Monday, December 13, 2010

Milk and Honey

Parashat Vayechi
11 Tevet 5771 / Dec. 17-18, 2010
Bereshit 47:28 - 50:26

Milk and Honey
by Joshua Avraham Einstein, MH Hoboken

In Parshat Veyechi, the last parsha in Genesis, there are two things of note. One is the passing of two of our forefathers, Jacob and Joseph, and Jacob’s corresponding pre-death arrangements. Jacob blesses his children and grand children, doing so in the manner he wants too and against prevailing custom. Jacob designates Joseph as the first born and makes Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menassah, his own children, incorporating them each into the 12 tribes by his blessing.

Jacob states that he is to be buried in the land of Canaan, on the plot of land known today as the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacobs’s wife Leah are buried. He does this because he sees the Jewish people already comfortable outside of the Promised Land. In the area of Egypt known as Goshen the Jewish nation had grown both in number and in influence. By insisting that his burial take place in Canaan, Jacob is attempting to remind the Jewish people that they are but strangers in a strange land and that their birth right lies in Canaan.

When Joseph dies the parsha does not dwell on whom he blessed or what he blessed them with. Compared to Jacob he gets the short end of the stick. That said it’s important to note that both state to the masses that Canaan is their land and that G-d will bring them there. While Joseph is to be buried in Egypt he states that his bones be taken “up out of here.” Presumably, he is referring Canaan.

The parsha is an interesting one because it addresses the dualistic nature of Jewish people hood. We are an exilic people and yet all of our tradition is permeated by the notion of a return to our much vaunted and ballyhooed homeland. The Jewish people began in exile with Abraham who journeyed to the Promised Land, then went back to exile in Egypt with Joseph and Jacob, and then back to Israel with Moses, etc. Clearly times have not always been good for the Jewish people, whether in exile or the Promised Land our history, Biblical and factual, has been replete with migrations. Yet focusing our community on a spiritual notion of Israel as the “Land of Milk and Honey” has focused and kept us together as a coherent group distinct from the larger culture around us, this was true in Jacob and Joseph’s last statements and it remains true today.


Post a Comment