Posted on December 25, 2015 by Tamar Benus
During this time of year, I always start to crave Chinese food, I have a list of holiday movies that I watch annually, and I start to reflect on my past year. I also strategically color coordinate my Chanukah candles, sing every single Chanukah song for the whole month and begin think about my Purim costume and what to give out for mishloach manot. My life has two co-existent narratives that have overtime become intertwined, and they work together to truly define who I am as a person through the appreciation of my surrounding non-Jewish culture and my excitement and passion for being an observant Jew. This is similar to what is found in this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayechi.
The Parsha highlights two different perspectives on the burial of Yaakov. The first is the perspective of Yosef:
בראשית נ :11–1
וַיִּפֹּ֥ל יוֹסֵ֖ף עַל־פְּנֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ עָלָ֖יווַיִּשַּׁק־לֽוֹ׃וַיְצַ֨ו יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶת־עֲבָדָיו֙ אֶת־הָרֹ֣פְאִ֔ים לַחֲנֹ֖טאֶת־אָבִ֑יו וַיַּחַנְט֥וּ הָרֹפְאִ֖ים אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:וַיִּמְלְאוּ־לוֹ֙ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם כִּ֛י כֵּ֥ן יִמְלְא֖וּיְמֵ֣י הַחֲנֻטִ֑ים וַיִּבְכּ֥וּ אֹת֛וֹ מִצְרַ֖יִם שִׁבְעִ֥יםיֽוֹם׃:וַיַּֽעַבְרוּ֙ יְמֵ֣י בְכִית֔וֹ וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר יוֹסֵ֔ף אֶל־בֵּ֥יתפַּרְעֹ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙בְּעֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם דַּבְּרוּ־נָ֕א בְּאָזְנֵ֥י פַרְעֹ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר׃אָבִ֞י הִשְׁבִּיעַ֣נִי לֵאמֹ֗ר הִנֵּ֣ה אָנֹכִי֮ מֵת֒בְּקִבְרִ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר כָּרִ֤יתִי לִי֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַןשָׁ֖מָּה תִּקְבְּרֵ֑נִי וְעַתָּ֗ה אֶֽעֱלֶה־נָּ֛א וְאֶקְבְּרָ֥האֶת־אָבִ֖י וְאָשֽׁוּבָה׃.’וַיֹּ֖אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֑ה עֲלֵ֛ה וּקְבֹ֥ר אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָכַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הִשְׁבִּיעֶֽךָ׃וַיַּ֥עַל יוֹסֵ֖ף לִקְבֹּ֣ר אֶת־אָבִ֑יו וַיַּֽעֲל֨וּ אִתּ֜וֹכָּל־עַבְדֵ֤י פַרְעֹה֙ זִקְנֵ֣י בֵית֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל זִקְנֵ֥יאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃ וְכֹל֙ בֵּ֣ית יוֹסֵ֔ף וְאֶחָ֖יו וּבֵ֣ית אָבִ֑יו רַ֗קטַפָּם֙ וְצֹאנָ֣ם וּבְקָרָ֔ם עָזְב֖וּ בְּאֶ֥רֶץ גֹּֽשֶׁן׃.וַיַּ֣עַל עִמּ֔וֹ גַּם־רֶ֖כֶב גַּם־פָּרָשִׁ֑ים וַיְהִ֥יהַֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה כָּבֵ֥ד מְאֹֽד׃וַיָּבֹ֜אוּ עַד־גֹּ֣רֶן הָאָטָ֗ד אֲשֶׁר֙ בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ןוַיִּ֨סְפְּדוּ־שָׁ֔ם מִסְפֵּ֛ד גָּד֥וֹל וְכָבֵ֖ד מְאֹ֑דוַיַּ֧עַשׂ לְאָבִ֛יו אֵ֖בֶל שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃.וַיַּ֡רְא יוֹשֵׁב֩ הָאָ֨רֶץ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֜י אֶת־הָאֵ֗בֶל בְּגֹ֙רֶן֙ הָֽאָטָ֔ד וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ אֵֽבֶל־כָּבֵ֥ד זֶ֖הלְמִצְרָ֑יִם עַל־כֵּ֞ן קָרָ֤א שְׁמָהּ֙ אָבֵ֣ל מִצְרַ֔יִםאֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּעֵ֥בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּֽן׃
And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. And the physicians embalmed Israel. And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him threescore and ten days. And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke unto the house of Pharaoh, saying: ‘If now I have found favor in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying; My father made me swear, saying: Lo, I die; in my grave which I have dug for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come back.’ And Pharaoh said: ‘Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.’ And Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,and all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father’s house; only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company. And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and there they wailed with a very great and sore wailing; and he made a mourning for his father seven days. And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said: ‘This is a grievous a mourning to the Egyptians.’ Wherefore the name of it was called Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.
