Yosef ֠From Exile to Redemption
Yeshivat Har Etzion
This parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
This parasha series is dedicated
in honor of Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Rabbi Elchanan Samet.
Dedicated in memory of my grandmother, Szore bath Simen Leib (Weinberger),
whose yahrzeit is on the 18th of Tevet. May her soul be among the Righteous in Gan Eden. from those who remember her.
loving memory of
Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen (whose yahrtzeit falls on 10 Tevet),
Chaya bat Yitzchak Dovid (whose yahrtzeit falls on 15 Tevet),
and Shimon ben Moshe (whose yahrtzeit falls on 16 Tevet).
Mazal Tov to Jonny Bernstein on the occasion of the anniversary of his Bar-Mitzvah! All our love, the Family
Yosef From Exile to Redemption
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon
Parashat Vayechi, at the end of Sefer Bereishit, concludes the stories of the patriarchs, preparing the reader for Sefer Shemot which introduces the story of the nation; the story of exile and redemption.
The Death of Yaakov and the Death of Yosef
Although the parasha gets its name from the opening word, "va-yechi" denoting life the parasha actually describes the death of two people: Yaakov and Yosef.
The parasha begins with a description of Yaakov's preparations, knowing that he is about to die. He commands Yosef to bury him in Eretz Kena'an; he declares that Efrayim and Menasheh will have special status as sons deserving of an inheritance; he blesses all of his children, and commands all of them to bury him in Me'arat ha-makhpela. The text then describes his death, the mourning that follows, and the funeral procession.
Following Yaakov's death there is a conversation between Yosef and his brothers, straightening out the affairs between them. The parasha then ends with Yosef's parting words to his brothers, and then his death.
If we compare the two descriptions of death that of Yaakov and that of Yosef we find a considerable degree of similarity. Admittedly, the description in Yaakov's case is far more detailed, but the same central elements appear in both:
Yaakov: "And Yisrael dwelled in the
Yosef: "And Yosef dwelled in
2.Noting of the length of life:
Yaakov: "And Yaakov's lifetime, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty-seven years" (47:25)
Yosef: "And Yosef lived a hundred and ten years" (50:22)
3.Mention of the redemption:
Yaakov: "And Yisrael said to Yosef: Behold, I am going to die, but God will be with you and restore you to the land of your forefathers" (48:21)
Yosef: "And Yosef said to his brothers: I am going to die, but God will surely remember you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov" (50:24)
4.Command concerning burial in the land:
Yaakov: "Place your hand under my thigh, and act
towards me with kindness and truth: do not bury me in
me lie with my ancestors; you shall carry me from
"Bury me with my ancestors at the cave which is in the field of Efron, the Hittite" (49:29-32)
Yosef: "And Yosef caused Bnei Yisrael to swear, saying And you shall take up my bones from here" (50:25)
Yaakov: "And he gathered his legs to his bed, and he expired, and was gathered to his people" (49:33)
Yosef: "And Yosef died, aged a hundred and ten" (50:26)
Yaakov: "And the physicians embalmed Yisrael" (50:2)
Yosef: "And they embalmed him" (50:26)
Yaakov: "And Yosef went up to bury his father" (50:7)
"And his sons carried him to the
Yosef: "And placed him in a casket in
Yaakov and Yosef know that there will be a redemption from
a. Yaakov does not tell all of his sons that there will be a redemption; he tells only Yosef. Yosef, on the other hand, tells all of his brothers.
b.Yaakov's body is brought to Eretz Kena'an for
burial, while Yosef's body remains, for the meantime, in a casket in
is Yosef's body left, for the meantime, in
When Does the Exile Begin?
A further question that arises in the wake of Yosef's speech is why he feels the need to tell his brothers that "God will surely remember you and bring you up from this land." Are they not currently free to get up and leave? Are they already subjugated now, during Yosef's lifetime?
