Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Yaaqov's Funeral Procession

A post in honor of Littlefoxling, who first brought this problem to my attention:

One of the primary topics of Parashat Vayehi is the death and burial of Yaaqov the Patriarch. It is interesting to note that Yaaqov gives instructions regarding his funeral arrangements twice - once to Yosef alone, and then again to all of the brothers. When Yaaqov senses that he is nearing the end of his life, he summons Yosef and makes a very important request:

And [Yaaqov] called his son Yosef, and said to him, 'If I have indeed found favor in your eyes, please place your hand beneath my thigh, and do with me kindness and truth - do not bury me in Egypt. And I shall lie with my fathers, and you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial plot. And [Yosef] said, 'I shall do according to your words.'

Later on, he gathers all twelve of his sons around his deathbed to bless them, and reiterates his final wishes regarding burial:

And he commanded them, and he said to them, 'I shall be gathered unto my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite. In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which faces Mamre, in the land of Canaan; the field which Avraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial estate. There they buried Avraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebecca his wife; and there I buried Leah...'

When the Parasha describes Yaaqov's funeral, there again seems to be a "doublet" - a repetitive account of the procession. First, we read:

Then Joseph fell upon his father's face; he wept over him and kissed him. Joseph ordered his servants, the doctors, to embalm his father; so the doctors embalmed Israel...

When his bewailing period was over, Joseph spoke to Pharaoh's household, saying, "Please, if I have found favor in your eyes...My father had adjured me, saying, 'Behold, I am about to die; in my grave, which I have hewn for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me." Now, I will go up if you please, and bury my father, then I will return."

And Pharaoh said, "Go up and bury your father as he adjured you."

So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all of Pharaoh's servants , the elders of his household, and all the elders of the Land of Egypt. And all of Joseph's household - his brothers, and his father's household...They came to Goren Haatad, which is across the Jordan, and there they held a very great and imposing eulogy; and he declared a seven day mourning period for his father.

So far, so good. But then the Torah seems to "backtrack" and repeat itself, telling us:

And his sons did for him just as he commanded them. His sons carried him to the land of Canaan and they buried him in the cave of the Machpelah field - the field which Abraham bought as a burial estate from Ephron the Hittite, facing Mamre.

Once they reached Goren HaAtad, the funeral procession had already entered the land of Canaan. Why, after the funeral service in Goren HaAtad, does the Torah speak about the brothers transporting Yaaqov's body to the Land of Canaan? His remains were already there!

I believe that the repetition of funeral instructions from Yaaqov, as well as the repetition regarding the fulfillment of those instructions, are designed to highlight an important theme in the unfolding narrative.

In order to identify the theme, let us first note that there is a key difference between the content of what Yaaqov says to Yosef privately and what he communicates to his sons collectively. When Yaaqov addresses Yosef personally, he treats him with tremendous respect. He bows to his son in gratitude and straightens up in his bed when his son arrives to visit him. Yaaqov also elicits an oath from Yosef. He is not satisfied to simply state his request. Finally, it is fascinating that Yaaqov's emphasis in conversing with Yosef is on the removal of his remains from Egypt:

Please do not bury me in Egypt. And I shall lie with my fathers, and you shall carry me from Egypt, and you shall bury me in their burial plot.

By contrast, when the brothers gather around their father as a family, he interacts with them in the role of a Patriarch. He blesses them, criticizes them and commands them. He assumes their compliance with his demands as a matter of course, and does not ask them to swear that they will bury him in accordance with his wishes. Finally, he expounds upon the significance of the Cave of Machpelah and its history in detail. Not once does Yaaqov mention the eventual departure of his coffin from Egypt. When all of his sons are present, he speaks only of his destination in Israel.

These distinctions manifest themselves again in the Torah's description of Yaaqov's funeral. At first, Yosef is credited with making all of the arrangements vis a vis securing the permission of Pharaoh, chariots, horsemen, etc. Yosef's brothers are described as coming along with him - as secondary to "the house of Joseph" - and Yaaqov is referred to as his [i.e. Yosef's] father rather than their father:

And Yosef went up to bury his father, and with him went up all of Pharaoh's servants...And all of the house of Yosef, and his brothers and the house of his father...

And he established for his father a mourning period of seven days.

After the funeral service at Goren Haatad, however, things change. The brothers now proceed to the interment service at the Cave of Machpelah as a family:

And his sons did for him exactly as he had commanded them. And his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and they buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah...

The pattern here is unmistakable. Whenever the context is Egyptian, Yosef stands out among his brothers - he is the focus of attention and the wielder of influence. Thus, when the question of removal from Egypt arose, Yaaqov addressed it to Yosef alone, and exhibited great deference toward his own son. Similarly, when the Egyptian burial preparations were being made, and during the Egyptian funeral procession and service at Goren Haatad - attended, as it was, by all the nobles of Pharaoh's Court - Yosef remained at center stage.

However, when the question is one of Jewish destiny, the history of the Patriarchs or the legacy they wished to pass on to the next generation, all of the brothers are on an equal footing. So when Yaaqov wanted to explain the profound importance of the Cave of Machpelah, or to bless them and make predictions about their future, he did this in the presence of all of his sons. Furthermore, when the brothers left Goren Haatad to lay Yaaqov to his final rest in the Cave of Machpelah, they did so as a family - Yosef blended in as a member of the group.

This analysis of the Parasha is most clearly substantiated by the two verses that immediately follow the burial of Yaaqov at the Cave of Machpelah:

And Yosef returned to Egypt, he and his brothers, and all who went up with him to bury his father, after he buried his father. And the brothers of Yosef saw that their father was dead, and they said, 'Maybe Yosef will resent us, and return to us all of the evil we did to him.'

As soon as Yosef comes back to Egypt, he is again portrayed as distinct from his brothers. Participation in the funeral was, in the eyes of the Egyptians, primarily a form of honor for their leader, Yosef, who needed to lay his father to rest in the Land of Canaan. Those who attended did so out of respect for Yosef, not out of any particular concern for his brothers.

Yosef's prominence among the Egyptians ultimately complicates his relationship with his siblings. After their father's burial, the sons of Yaaqov witness Yosef stepping out of his role as one of their brothers and back into his role as the influential viceroy of a foreign nation. Because of the political power Yosef has and the resentment he may harbor toward his brethren, this shift is a cause of serious concern for the entire family. As such, they act immediately to determine whether the ruler of Egypt is still in fact "Yosef their brother."


David Guttmann said...

very nice!

Pinny said...

Rabbi Maroof,

nice pshat!

You are taking the approach that the mitzrim were acting out of kavod for Yosef.
Why did they cry for 70 days? I seems a little much.

The Ralbag states in his toeliyot that the Mitzi immense engagement was due to their appreciation of the chachama of Yaakov. Presumably through Yaakov'c connection to the Chachmai mitzrayim.