you really want to do me a kindness
act towards me
with truth and kindness and do not bury me in Egypt.
So begins Yaakovs exhortation to Joseph as he realizes
that the end is near. Though Yosef promised to carry out
his fathers request, Yaakov is not yet satisfied and
demands that Yosef take an oath
that he will in fact do so. Could it really be that Yaakov
could not trust his favorite son to carry out his will? Would Yosef disregard the imperative of his father? Some of our commentaries explain that Yaakov was not fearful that Yosef would willingly ignore his fathers wish but that due to his prominent position and busy schedule
would be unable to do so. Requesting a leave to bury his
father in a foreign land would be difficult both for practical
and ideological reasons. Surely Pharaoh would say bury him
here, there is no need to go elsewhere. Yaakov knew that
even the ancient s respected the severity of fulfilling
an oath and by having Yosef swear Pharaoh would be forced
to allow him to go. This fear of Yaakov is born out when
the time comes to bury Yaakov. Joseph addressed Pharaohs court and said, if you would do me a favor, give the following personal message to Pharaoh. My father bound me by an oath
(50:4-5). Yosef, despite having rescued Egypt from economic ruin, did not feel comfortable to approach Pharaoh directly with his request and enlisted the help of mediators.
However perhaps there is a simpler explanation. Yaakov feared not Pharaoh but Yosef who might make only a halfhearted effort to carry out his fathers will. After all, how would it look for the Viceroy to say that the land of Egypt is not good enough for our family to be buried here? Burial in Israel is a clear statement that despite our success in Egypt, it can never be our true home. Our ancestral homeland was and always will be Israel. Was Yosef willing to say this? This is what Yaakov feared. He saw Yosef rise to power, even assimilate into the foreign milieu. He spoke a fluent Egyptian, was known by his Egyptian name, wore the clothes of royalty and married a woman from a priestly family. Furthermore, Yaakov must have reasoned, Yosef made no attempt to contact me while he was rising to power in Egypt. Even here in Egypt we have to call him to let him know that his aging father is sick. Their contact was so minimal that Yaakov did not even recognize his own grandchildren. Joseph (AKA tzfanat paneach), Yaakov reasoned, sees his future and that of his family in Egypt. Yaakovs request is meant less for himself than as a message to Yosef where his ultimate loyalty must lie. The Ramban claims that Yosef apprehension in approaching Pharaoh directly was due to Pharaohs concern that Joseph might not return to Egypt. Despite what Yosef did for Egypt the taint of being a foreigner always remained. The accusation of dual loyalty was never far from the surface. No wonder we can read next week that a new King who did not know of Joseph came into power (Exodus 1:8).
Yaakov is afraid that Yosef is too Egyptian whereas Pharaoh fears that Joseph is not really Egyptian at all. How tragic yet how typical. The Jew must walk the fine line of being a loyal, law-abiding citizen of their county of residence while recognizing that Israel is our homeland. In truth there is no better example of one whom succeeded in this task than Yosef Hatzadik. Neither Pharaoh nor Yaakov really had anything to fear. While a faithful servant of Egypt, Joseph on his death bed says to his brothers "I am dying G-d is sure to grant you special providence and bring you out of this land to the land of that he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Joseph then bound the Israelites by an oath
you must bring my remains out of this place (50:24-25). Until we go on aliyah we must serve both our country and our homeland. Shabbat Shalom!