As Yaakov’s death approaches, he asks Yosef to promise to bury him in Israel where his father and grandfather are buried.
Notice the first words that Yaakov says: “…Do kindness and truth with me, please do not bury me in Egypt” (47:29).
What does Yaakov mean when he says “do kindness and truth with me”? Why does he focus on not burying him in Egypt instead of burying him in Israel?
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains: “Yaakov knew quite certainly that Yosef would bury his father with all possible splendor. But he says ‘with all the chesed do not forget the emet.’ I would rather not be buried at all than be buried in Egypt. The stress is on the request not to be buried in Egypt… Ya’akov had lived 17 years with his family in Egypt, and noticed what a powerful influence the ‘and they acquired property in it’ (47:27) was beginning to have on his descendants: they already began to see the Jordan in the Nile and to find their stay in Egypt no exile. Sufficient motive for him to press with such ceremonious solemnity that they should not bury him in Egypt, but that they should carry him to their old true homeland. Motive enough for him to say to them, ‘You hope and wish to live in Egypt, I do not wish even to be buried there.’”
Yaakov knew that Yosef would act with chesed toward him via a very respectful burial in Egypt. But Yaakov wanted chesed that was based on truth. And truth means a recognition that Egypt is foreign to the Jewish people and that they must not allow the failure that Yaakov was already seeing come to fruition—becoming comfortable in exile. Hence, the emphasis on the negativity of Egypt.
The failure of the Jewish people becoming too comfortable in countries outside the Land of Israel is a mistake we have repeated throughout our history.
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi explains that when the Jewish people returned to Israel from Babylonia in the time of Ezra, “only a few returned, and most including the greats remained in Babylonia... they wanted exile and subjugation so they shouldn’t be separated from their homes and their interests.”
Yaakov’s “do not bury me in Egypt” was addressed to them.
Rabbi Yechiel Halperin states: “After 70 years of exile, many have returned from Babylon to Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim. But none returned from Worms. The community in Yerushalayim wrote and urged them to join their new settlement…but the complacent Jews of Worms dismissed this invitation out of hand: ‘You stay where you are in the great Yerushalayim and we will continue to stay where we are in our little Yerushalayim.’”
Yaakov’s “do not bury me in Egypt” was intended for them.
Rabbi Yaakov Emden taught: “We have been persecuted; we have toiled but found no rest... All because we have completely forgotten about living in the Land of Israel. Not one in a thousand awakens to take hold of it to live there. Perhaps one or two per country in a generation… We imagine while we are dwelling peacefully in the Diaspora that we have found a replacement Land of Israel and Yerushalayim.”
Yaakov’s “do not bury me in Egypt” was meant for them.
Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal wrote: “The Shelah and Chatam Sofer bemoan the fact that some Jews become completely absorbed in the Diaspora… They only care and desire to make an honorable living and build a big house with a courtyard made of hewn stones. They build it to last for many years, so that they can bequeath it to their children and grandchildren, who will be born on foreign soil, for they hope to see many offspring and live long lives in exile. In this way, we lost hundreds and thousands of years in exile.”
Yaakov’s “do not bury me in Egypt” was directed at them.
May we all be blessed to heed Yaakov’s plea to Yosef and recognize that even if we live outside of the Land of Israel we should not allow ourselves to become too comfortable. Our sights as a people must be toward a return to Israel.
Rabbi Dov Lipman is a former MK and the author of seven books about Judaism and Israel. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers).