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 Parshas Vayechi - Vol. 8, Issue 12
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayomer anochi e'eseh kidvarecha (47:30)

When Yaakov realized that the time of his death was near, he became concerned that he would be buried in Egypt and not in his family's burial plot in Me'aras HaMachpeilah. He called in his son Yosef, who wielded power in Egypt, and asked him to ensure that he would be buried with his forefathers in Chevron in the land of Israel. Yosef responded, "I will do as you have said."

The simple understanding of Yosef's words is that he acceded to Yaakov's request and would do his utmost to arrange for Yaakov to be buried in Eretz Yisroel. However, the Daas Z'keinim interprets Yosef's response that "I will do as you have said" to mean that "just as you instructed me that you want to be buried in the land of Israel, so too will I command my brothers to take my body out of Egypt and bury me there," which he in fact did at the end of Parshas Vayechi (50:24-25) in promising his brothers that Hashem would bring them out of Egypt and into the land of Israel, and adjuring them to take his bones with them when they leave.
Rav Moshe Wolfson points out that it is difficult to understand how Yosef could give such a seemingly selfish and disrespectful answer to Yaakov, in which he ignored his father's request and gave an apparently unrelated reply which showed that he was more concerned about his own needs than those of his dying father. Further, if Yosef wanted to emulate Yaakov, it would seem appropriate for him to order his sons to bury him in Israel, just as Yaakov instructed his son Yosef to do; why did Yosef give this command to his brothers and not to Ephraim and Menashe, who had a greater responsibility to him than did his brothers? Moreover, Rashi writes (Shemos 13:19) that Yosef not only required his brothers to transport his body for burial in Eretz Yisroel, but also to command their children to bury them there as well. Why did Yosef feel that it was necessary to obligate his brothers to take measures to arrange that they would be buried in the land of Israel?

Rav Wolfson suggests that the key to understanding Yosef's actions lies in the fact that when he discussed the issue with his brothers, he specifically asked them to take his bones out of Egypt (50:25), which is difficult to understand. Surely the body of the righteous Yosef did not decay and remained fully intact after his death, so why did he stress that he was concerned about his bones more than the rest of his body?

The Gemora in Niddah (31a) teaches that there are three partners in the creation of a person: Hashem, his father, and his mother. The Gemora delineates the contributions made by each of the partners in the formation of the baby, with Hashem responsible for giving the neshama (soul), the father supplying the bones, and the mother donating the skin. In light of this, Rav Wolfson explains that because a person receives his bones from his father, they are therefore permeated with his father's imprint, and in this sense Chazal (Eiruvin 70b) describe a son as a continuation of his father.

For this reason, when Yosef heard that Yaakov was concerned about the possibility of being buried in Egypt, in his tremendous dedication to his father he responded that not only would he make sure that Yaakov was not buried in Egypt, but he would fulfill his father's will b'hiddur (in an enhanced manner) by taking the additional step of ensuring that he too would be buried in Eretz Yisroel, not due to selfish motivations, but because he recognized that his bones were an extension of his father, and if they were interred in Egypt, then part of Yaakov would be buried there as well. Yosef alluded to this intention when he stressed that his brothers should bring his bones out of Egypt and bury them in the land of Israel, as he wasn't focused on the rest of his body, but solely on the component of Yaakov that was manifested in his bones.

With this understanding, it is clear that Yosef's response to Yaakov was in no way disrespectful, and to the contrary, his desire to go above and beyond what was requested of him demonstrated his tremendous respect for and devotion to his father. It is also understandable that Yosef didn't command his own sons to ensure that he was buried in Eretz Yisroel, but rather his brothers. If he was motivated by a concern for his own well-being, it would have been appropriate to instruct his sons, as they have a mitzvah to fulfill his request. However, Yosef's actions emanated from a desire to respect his father, and he recognized that his brothers had a greater level of obligation to honor their father than did Yosef's sons to carry out the wishes of their grandfather.

This also explains why Yosef insisted not only that his brothers swear that they would make sure that he was buried in the land of Israel, but that their bodies would be transported there as well. Given Yosef's concern about a part of Yaakov being buried in Egypt if his bones remained there, it would be insufficient for him to be taken out to be buried in Israel if his brothers' bodies remained behind, as their bones contained the same spark of Yaakov that Yosef's did. In order to fully and completely honor Yaakov's request to be buried in Eretz Yisroel, Yosef had to make sure that no portion of him was left behind in Egypt, which left him no choice but to insist that he together with all of his brothers be taken out of Egypt as well.

Vayomer Yosef el echav anochi meis ... v'ha'alisem es atzmosai mi'zeh (50:24-25)

In Yosef’s final words to his brothers prior to his death, he promised them that their descendants will be redeemed from Egypt and made them swear to bring his bones to the land of Israel when they are freed. Just before these parting instructions, Yosef’s brothers begged his forgiveness for being jealous of him, hating him, and selling him into slavery. Yosef answered them that they had nothing to fear, as he felt no ill-will toward them and had no intent to hold a grudge or harm them in any way. Although on the surface Yosef’s final message seems unconnected to the previous dialogue, Rav Akiva Eiger suggests that our verses are actually a continuation of that conversation.

Yosef buttressed his claims that he harbored no ill-will against his brothers for their actions by offering two additional proofs. First, the Gemora in Berachos (5a) advises that if a person is unable to subdue his yetzer hara (evil inclination) and no other technique proves effective, he should remember the day of death, as this will surely humble him. Yosef hinted to his brothers that he knew his death was imminent and dwelling on it had removed any negative feelings toward them from his heart.

Second, the Gemora in Shabbos (152b) writes that the bones of a person who has any jealousy or hatred in his heart will rot after his death. By requesting that his brothers carry his bones back to Eretz Yisroel for burial, Yosef was hinting that he was confident that his bones would remain intact and not decay, which could only be the case if he was sure that he had removed any last vestige of jealousy and ill-will from his heart.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Torah states (47:29) that the days of Yaakov’s dying drew near, in contrast to Yitzchok who referred to (27:2) the day of his death. Why does the Torah discuss the days of Yaakov’s death when there was only one day on which he actually died? (Tosefes Beracha)

2) Rashi writes (47:29) that in requesting Yosef to place his hand under his thigh, Yaakov was requesting him to take an oath not to bury him in Egypt. The Ramban (26:5) writes that the Avos only observed the mitzvos when they were in Eretz Yisroel, and therefore Yaakov was permitted to marry two sisters when he was outside of Israel. What was the purpose of Yosef swearing not to bury his father in Egypt, as he took the oath outside of Eretz Yisroel and according to the Ramban it wasn’t binding? (Midbar K’deimos Ma’areches Yud 55, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 2:306)

3) Yaakov blessed Ephraim and Menashe that they should exceedingly multiply their numbers (48:16). However, when one examines the various censuses that were conducted in the Torah, their descendants were comparable in number to all of the other tribes, not substantially greater. In what way was Yaakov’s blessing fulfilled? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)

4) Yaakov promised Yosef an extra part of the land of Israel in addition to his regular inheritance (48:22). After he saw the jealousy which was caused by his earlier preferential treatment of Yosef and its catastrophic effects, why would Yaakov continue to favor him in this manner? (Daas Z’keinim, Ayeles HaShachar)

5) What is the connection between Parshas Vayechi and the (upcoming) Presidential inauguration?

  © 2012 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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