This question is further reinforced by the fact that when Bnei Yisrael want to go and bury Yaakov, they need to first seek Paro's approval. Yosef, the second-to-the-king, must ask permission from the king to go and bury his own father! Moreover, he does not dare to present his request directly; he appeals via "Paro's house":
And Yosef spoke with Paro's house, saying: If I have found favor in your eyes, please speak to Paro, saying .
Paro indeed agrees immediately, but the manner of the request is most surprising. We have the sense that Yosef's position is not as high and mighty as we had imagined. In a certain sense, he is subjugated, enslaved to Paro.
addition, when Yaakov's funeral procession sets off, the Torah tells us:
"They left their children, their flocks and cattle in the
And Moshe and Aharon were brought back to Paro, and he said to them: Go, serve the Lord your God. Who exactly is going?
And Moshe said: We shall go with our youth and with our elderly; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and our cattle we shall go, for we have a festival unto God.
And he said to them: Would that God then be with you, when I let you go, and your children; behold, for evil awaits you.
Not so; let the men then go and serve the Lord, for that is what you ask. And he banished them from before Paro. (Shemot 10:8-11)
This theme returns in the context of the plague of darkness:
And Paro called to Moshe and he said: Go, worship the Lord. Let only your flocks and your cattle remain; let your children, too, go with you. (10:24)
Bnei Yisrael are subjugated in
Yaakov's sons go to bury him in Eretz Kena'an, they leave their children
behind, along with their animals. These are the anchor ensuring their return
and indeed, the sons return to
light of the above, we might sense that the Egyptian exile has already begun,
and perhaps Bnei Yisrael are already being subjugated. However, there is an
important difference that should be noted between the episodes. In Sefer
Shemot, Paro insists that only the men will go, while Moshe insists that
everyone must go. In contrast, in parashat Vayechi, the brothers
leave their children and their livestock in
sees this reality the way in which Bnei Yisrael are "taking root"
sees, now, how the family is settling down in
The Promise of Redemption "God Will Surely Remember You"
In perceiving the situation and its significance, Yosef understands that Divine intervention will be needed to bring this exile to its conclusion, and therefore he tells his brothers, "God will surely remember you."
Yosef anticipates the exile, but even before it begins he foresees the future redemption, and before his death he leaves the nation with this vision.
it is not Yosef who "invents" the vision of exile and the redemption
from it. It is Yaakov who discovers this secret, expressing it in the words,
"God will be with you, and will restore you to the land of your
forefathers" (48:21). Yaakov had received this prophecy several years
previously, on his journey down to
God said to Yisrael, in a night vision, and He said: Yaakov, Yaakov. And he said: Here I am.
He said: I am the Almighty, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going
shall go down with you to
Prior to his death, Yaakov conveys to Yosef the promise of redemption, and it is Yosef who will transmit it further, to his brothers.
We shall now skip over all the years of Egyptian slavery, arriving at the beginning of the process of redemption. When Moshe is sent to Bnei Yisrael, he is commanded to give them the following message:
gather the elders of
tells Moshe that when he tells this to the elders of
He [Moshe] said to them [the elders]: Thus said the Holy One, blessed be He: I have surely remembered you.
Bnei Yisrael had a sign: any redeemer that would come with this sign "pakod pakadeti" would be known to them as a true redeemer, for thus Yosef had told them: "God will surely remember you" (Bereishit 50:24). Since he mentioned the words "pakod pakadeti," immediately "the people believed" (Shemot 4:31).
expression "pakod pakadeti," which Moshe uses in order to
convince the elders of
hope, originally inspired by Yosef, had echoed in the ears of Bnei Yisrael
But Yaakov himself had foreseen the redemption. Why, then, did Yaakov not tell his sons himself? Why did he choose to leave the momentous role of promising an eventual redemption specifically to Yosef?
It is possible that Yaakov passed away at a time when Bnei Yisrael were still not so entrenched in Egypt, and therefore it was not yet appropriate to prophesize about a redemption from there. Therefore, he revealed this only to Yosef, and when Yosef was about to die he decided that the time was right to make the matter known.