This is all Yosef’s side of the story. The speech is all in the singular voice, with Yosef crying, kissing, requesting, wailing, and mourning. Yosef’s perspective is still consistently distinctly characterized as Egyptian. It is important the the Tanakh underscores this dynamic. because it reminds the reader of the separation between Yosef and his family and how formative every moment of that separation has been for him. These pesukim allow us to see Yosef balancing his role of second in command in Egypt, and also his role as a son in mourning over his father of Israelite origin.
The second recounting of the burial of Yaakov comes from the perspective of all twelve brothers:
בראשית נ :12-13
וַיַּעֲשׂ֥וּ בָנָ֖יו ל֑וֹ כֵּ֖ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּֽם׃וַיִּשְׂא֨וּ אֹת֤וֹ בָנָיו֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיִּקְבְּר֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ בִּמְעָרַ֖ת שְׂדֵ֣ה הַמַּכְפֵּלָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר קָנָה֩אַבְרָהָ֨ם אֶת־הַשָּׂדֶ֜ה לַאֲחֻזַּת־קֶ֗בֶר מֵאֵ֛ת עֶפְרֹ֥ן הַחִתִּ֖י עַל־פְּנֵ֥י מַמְרֵֽא׃
“And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them. For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field, for a possession of a burying-place, of Ephron the Hittite, in front of Mamre.”
The pesukim state that the sons of Yaakov have fulfilled exactly what their father had requested of them (see Chapter 49 Verse 29-32). There is no straying from the plan, like when Yosef does, as described in the previous pesukim. It is as if there had been no previous ceremony of burial for Yaakov.
The text highlights, simultaneously, the separation of Yosef from his brothers and the connection of Yosef with his brothers. There is still this familiar dynamic between the children of Yaakov that is echoed even at the moment of burial.
בראשית נ :14
וַיָּ֨שָׁב יוֹסֵ֤ף מִצְרַ֙יְמָה֙ ה֣וּא וְאֶחָ֔יו וְכָל־הָעֹלִ֥ים אִתּ֖וֹ לִקְבֹּ֣ר אֶת־אָבִ֑יו אַחֲרֵ֖יקָבְר֥וֹ אֶת־אָבִֽיו
“And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.”
This blatantly describes the two different burial moments: the story of when Yosef takes care of the burial his own father, and the story when the brothers bury Yaakov. There is a clear separation between the familial focus and the focus on the individual.
I think the reason the text does this is because the end goal is the same: Yosef shows his appreciation and dedication to the culture of Egypt. He is respectful and recognizes that while it may not be his truest identity, it has indeed formed him and influenced his life. The depiction of the burying of Yaakov places emphasis on tradition and habit as well rituals and observance. This reality of a dual depiction of burial, and even an identification of an intertwining of cultures could only happen in this parsha. The end of Sefer Beresheit is the end of the focus on the individual and the beginning of the shift to the focus on the group, the whole nation. The shift from the perspective of Yosef to the perspective of the brothers as a collective unit is exactly what Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were striving for.
The story of Yaakov’s burial leaves room for the appreciation of the surrounding culture and world and also gives a clear message to stick to the tradition and hold the customs of our nation and our people in high regard and as a priority. In the end, it’s not only possible to have both, but perhaps even valuable.