What’s Wrong with Egypt?

          Among the first words said by Jacob to his son Joseph in Parshat VaYehi are “Do me this favor, place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty, please do not bury me in Egypt.”[1] Similarly, at the end of Joseph’s life, he told his brothers, “I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that God promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”[2] He made the children of Israel swear “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.”[3]
          What is wrong with Egypt? After all, it’s a lush land that saved the children of Israel’s lives during the 7 year famine. In order to understand what is wrong, we need to understand the definition of Mitzrayim as “place of constriction.” Despite the lush, fertile nature of the Nile river, our ancestors remember that this is not their true home and only when they return to the Land of Canaan, the Land of Israel, shall they be secure.

          In Jacob’s case he wants a continuation of the covenant of Abraham and Isaac. Just as they were buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs and just as they received the covenant to inherit Israel, so too does Jacob want to ensure that will occur to him. In Joseph’s case it’s more of a sense of not being abandoned. He senses the coming enslavement as well as the exodus from Egypt and he doesn’t want his bones left in Egypt when his descendants leave there.

          Where we are buried plays a very significant role in our lives. Just as our ancestors, we want to be buried in a place where people will visit us. We also want burial in a Jewish cemetery, with possible exception of those who fought in battles who prefer a military cemetery. Like our ancestors, our final resting place matters to us a great deal. Though Jacob lived 17 of his 147 years in Egypt and Joseph lived 93 of his 110 years there, it was never truly home for them. Home was the place of their roots, the Land of Canaan. As we conclude Sefer Bereshit, let us reflect on where we feel at home, where (if we haven’t decided) we’d like our final resting place to be and what will be important to us when we reach the end of our days on earth.


[1] Genesis 48:29

[2] Genesis 50:24

[3] Genesis 50:25

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