However, it is possible that there was also a deeper reason; that it was specifically Yosef's words that would have to accompany Bnei Yisrael over the course of the long and difficult Egyptian exile. It was specifically Yosef's words that echoed in their ears all this time, and specifically his words that came to represent redemption.
"You Shall Take Up My Bones"
Yosef is not buried in Eretz Kena'an, as Yaakov was. Rather, his bones are kept
in a casket in
when Bnei Yisrael leave
And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, for he had made Bnei Yisrael swear, saying: God will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones from here with you. (Shemot 13:19)
Torah says nothing about the bones of the other brothers, although it would
seem reasonable to assume that they, too, were brought up from
When Yosef commands his brothers to take up his bones, he binds this together with the matter of redemption: "God will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones with you from here."
The taking up of Yosef's bones, then, is closely bound up with the redemption, as the midrash explains:
When he [Moshe] had become extremely weary, he was met by a certain Segula met him She said to him, Come with me and I will show you where he is. She led him to a stream, and said: In this place the magicians and wizards made a casket of 500 talents, and cast it into the stream. And so they said to Paro: Do you want this nation never to leave here? Here are the bones of Yosef. If they never find them, they will not be able to leave.
away Moshe stood at the edge of the stream and said: Yosef, Yosef! You know how
you promised to
Yosef's bones continue to accompany Bnei Yisrael on their journeys through the desert, and afterwards during the years of conquest and division of the land. Only after the process of redemption is complete, after the death of Yehoshua, do we find a description of the burial of Yosef:
And the bones of Yosef, which Bnei Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shekhem, in the portion of the field which Yaakov had purchased from the sons of Chamor, the father of Shekhem, for a hundred 'kesita,' and they became an inheritance for the children of Yosef. (Yehoshua 24:32)
Yosef is not buried in Eretz Kena'an immediately after he dies. Rather, his bones remain with Bnei Yisrael in exile, and they accompany Bnei Yisrael throughout the process of redemption. What is the significance of this?
Repair For The
may be viewed as a repair ("tikkun") for the sale of Yosef.
Yosef had been sold by his brothers in Shekhem, and that is the beginning of
the story of the Egyptian exile. The redemption from
So said the Holy One, blessed be He, to the tribes: You sold Yosef; now restore his bones to their place.
different interpretation: Yosef said to them I swear to you that from the
place from which you kidnapped me, to there you shall return me. And so Bnei
Yisrael did: "And the bones of Yosef, which Bnei Yisrael had brought up
According to this understanding, the Egyptian exile was a result of (or punishment for) the sale of Yosef.
Avraham had received a prophecy concerning this exile, in the "covenant
between the parts" (Bereishit 15). It seems, then, that the sale of
Yosef was merely a means by which to bring about the descent of Bnei Yisrael to
Yosef and the Process of Exile and Redemption
us now consider a deeper significance to the fact that Yosef accompanies the
process of redemption from
By the same token, it is Yosef who initiates the process of redemption: when he feels that Bnei Yisrael are putting down roots in Egypt, even before their subjugation, he prophesizes "pakod yifkod," and commands them to take his bones with them when they are eventually redeemed. Thus, he paves the way for their redemption.
Bereishit does not end with the descent to
burial of the patriarchs in the
second story is about the burial of Yosef. We do not read the end of this story
here, only its beginning. Yosef does want to be buried in the land, but he asks
not to be buried there now; rather, he will remain with Bnei Yisrael in
burial of Yaakov in the
us now return to Yosef. Yosef is the one who initiates the process of the
Ascent Out of Difficulty
Yosef has two principal characteristics, and both are of great importance for the existence of Am Yisrael in exile as well as in preparation for their redemption.
as we saw in parashat Vayeshev, Yosef has a special ability to deal with
difficult situations; he manages to emerge from them strengthened. He is sold
as a slave to
The ability to deal with difficult situations and to rise from those depths to even greater heights, is an ability of great importance for Am Yisrael in order, not only to survive in exile, but to emerge from exile strengthened and with greater powers.
