Parshat Vayechi- The Legacy of Israel

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“קִבְרוּ אתִי אֶל אֲבתָי אֶל הַמְּעָרָה אֲשֶׁר … עַל פְּנֵי מַמְרֵא בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן אֲשֶׁר קָנָה אַבְרָהָם”

(‘מ”ט:כ”ט-ל)

This week’s פרשה heralds the conclusion of ספר בראשית, the story of the creation of the earth and the beginning of the Jewish nation. At the beginning of פרשת בראשית, Rashi, questions why the תורה begins with the story of the creation if the first מצוה, of “החודש הזה”, wasn’t given until יציאת מצרים. He answers in the name of רב יצחק that our bible begins with the story of the יצירת העולם as a proof to the גוים that הקדוש ברוך הוא owns the world, and gave ארץ ישראל to us, His chosen nation. This theme, apparent throughout ספר בראשית, is also present in פרשת ויחי as the 70 בני יעקב transition into the Israelite Nation. Here is one of the biggest, and final incidents of Patriarchal Zionism in our פרשה:

At the beginning of פרשת ויחי, Yaakov Avinu’s time to pass on had almost come, so he called for his son יוסף and made one final request of him: “אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך… אל תקברני במצרים. ושכבתי עם אבתי… וקברתי בקברתם- If I have found favor in your eyes… do not bury me in Egypt. I will lie (be buried) with my forefathers… and be buried with them.” Yaakov, realizing he was going to die soon, wanted to be buried with his forefathers, foremothers, and, presumably, his wife לאה, so he requested from his favorite and most powerful son יוסף one final request, of חסד של אמת: to be buried in מערת המכפלה in חברון. Yosef, realizing this importance of complying with this request, swears to bury יעקב in Israel, then leaves. Later on in the פרשה, Yaakov repeats this request in front of rest of the Children of Israel in less strong but more detailed language, saying “אני נאסף אל עמי קברו אתי אל אבתי אל המערה… בארץ כנען אשר קנה אברהם…- I will be gathered into my nation (die) soon, please bury me with my fathers in the cave in the fields of Efron the Hitite, in Canaan, which Avraham acquired.” Finishing this final appeal, יעקב אבינו passes away without his sons ever agreeing or promising to bury him in Canaan. This is more than a little bit confusing; why would יעקב instruct the rest of his children to bury him in ארץ כנען when he already had יוסף swear to bury him there, and why would יעקב ask his sons to bury him in Canaan, but not “wait around” for their answer?

Ramban answers that Yaakov repeated his final request to בני ישראל because he was afraid that, despite יוסף’s שבועה, Pharaoh might not let him leave the country to bury יעקב in Israel. As a result, he appealed to the rest of בנ”י to do this חסד של אמת in case יוסף could not. This answer makes a lot of sense given the beginning of the next פרק, where יוסף goes through a complicated political process to convince the various politicians to let him leave, and is only allowed to leave in the end by פרעה because “כאשר השביעך-Because you swore.” However, it does not explain one thing; why did יעקב go out of his way to thoroughly explain why and where he wanted to be buried? If he was using the rest of the brothers as a backup in case his “plan A” (יוסף) didn’t work, why didn’t he make them swear, or at least wait for an answer from them?

Rav Eliyahu Munk, a Rav of the famous Munk family who lived originally in Germany before moving to Paris and then the United States, known mainly for his ספר on Tefilah, עולם התפילות, brings an interesting answer in his less-known work on Parshanut, קול התורה. Rav Munk teaches that the reason that יעקב went out of his way to repeat his request to the rest of his children after he had already secured a שבועה from יוסף wass because יעקב אבינו wanted to emphasize to his descendants that Egypt, while a nice temporary home during the famine, is not their permanent home. יעקב wanted to remind his children that their ancestral homeland, the place that בני ישראל truly belong and should strive to return to, is not in Egypt, but roughly 400 kilometers north in Canaan. Rav Munk, quoting the famous משך חכמה in פרשת בחוקתי, teaches that Yaakov was worried that בנ”י would “substitute the Nile for the Jordan, (as the משך חכנה teaches that the Jews of the Diaspora substituted Berlin for Jerusalem, leading to an unfortunate end), and Yaakov, worried that בנ”י would forget their heritage, went out of his way to remind all of his descendants of their true home, of Israel, so that one day, when their Redemption would come, they would know where to go. This interpretation of Yaakov’s last request of his children is certainly a fitting way to end a ספר which emphasizes the Jewish connection to ארץ ישראל. What is a little less clear, however, is how Yaakov’s sons react to their father’s last wish. Do בני ישראל truly internalize this idea?

