Parshat VaYechi

Yosef and Eretz Yisrael

As the curtain closes on Sefer Bereishis, Yosef is charged with giving over his dying message to his brothers. With his dying breaths, Yosef tasks his brothers to bring his bones to Eretz Yisrael when the Jewish People finally leave Egypt. Then, the passuk specifies that he was placed in a coffin. Why, of all things, is this Yosef’s last message? And why must the passuk state that he was placed in a coffin? The Medrash in Devarim Rabba writes that “Whoever acknowledges Eretz Yisrael as the central focus point of his life, will merit to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, and whoever does not acknowledge Eretz Yisrael as the central focus point of his life, will not be buried there.” This Medrash highlights a contrast between Yosef and Moshe Rabbenu.

After being sold into slavery, Yosef is accused by Potifar’s wife of sexual immorality. Within the accusation, she calls Yosef an ish ivri. Yosef does not deny this accusation. In fact, he publicizes the fact that he is from Eretz Yisrael. While sitting in prison, Yosef proclaims, that he was kidnapped from Eretz Yisrael. Since Yosef always acknowledged that Eretz Yisrael is his true homeland, he had the zechus to be buried there. This was not the case with Moshe. When Moshe Rebbenu rescues Yisro’s daughters from the shepherds at the watering hole, they report back to their father, saying that they were saved by an Egyptian Man. Moshe does not deny this claim. He does not correct them and say that he is from Eretz Yisrael. As a result, the Medrash writes that he was not zoche to be buried in Eretz Yisrael.

We must be able to cut Moshe some slack. Yosef was indeed born in Eretz Yisrael, so when he was accused of it, he admitted to it. But Moshe was an Egyptian! He was born and raised in Egypt! What does the Medrash want from him? The lesson of the Medrash is quite powerful. No matter where one is from, or where one currently lives, one must always have Eretz Yisrael as the central focus point in life. No one embodied this idea more than Yosef. As the Jewish People were about to begin the next few centuries in Egypt, Yosef felt it necessary to remind them, with his dying breath, that Eretz Yisrael must always be on your mind. This is why he was buried in a coffin. While the best way to bury someone is without a coffin, the Rishonim write that Yosef felt it necessary to be placed in a coffin as a definite reminder to his kids that he was to be taken to Eretz Yisrael.

May we all learn from the greatness of Yosef, that wherever we are, we must remember that Eretz Yisrael is our eternal homeland, and must remain our central focus point in life.

Student studying in Sha’alvim