סדר ויחי תשע”ב
Our sedra brings us to the end of a life, the end of an era, and the end of a book in Torah. This seems to be a time for summation, for perspective, maybe even for looking ahead. Yaakov’s final acts in this sedra indicate that he, too, thought this to be the case. The entire Torah reading may be divided into a few discrete components. Yaakov commits Yosef to bury him in the land of Canaan. Yaakov blesses Yosef’s sons. This is a pretty long bit which subtly teaches us about Yosef’s role, as discussed previously. Yaakov gathers his sons for his prophecy and blessings. Yaakov’s burial, with a short bit appended about Yosef’s death and insistence that he be eventually buried in the land of Canaan at the time of Israel’s redemption.
Why so much occupation with being buried in the land of Canaan? Yaakov’s burial receives almost as many verses as the blessings of all the twelve tribes!
אל נא תקברני במצרים, “Please don’t bury me in Egypt.” (Gen. 47:29) Here the Hizkuni comments, ‘to be settled there in burial.’ When our father Yaakov first came to Egypt, his sons asserted (Gen. 47:4) לגור בארץ באנו, “we came to sojourn in the land” – to remain strangers, not to settle permanently and build a future here. We are here until the famine passes, but not to settle. (See Hizkuni here.) “Please now let your servant stay here” (ibid) – “until God desires and the famine ends and we can return to our land.” (Hizkuni)
Clearly Yaakov and family have no aspirations to live outside the Land of Israel. If the Divine Providence is such that they must; they insist on seeing it as temporary. Not only don’t they want to live outside the Land; they don’t want to be buried there.
Since Yaakov has received a commitment from Yosef to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah in Hevron in the Land of Israel; why then does he repeat his orders to all the brothers after his prophetic blessing of the tribes?
The G’mara (כתובות קי”א) has several discussions about the importance or advantage of being buried in the Land of Israel. “Rav Anan said anyone who is buried in Eretz Yisrael is considered as if he was buried beneath that altar…” From the verses in the Torah that he cites there it is quite clear that burial in the Land of Israel is something that affords atonement for the deceased. Rabi Elazar had said in the previous statement in the g’mara that ‘one who lives in Eretz Yisrael lives without iniquity’; and Rav Anan’s following statement seems to imply that even one who only manages to be buried in the Land, benefits. Further discussion in the g’mara says that burial in Israel benefits the deceased in terms of the future resurrection of the dead. In either or both cases, we have a tradition that burial in the Land of Israel has great benefit for the deceased, allowing them to benefit from its holiness even in death. Although the continuation of the g’mara also contains a criticism of those who choose the Land only for their burial, apparently ‘defiling’ it with another dead body rather than living there and enjoying and contributing to that great sanctity during their lives – it remains clear that burial in the Land of Israel is indeed of great worth and benefit to the deceased. Rambam indeed codifies this notion (הלכות מלכים ה:יא), “the sages said everyone who dwells in the Land of Israel – his sins are forgiven…and even if he only walked their four amot… And all who are buried their are atoned for, as if that spot is an altar of atonement… But there is no comparison when one is absorbed there in life, or one is absorbed there in death; nonetheless great sages would bring their dead there. Learn this from our father Yaakov and Yosef the Righteous.”
Rambam tells us that Yaakov and Yosef are our earliest examples of how worthwhile and important it is to make an effort to at least be buried in the Land of Israel. Even though it is far better to live there; our attachment to the Land of Israel is so great and so important that any opportunity to return and be absorbed there is of value. We should all aspire and strive to build our lives there; but even death teaches us how truly precious our place in the Land is.