Vayechi: Dying and Living in the Land of Israel

The Midrash Hagadol adds a special reason for Jacob's fear of being left back in Egypt.

Levi Chazen,

Levi Chazen
Levi Chazen

Please - if I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and do kindness and truth with me - please do not bury me in Egypt".

As Jacob saw that he was living his last days in this world, he begged his son Joseph that after he passes on, he should not be buried in Egypt, but should be taken up to the Land of Israel and be buried in the cave of the Machpela, in Hevron.

What possessed Jacob with such an enthusiastic diligence that he had to make sure he would not be buried in Egypt, and at the same time be brought back to Israel? Rashi's commentary gives us some insight into this puzzling question. He writes that there are two reasons why Jacob did not want to be left in Egypt after death:

1) So he should not have to suffer, when one of the ten plaques that affected Egypt, the plaque of lice would hit. It seemingly had the ability even to penetrate the earth, so even the dead were affected.

2) So as not to have to undergo great hardships when the time of Resurrection of the dead occurs, for at that time all the righteous souls will have to travel through underground cavities to reach the land of Israel.

Other commentaries add that Jacob was afraid that after his death the Egyptian people would worship him, causing a great desecration of G-d's Name, Chilul Hashem.

The Midrash Hagadol adds an extra reason for Jacob's fear of being left back in Egypt

It writes "Jacob was afraid that the mere fact that he would be buried in Egypt would be a sign for his descendants that it is acceptable to be living outside the Land of Israel, claiming that if Jacob is buried here in Egypt, then certainly the land is also holy, just like the Land of Israel, and we, too, can stay here".

Jacob wanted to make it crystal clear to the Jewish people that we are only temporary dwellers outside the Land of Israel, there to be only for a very short time, but know that it is a place of unholiness and certainly not the place for the Jewish people to be in for the long run.

The Rabbis have taught that ten levels of holiness descended to the world; all ten are in the Land of Israel - do the math - that does not leave many levels of holiness for the rest of the world!

How sad it is, then, that today we have made so many shrines of holy rabbis and holy places in the exiles that people feel it is all right to be living among them, in lands that are unclean This is exactly what Jacob feared.

Our Rabbis teach us that one who is buried in the Land of Israel has much merit, they add that one who is buried in the Land is like one who is buried under the altar - he or she has atonement. So great is this merit that we have seen that throughout the generations, many Jews have yearned to be brought up to the Land after they died, to be buried here.

This thought has not always been looked upon as a good thing, as we learned in the Midrash. "Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi, the author of the Mishnayot, was walking with Rabbi Eliezer in the city of Teverya, when they saw a funeral taking place of a person who lived outside the Land, but was being buried in the Land of Israel. Rebbi said to Rabbi Eliezer: They lived their life enjoying it in exile, and now they come to be buried here? 

I point out the sentence about this people: "And Your heritage they have made an abomination." How dare we live our lives in the comforts of the exiles, and then think we came just come over here to enjoy the "benefits" of being buried in the Land.

Seeing how great merit is for being buried in the Land, one can just imagine how much greater is this merit for actually living one's life here. As our rabbis teach us, one who walks two meters in the land of Israel has a place in the world to come. The Rabbis go so far as to teach us that even a Canana'ite slave woman who lived in the Land has a place in the world to come. For the one who lives in the Land is as if he has a G-d, and the one living outside is as if he is an idol worshipper!

Why, then, would any sane Jew want to spend his days outside the Land, when such greatness awaits him here? Now is the time, while there is still time left to arise, throw off the cloth of exile and head home, not as Jacob, for burial - but for life!