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Parasha Notes: B’Shallah 5778

February 5, 2018

Exodus 13:19:

Moses took Joseph’s remains with him; for he had solemnly sworn the children of Israel, saying: ‘God will surely remember you; and you shall carry up my remains out of here with you.’

Without resorting to midrashic and kabbalistic explanations, it seems from the verses that the patriarchs insisted on burial in the promised land in order to bolster their claim to ownership of the land, and this fits with the running theme of Genesis, as explicated by Rashi in his opening comment: God created the world and decided that the Land of Israel would be for the Jews. This explains why Abraham insisted on paying good money for his burial plot, and why his burial is connected with his transfer of his Godly blessing (= ownership of the land) to Isaac, and not to his other children:

Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac, but unto the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country. These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, a hundred threescore and fifteen years. And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.  And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son; and Isaac dwelt by Beer-lahai-roi.

This also explains why Isaac’s burial is connected to Jacob’s return to take hold of the land from his father, and the specific mention that the rejected son, Esau, who scorned his birthright (= a double share in the land), settled elsewhere:

And Jacob came unto Isaac his father to Mamre, to Kiriathn Arba–the same is Hebron–where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. The days of Isaac were a hundred and eighty years. Isaac expired, and died, and was gathered unto his people, old and full of days; and Esau and Jacob his sons buried him. Now these are the generations of Esau–the same is Edom. Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan… And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his possessions, which he had gathered in the land of Canaan; and went into a land away from his brother Jacob.  For their substance was too great for them to dwell together; and the land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle.  And Esau dwelt in the mountain-land of Seir–Esau is Edom… But Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.

This explains why Jacob’s demand of Joseph that he swear to bury him in his family sepulcher is connected to his promise to give a special double portion to Joseph and his children and why, after poetically and prophetically describing all the individual portions of land his children were to receive, he reiterated their responsibility to bury him in Hebron, specifically in the place where all the patriarchs and matriarchs had been buried until then.

This also sheds light on the last section of the book of Joshua, and its almost verbatim reappearance in the Book of Judges:

So Joshua sent the people away, every man unto his inheritance. It came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being a hundred and ten years old. They buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill-country of Ephraim, on the north of the mountain of Gaash. Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and had known all the work of the Lord, that He had wrought for Israel. The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, they buried in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of the children of Joseph. Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in the Hill of Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.

The book which records how God kept his promise to give the land of Israel to Israel fittingly concludes with how Joseph was buried in his plot, and how the men responsible for parcelling out the land to the people, Joshua and Elazar, were also buried in their heritages. Further, all three were buried specifically in the land of Ephraim.

(Compare this with the corresponding passage in Judges:

Now when Joshua had sent the people away, the children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the land. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord, that He had wrought for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being a hundred and ten years old.  And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill-country of Ephraim, on the north of the mountain of Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, that knew not the LORD, nor yet the work which He had wrought for Israel.

Here, the burials of Joseph and Elazar go unmentioned, and that verse about the people remaining faithful during Joshua’s lifetime and thereafter precedes the verse describing his passing, and this is because the passage is trying to emphasize the change that then took place once the generation had passed.)

We must now say something regarding the facts that Miriam, Aaron, and Moses were not buried in the land of Israel, and that we find no record that they even requested that they be buried there. Indeed, we can offer that because they had never in their lives been in the land and would never be in the land, their burial therein would not help strengthen the claim to continual ownership of the land.

Further, according to the Talmud, burial in the earth is a means of atonement for one’s sins during his lifetime. Consequently, burial is obligatory for all, including those put to death by the courts, and Judaism does not countenance cremation or any other form of non-burial. More so, burial in the land of Israel is considered to be more efficacious toward atonement. It seems that these righteous individuals did not need the additional atonement granted by burial in the land of Israel. This also explains the meaning of the classic teaching of the Pesikta Rabbati, that the bodies of the righteous buried abroad will roll back to Israel in subterranean passages before being resurrected: those buried abroad will have to undergo a final tribulation to compensate for the atonement they did not receive because they were buried abroad.

By comparing unusual phrases in the Song at the Sea, we can understand why God instructed the Israelites to take a detour to the sea and allow for the Egyptians to be miraculously decimated. Twice in the song we find ‘am zu qanitha, and ‘am zu ga’alta, the people that You acquired and the people that You redeemed, respectively. The word zu is quite rare; it is a poetic form of the more common word asher (with a hataf path, not qamatz), and the phrase ‘am zu only occurs one other place in the Bible, in a passage in Isaiah that, lo and behold, describes the Splitting of the Sea in order to make this point (Isaiah 43:16-21):

Thus said the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters;  Who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power–they lie down together, they shall not rise, they are extinct, they are quenched as a wick. Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field shall honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, Mine elect; ‘Am zu, the people which I formed for Myself, that they might tell of My praise.

God brought the Israelites to the sea in order to make them into Yehudim, from the root yud-dalet-hei, to give thanks. We were created to sing his praises.


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