characteristic of Yosef, which finds expression in his individual approach to
his own personal exile in
Yosef lives for many years among the Egyptians, but he never denies or hides his origins, nor is he ashamed of his heritage. Therefore everyone knows that he is a Hebrew. Potifar's wife refers to him thus:
See, he has brought us a Hebrew man, to make a mockery of us
The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us to make a mockery of us, came to me. (Bereishit 39:14, 17)
Similarly, the royal butler mentions him to Paro as follows:
There was with us a Hebrew lad, a slave to the officer of the guard (41:12)
Even when he becomes second to Paro, Yosef continues to maintain his Hebrew identity:
They placed [bread] for him [Yosef] separately, and for them [the brothers] separately, and the Egyptians eating with him separately, for the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for it was an abomination for the Egyptians." (Bereishit 43:32)
Despite the fact that his stubborn maintenance of his identity as a Hebrew creates a distance between him and the Egyptians, he does not capitulate.
Yosef's preservation of his Hebrew identity finds expression not only in the title "Hebrew" (ivri), but also in the fact that he always takes care to mention that God helps him.
The episode of Potifar's wife proves that Yosef does not succumb to Egyptian culture; rather, he continues to maintain the moral standards that he learned in his father's house. As the midrash teaches:
Rabbi Pinchas said: Yosef was imbued with the Divine spirit, and a spirit of wisdom, from his youth until the day he died. It guided him in every matter of wisdom like a shepherd guiding his sheep. And despite all his wisdom he was inclined after a woman, but when he sought to engage in sin, he saw the image of his father and withdrew and conquered his inclination. (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, 38)
When Bnei Yisrael were mired in the Egyptian exile, they needed Yosef's image to accompany them so that they would be able to get through the experience intact, and to remain worthy of redemption from their exile, and to be able to emerge strengthened.
The image of Yosef who himself lived in exile for many years, and grappled with it is the image that Bnei Yisrael keep in mind as they deal with their own exile experience.
Yosef, who had experienced difficult situations and had emerged from them successfully, prepares Bnei Yisrael for their exile and prophesizes that they will emerge from it; that there will be a redemption.
Yosef, who took care throughout his life to acknowledge God's help, is the one to remind Bnei Yisrael that God will redeem them and save them from their troubles.
Yosef, who maintained his Hebrew identity even when in the midst of the Egyptians, is the one who Bnei Yisrael keep in mind during their difficult experiences in exile, when they are almost assimilated among the Egyptians and submerged in the 49th level of impurity. They still manage to preserve their identity, and in this merit they are redeemed. As the midrash teaches:
were three good attributes in Bnei Yisrael's favor in
Translated by Kaeren Fish
 Bnei Yisrael are referred to as a "nation" or "people" for the first time by Paro: "Behold, the nation of Bnei Yisrael is numerous and great "
 Note the very close similarity between Yaakov's words and those of Yosef.
 Both Yaakov and Yosef command that they be buried in the land, but Yaakov conveys this command twice: once to Yosef, and then again to all of his sons. His actual burial is correspondingly described twice: at first, we are told that Yosef fulfills his father's command; and then the Torah describes the burial as performed by all of the brothers.
 Both Yaakov and Yosef cause others to make an oath in this regard, Yaakov to Yosef, and Yosef to the brothers.
 Clearly, this ability comes to him with God's help. It is God Who shows him his dreams and their meaning, but Yosef has the ability and talent to absorb the message and to apply it. Thus he foresees that his family is going to be dependent on him, and from this perspective he will be the leader of the family. In the same way he succeeds in interpreting the dreams of the royal butler and the royal baker. He also interprets Paro's dream about the years of famine, and is able to provide the correct advice for addressing this challenge.
