When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
“I will do as you say,” he said. — Genesis 47:29–30
This Torah portion for this week is Vayechi, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 47:28–50:26, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 2:1–12.
On Jewish Heritage Day 2010, a rabbi got more than he bargained for when he interviewed renowned senior journalist and member of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas. She made remarks caught on camera that sent shock waves through the world and her own personal life. Ms. Thomas said that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home to Germany and Poland.” Ms. Thomas’ remarks were not just anti-Semitic and bigoted; they were a gross misrepresentation of history revealing that she was either enormously ignorant or re-writing the past. Her condemnable words cost Ms. Thomas her job, her prestigious reputation, and put an indelible black mark on her otherwise illustrious career.
Ms. Thomas’ remarks were shocking, especially since they had come from a woman who was supposedly in the know, having reported on the region for decades. However, she is certainly not alone in her sentiments. There are millions who believe that the Jews should “go home to Germany and Poland,” places where millions of Jews were murdered just decades ago. But even if those two “homes” weren’t places of oppression for the Jews, that still wouldn’t change the fact that the Jewish people have only had one capital and one home for generations upon generations. That place is Israel, and our capital is, was, and always will be, Jerusalem.
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob died in Egypt where he had spent the last 17 years of his life with his family. Before his death, Jacob made Joseph swear that he would bury him not in Egypt, but in Israel. The Jewish sages point out that this would not have been easy for Joseph to arrange. Aside from the travel logistics, Joseph would also have come across extreme resistance from Pharaoh. “Egypt isn’t good enough for you Jews? What an insult!”
Why was it so important for Jacob to be buried in Israel? Later on, Joseph was buried in Egypt and asked that when the Jews left that they simply take him with them. Why wasn’t that enough for Jacob?
The sages explain that Jacob foresaw that because his children were so comfortable in Egypt they could easily forget that Israel was their true home. Even today, just 30 minutes south of Jerusalem, we can visit the Cave of Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs) where Jacob is buried. It remains an everlasting testimony to the fact that, despite what the Helen Thomases of the world might say, Israel is home to the children of Israel (Jacob’s God-given name, Genesis 32:28). It always has been and it always will be. Those of us who know this must tirelessly share this truth with the world.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President