Year 3 Genesis 49:27-50:26 (Plaut p 313; Hertz p 187)
Haftarah I Kings 2:1-12 (Plaut p 323; Hertyz p 191)
Jacob’s final blessing to his children and grandchildren precedes demand that he be buried in the ancestral grave in Hebron at the Machpelah. There it is his desire to be laid to rest alongside his wife Leah, his parents Isaac and Rebecca and his grandparents Abraham and Sarah. Jacob has become a resident of Egypt, and the preparation for burial occurs according to local custom as does the initial period of mourning. It is only after that, with Pharaoh’s permission, that a great journey is undertaken to bring Jacob to his final resting place in Canaan. Then a week of mourning takes place.
Through the generations, Jews living in exile and dispersion have been challenged to meld and adapt custom and practice to local standards and necessities. The exceptional mourning for Jacob, the outflow from Goshen and Egypt of so vast a party for the religious observance sets a model for the loyalty and connection of the ancient Israelites to their adopted land of Egypt. How ironic that in the next chapters of the narrative that predominates in Jewish memory, it is precisely Pharaoh’s refusal to permit such a national religious observance that leads from plague to plague.
The death of Joseph described in the closing verses of Genesis at a young 120 years of age brings the age of the Patriarchs and the formation of the Israelite nation to a full stop. The origin of the tribes is clear. While none of this national saga has external confirmation, these ideas have long served as the baseline of Jewish self-definition. Bound to one another by descent and experience, ancient Israelite religion is intimately bound up with the national identity. The consistent presence and acceptance of gerim—strangers—as a protected part of the whole, is important to the development of the religion of conscience, human concern and prophetic imperatives. Founded in a call for justice (Let my people go!), and realized through the power of divine presence, in modernity the response to the quest for the diving in our lives ascends and resonates.
Perhaps this is quintessentially so for Joseph, the stranger-in-a-strange-land whose life becomes the model for leadership, initiative and success. It is this confluence, the multiplicity of streams the flow into Jewish identity that mark Judaism and Jewish identity through the millennia.
Rabbi Robert Jacobs