gen.37:19), our nation will see our dreams fulfilled: בְּשׁוּב ה’, אֶתשִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִיםA song of ascents, when G-d returns our captivity to Tzion, we will be like dreamers (Tehilim 126:1).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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