Shabbat Parashat Vayigash| 5763
Egypt, the Land of … Ya’akov?
As Ya’akov prepares to descend to Egypt, he begins to fear. Hashem appears to him in Be’er Sheva and reassures him (Bereishit 46:3-4). What was the great reassurance?
“I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will certainly bring you back up.” But did Ya’akov ever return to his homeland? Rashi and other commentaries explain that the promise referred to his burial, which would be in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed we see that Ya’akov was preoccupied with his burial. Parashat Vayechi begins with Ya’akov’s plea to Yosef to ensure that he be buried in Eretz Yisrael. Why was this so crucial? Even if Ya’akov was concerned with the difficulties of resurrection in chutz la’aretz (see Ketubot 111a), why couldn’t he have been taken up at some later point, like his sons?
Ya’akov hoped to go down to visit Yosef in Egypt and return alive (see 45:28). The previous time he had left Eretz Yisrael, Hashem had assured him that he would return alive in the fullest sense of the term. As he approached the southern border of Eretz Yisrael and had not received a Divine assurance, he began to worry that this wasn’t a visit, but the beginning of the exile promised in Brit Bein Habetarim. He realized that he would be the forefather of exile.
How permanent would that exile be? Permanence is not only a question of years, but also a question of the qualitative permanence of the exile. The acquisition of the Ma’arat Hamachpeila gravesite by his family had anchored a spiritual presence in Eretz Yisrael, which could never be uprooted. However, the question still remained about the qualitative scope of the exile. What would the psychological affect be if the patriarch Ya’akov would not only end his life in Egypt, but his gravesite would create a more permanent presence in that impure land? Would the yearning for Eretz Yisrael be the same if “Egyptian Jewry” had a local place of pilgrimage? Indeed, Rav S.R. Hirsch saw this as the basis of Ya’akov’s request of Yosef, “do not bury me in Egypt” (Bereishit 47:29).
Throughout the generations of exile, especially when the concept was new, there has been tension between the need to properly prepare for the long haul ahead and the need to avoid a certain lack of permanence (see Yirmiyah 29:5). Ya’akov sent Yehuda ahead to establish a yeshiva (Rashi 46:28). But when it came to establishing a patriarchal graveside, he informed his descendents that that could only happen in their homeland, adding one more good reason to await and pray for their return to it.
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