 While Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra all explain the words "I shall surely also bring you up" as referring to Yaakov's burial in Eretz Kena'an, but it would seem that God's words may also be understood as referring to the redemption from Egypt, as the midrash explains it in Shemot Rabba (3:3): "'I shall go down to save them from the hand of Egypt' The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: I told Yaakov, their forefather (Bereishit 46), "I shall go down with you to Egypt, and I shall surely also bring you up." Now, I have come down to here to bring up his children, as I told Yaakov their father." In the above-cited verse, God tells Yaakov that Yosef will assisting Yaakov, just after God's promise of redemption. Perhaps this in itself already hints at Yosef's partnership in the process of redemption.
 Rashi, commenting on Shemot 3:18, cites this midrash and says:
"'They will listen to you' of their own volition. If you use these words, they will listen to you, for this is a sign that was conveyed to them from Yaakov and from Yosef that it is with these words that they would be redeemed. Yaakov said (Bereishit 50:22), "ve-Elokim pakod yifkod etkhem," while Yosef said (Bereishit 50:25), "pakod yifkod Elokim etkhem.""
This explanation by Rashi is
problematic, since actually the words "pakod yifkod" appear
twice in Yosef's words, but are not mentioned at all by Yaakov! Admittedly,
Yaakov too prophesizes a redemption from
 In other midrashim, he is met by Serach, daughter of Asher
 See Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael Beshalach (Massekhet Vayhi Beshalach, Petichta, s.v. Va-yikach Moshe), which states, "The casket (aron) of Yosef accompanied the ark (aron) of He Who brings life to the world."
 It is interesting that Yaakov, in his words to Yosef, alludes to a connection between the redemption and the giving of Shekhem to Yosef: "And Yisrael said to Yosef: Behold, I am going to die, but God will be with you and will restore you to the land of your forefathers. And I have given you one portion (shekhem echad) more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Emori with my sword and with my bow" (Bereishit 48:21-22).
 The generally accepted view is that the idea of killing Yosef was principally the initiative of Shimon and Levi (see, for example, Rashi Bereishit 42:24, s.v. et Shimon). Several factors together lead to this conclusion: firstly, these two brothers were the zealously inclined members of the family (see 34:25-31). Secondly, the sons of the handmaids were apparently Yosef's "friends" (see 37:2). Thirdly, Reuven and Yehuda tried to save him (see 37:21-22, 26-27). Fourthly, Yosef selects Shimon for imprisonment (42:24), and this would seem to be deliberate. It is interesting to note that it is Moshe a descendant of Levi who assures that Yosef's bones are restored to Eretz Kena'an, and this too may be viewed as part of the repair.
 The descent to
 Also in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael Beshalach (Massekhet Vayhi Beshalach, Petichta, s.v. Va-yikach Moshe): "Yosef said to them: My father came down here of his own will, and I brought him up. I was brought down against my will; I make you swear to the place from which you kidnapped me, to there you shall return me. And so they did for him, as it is written: 'And the bones of Yosef which Bnei Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shekhem, in the portion of the field which Yaakov had purchased from the sons of Chamor, father of Shekhem, for a hundred kesita, and they became an inheritance for the children of Yosef' (Yehoshua 24:32)."
 God promised Avraham that his descendants would be subjugated, but would emerge strengthened by the servitude: "He said to Avram: Know that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be subjugated and oppressed for four hundred years and afterwards they will emerge with great wealth (bi-rekhush gadol) (Bereishit 15:13). Admittedly, the literal translation refers to material riches, but the term may also be understood as a general strengthening of (or "acquisition" by) the nation in other areas.
 The foundations of these two qualities did not originate with Yosef. He absorbed them from his mother, Rachel another figure who was destined to accompany Bnei Yisrael as they departed into exile. Her "bones" (her burial in Beit Lechem, on the way to Efrat, Bereishit 35:19) similarly represent a special hope and prayer arising from the knowledge that God was accompanying her children even in the midst of the enormous pain and difficulty of going into exile: "Rachel is weeping for her children so says God: Withhold your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your actions, says God, and they will return from the enemy's land. And there is hope for your end, says God, and the children will return to their borders." (Yirmiyahu 31:14-16)