Parashat Vayehi – The Sojourn in Egypt

 “Israel settled in the land of Egypt,in the land of Goshen;and they acquired holdings there and were fruitful and greatly increased in numbers.”The possibility of this success in Egypt concerned Yaacov. He was afraid the wealth and prosperity would cause his descendants to repudiate their national destiny to leave Egypt for tre Promised Land.


Nechama Leibowitz wrote that Yaacov’s last words to Yoseph, insisting that his remains be buried in the Holy Land, were so that there would be a perpetual reminder  to his descendants that they should always aspire to reach their true homeland. Leibowitz focussed on Yaacov’s emphasis that the land of Canaan had been promised as an “everlasting holding”. He added these words to contrast with the land-holdings in Egypt which were temporary by comparison.Then Yaacov reminded Yoseph that his mother Rachel was buried on the way to Eprath and not in the ancestral tomb at Machpela.


Nechama Leibowitz quoted from Rambam’s explanation of Yaacov’s expression “Rachel died on me” that Yaacov could not have broken his journey to bury her at Machpela and that he was apologetic. Sforno suggested a psychological meaning behind the expression that Yaacov was so overcome by grief that “he could not collect himself to bury her there and that since then there had been a void in his heart.  Leibowitz quoted from Sanhedrin “only a husband feels the full depth of grief” when his wife dies. Aviva Gottleib Zornberg interpreted this phrase more profoundly as indicating that Yaacov was just beginning to appreciate what a wonderful woman Rachel was and the possibilities that existed in the deepening of their relationship, when she was so suddenly lost to him in giving birth to Binyamin.


Rashi quoted from Jeremiah that Rachel was weeping, refusing to be comforted for children not being there, but then predicting that G-d would reply “your work will be rewarded and they will come back from the foreign land, and return to their own border giving hope for the future..Leibowitz concluded that Rachel was the symbol of the Matriarch of Israel standing by to protect her descendants on their way into exile and interceding on their behalf for their eventual return.The patriarchs’wish was that their descendants should not be overcome by either the sojourn and bondage in Egypt or the Babylonian exile.  

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