Rav Joel Cohn, my Rebbe at Machon Lev, taught me a very interesting example of the effect of Yaakov Avinu’s last lesson to his sons. In פרשת פנחס, we learn of a very peculiar incident- five daughters of the late צלפחד ask for their father’s inheritance in ארץ ישראל. This incident, unique throughout תנ”ך as the only time that women ask to inherit land, begs the question; why did the בנות צלפחד want a part of ארץ ישראל so badly that they would come in front of משה and beg for it? Rav Cohn taught that the answer can be found in the first פסוק of the section of the בנות צלפחד, where it is written “ותקרבנה בנות צלפחד בן חפר בן גלעד בן מכיר בן מנשה בן יוסף- The Daughters of Tzlafchad son of Hefer son of Gilad son of Machin son of Menashe son of Yosef approached [Moshe].” Looking at the end of this week’s פרשה, we are told of the end of יוסף’s life- that he lived 110 years and “וירא יוסף לאפרים בני שלשים גם בני מכיר בן מנשה ילדו על ברכי יוסף- Yosef saw 3 generations through his son Efraim, and even the children of Machir ben Menashe were raised on Yosef’s lap.”  Given the תורה’s emphasis on the lineage of בנות צלפחד, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that their great-grandfather גלעד was one of Yosef’s great-grandchildren who he personally helped raise, which could explain their strong desire to have a portion of ארץ ישראל- they inherited their strong ציונות through the generations from גלעד, who was taught to love and yearn for ארץ ישראל from יוסף הצדיק directly, a true disciple of יעקב אבינו. This, Rav Cohn concludes, is the execution of Yaakov Avinu’s last wish- that his descendants, once released from slavery, would have the same passion for ארץ ישראל as he did, so that once they were ready to leave Egypt, they would have no doubts as to where to go. Additionally, it would seem from the story of בנות צלפחד that יוסף was particularly strong about his מסורה of Zionism, as only his descendants felt so strongly about ארץ ישראל as to ask for land that they otherwise wouldn’t have been entitled to.

Interestingly enough, Yosef’s more distant descendants, the current בני מנשה, also have a recent history of Zionism. שבט מנשה, one of the 10 Lost Tribes, was recently rediscovered in India, as a group of more than 9,000 people from Northeastern India’s Manipur and Mizoram states  claimed to have been originally been Jewish before they were forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th Century. These Indian Jews, now calling themselves the  בני מנשה, were discovered in 1979  by עמישב, an Israeli organization dedicated to rediscovering the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. On 1 April, 2005, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Harav Shlomo Amar shlit”a recognized and began accepting conversions from these בני מנשה, paving the way to their acceptance to emigrate to Israel under the חוק השבות, the Law of Return which grants instant Israeli citizenship to all people of Jewish descent. This process, stopped in November 2005, was restarted on Monday amid protests from the right-wing Jewish community. While it’s an intriguing halachic question whether or not these בני מנשה are actually descended from the original Lost Tribe, it is no coincidence that the Indian emigration was restarted on the same week as we read of יעקב’s subtle reminder to his descendants to return to ארץ ישראל.

The Torah teaches in many places that the גאולה will come with the קיבוץ גליות, the ingathering of the exiles, specifically the Ten Lost Tribes. This resumed return of שבט מנשה to ארץ ישראל should be a wakeup call to the exiled descendants of the non-exiled tribes, so that with Hashem’s help, the Jews of the גלות will continue to return to our homeland as יעקב instructed in this week’s פרשה, leading עי”ה to the final גאולה very soon. Shabbat Shalom.

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