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Vayechi(Genesis 47:28-50:26)

Take Me Home

As Yaakov nears the end of his life, he summons his son Yosef and pleads with him to see to it that he is given a proper burial in the land of Canaan. We are unsure why it is specifically Yosef whom he entrusts with this task: Perhaps only Yosef, of all the sons of Yaakov, has the power to fulfill this request. Alternatively, this may indicate that Yaakov still favors Yosef above his other sons: It is Yosef that he trusts and, Yaakov believes, Yosef who will return his love and tend to him, even after his passing.

Had the special relationship between Yaakov and Yosef been rekindled after the long years of separation? Had father and son simply picked up where they left off before their lives were so rudely interrupted, or had the events that preceded their reunion served to make their relationship even closer? After all, the violence that brought Yosef to Egypt, the years of estrangement, loneliness and abuse Yosef suffered, as well as his eventual success, all mirrored Yaakov's own biography. Could father and son have become even more alike as the years went by?

Perhaps, instead, Yosef had been changed by his experiences, and Yaakov turned to him now as a subject pleading with a powerful foreign ruler. Had the years in Egypt or the nearly-unlimited power he now enjoyed corrupted him, or was Yosef still the most loyal son of Yaakov, the most eager to please and obey his father, the great protege of Yaakov?

Externally, Yosef had certainly undergone a transformation. Ever since he was brought before Pharaoh, he dressed as an Egyptian. His trappings and manner did not belie his origins as a young Hebrew slave. He wore the robes of Egyptian royalty, as did his wife and sons.

When Yosef stands before his father to receive Yaakov's blessing for his children, Yaakov does not seem to recognize his grandchildren. Perhaps Yaakov's advanced years and failing eyesight are to blame; perhaps the clouded vision is caused by a disturbing prophetic insight to which Yaakov is privy, regarding the descendants of Menashe and Efraim. The most straightforward explanation, though, is that these Egyptian princes seem quite strange to him.

Nonetheless, the blessing Yaakov gives them is telling: Menashe and Efraim are to be considered like Reuven and Shimon. First and foremost, this indicates that Yosef is being treated as the firstborn; he alone receives a double portion in the family's most prized inheritance. On the other hand, this blessing indicates that despite the years that separate Yosef's sons from the sons of Yaakov, despite the physical distance from their ancestral homeland and from their saintly grandfather, despite having been raised in the morally corrupt Land of Egypt, Yosef's children are no different than any of the sons of Yaakov. There is no generation gap. And this, more than anything else, reflects Yosef's greatness. Despite their strange garb, their fidelity to the vision of Avraham was intact.

Later, as Yosef's life comes to an end, he makes his extended family swear that they will take his remains with them when they leave Egypt. Yosef believed that the Children of Israel were not staying in Egypt. He was not confused by his own political or economic security. His identity was perfectly clear to him; his place was with the Children of Israel, in the Promised Land, and not in the pantheon of Egyptian leaders. For Yosef there would be no burial pyramid; no slaves and treasures would accompany him to the Egyptian afterlife. Perhaps in this final act, more than any other, we obtain a glimpse into Yosef's inner world.

Yosef knew that this Egyptian sojourn was a "temporary gig." He had no illusions about the vicissitudes of fate. He had seen high-ranking officials arrested, some quite suddenly plucked from death row and returned to office and others put to death. He himself went from prince to prisoner to slave and back again, only to find himself as the second most powerful man in the ancient world. He was far too wise to believe that it would, or should, last.

Yosef had acute long-term vision; he knew that God's control over the world is as direct and immediate on the national scale as it is on the personal scale. The Egyptian people, who had enjoyed years of plenty, suddenly found themselves as indentured servants to Pharaoh, in a policy Yosef himself had orchestrated. Who better than Yosef knew that such a reversal of fortunes could happen to his own people, that the shift from protected wards of the state to downtrodden slaves could and would happen, in no more than the blink of an eye? And, Yosef knew, just as suddenly the day would come when the Children of Israel would leave this place and head home, to the land promised to their forefathers.

That future, that destiny - and not the riches of an Egyptian tomb - were the stuff of Yosef's dreams and aspirations. Yosef's last request was that he be a part of the great march toward the destiny he shared with his people - his real people, his brothers. Although his allegiance may have been questioned during his lifetime, in death Yosef left no room for doubt. Beneath the Egyptian finery, he remained Yosef, the son of Yaakov. He was a Jew, and he wanted to go home.

For an in-depth analysis see - http://arikahn.blogspot.co.il/2014/12/audio-and-essays-parashat-vayichi.html

December 28, 2014

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