Chapter 47

28 Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt: As we saw in the Overview, these were Jacob's best years.1 As we saw previously, when Jacob heard that Joseph was both alive and still loyal to the Torah, "the spirit of Jacob…revived."2 It would thus seem that Jacob's seventeen years in Egypt were the happiest in his life because he was there reunited with Joseph and proud that his son had been faithful to his instruction, withstanding all his tests—from those of slavery to those of public office.

Nonetheless, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek) was a young boy, he asked his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi: "How could it be that the best years of Jacob's life were those he lived in Egypt, the epitome of decadence?"

His grandfather answered: "It is written, '[Jacob] had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to make advance preparations in Goshen.'3 Rashi quotes the Midrash's interpretation of this verse: Jacob sent Judah to set up a house of study so he and his sons could study the Torah in Egypt.4 When we study the Torah, we become closer to God, so in this way it is possible to live good years even in Egypt."5

Yet, if, indeed, it was the presence of a house of Torah study in Egypt—rather than being united with Joseph—that made Jacob's last years there his best, could he not have set up a house of study in the land of Israel all those years?

The answer is that the young Menachem Mendel, aware of how depraved the Egyptian environment was, felt that despite Jacob's joy in being reunited with Joseph and seeing him faithful to his ideals, the antagonistic atmosphere of Egypt should have nonetheless made Jacob's life miserable. Rabbi Shneur Zalman answered that the Torah is the antidote even to Egypt; because the Torah connects us to God Himself, who is beyond the limitations and evil of Egypt, when we study the Torah we are immune to the detrimental effects Egypt can otherwise have on us.6

Thus, like Joseph, it was by cleaving to God through studying the Torah that Jacob was able to remain aloof from the spiritual darkness of Egypt and thrive spiritually. The Torah academy he established enabled his children to remain true to God (to "live") in Egypt as well.7

But whereas Jacob remained completely aloof from the Egyptian outlook on life, his children, who were on a lower spiritual level than he, were aware of this consciousness. Even so, by studying Torah, they were able to remain unaffected by it.

By overcoming the challenge of Egypt, Jacob's children grew in a way that is only possible through challenge. Although Jacob did not experience this directly—since Egypt did not present a challenge to him in the first place—he grew just as his children did since he facilitated their Torah study. His years in Egypt were therefore his best years, since never before did he derive the benefit that being Egypt afforded him.

Similarly, we often find ourselves in "Egypt," in places of spiritual darkness. Like Jacob, through Torah study we can remain aloof from "Egypt" and reveal Godliness even there. Even if we have been influenced by "Egypt" (as Jacob's children were, to some extent), or even seduced by it, we should not despair. By returning to God despite the challenges of Egypt, we not only emerge from the darkness but gain the spiritual advantage that results from overcoming spiritual adversity.

Those who have never been seduced by Egypt need not worry that they are missing out on this advantage. By helping those who have been seduced to return to God and the Torah, they, like Jacob, attain the advantage of those who have strayed and returned.8

29 Swear that you will do me the following act….Please do not bury me in Egypt: While both Jacob and Joseph asked to be removed from Egypt, their requests differed significantly: Joseph asked to be taken out at the time of the Exodus, which meant that his coffin would remain in Egypt then. In contrast, Jacob asked not to be buried even temporarily in Egypt.

The spiritual reason for this is as follows: As we have seen, Jacob was inherently transcendent from Egypt; Egypt did not "exist" in his world. This was manifested physically by the fact that he lived in a separate district of Egypt, Goshen. Joseph, on the other hand, truly "descended" into Egypt and at the same time maintained his Divine consciousness. Joseph was thus the one who embodies the ability to descend into the material realm and elevate the sparks of holiness therein. He lived in the Egyptian capital, in the midst of the distractions and intrigues of Egyptian political life.

Joseph therefore wanted his bones to remain with the Jewish people in Egypt so that he could be close to the Jewish people. He would thereby provide them a source of merit that would enable them to elevate the sparks of holiness embedded in Egypt.

Jacob provided a different sort of spiritual power. Our sages tell us that "a captive cannot free himself from prison"—someone on the outside must liberate him.9 In addition to the merit of a Joseph, the "integrationist," the Jews also needed the merit of a Jacob, an "isolationist." To leave and ultimately elevate Egypt, the Jews needed to be connected to a spiritual power that absolutely transcends Egypt, a consciousness in which Egypt does not exist. Jacob therefore had to remain distant and above Egypt.

Jacob wanted Joseph to swear that he would not bury him in Egypt for two reasons:

a) Since Joseph was an "integrationist," removing Jacob from Egypt would go against everything Joseph stood for. Joseph would be inclined to bury Jacob in Egypt so that Jacob's merit would help the Jews sublimate Egypt. Jacob therefore had him take an oath, which binds a person to a commitment in a way that transcends rational considerations.

b) As we mentioned, the Jews had to be connected to an "isolationist" as well in order to succeed in elevating Egypt. By taking an oath that he would remove Jacob from Egypt, Joseph bound himself with Jacob's consciousness of transcendence from Egypt. He thus connected all of the Jews with this consciousness and gave them the spiritual fortitude to ultimately leave and elevate Egypt.10

In our own exile, being connected to Jacob means that even if we have achieved material and spiritual success in "Egypt"—as the Jews did in their initial stay in Goshen—we must remember that Egypt is not our home and we must feel the constant, urgent desire to, like Jacob, be immediately removed from exile, articulating our belief in the messianic redemption and our prayers for its immediate arrival.11

Chapter 48

5 Who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you, to Egypt: With these words, Jacob intimated why he considered Ephraim and Manasseh his own sons. These two grandchildren were born and raised in Egypt before Jacob was there and nonetheless grew up true to his ideals. Therefore, he considered them as loyal to him and his ideals as his own children.12

7 I buried her where I did…to enable her to play a pivotal role in the eventual redemption of our people. Furthermore, I knew…she would have…insisted on it: As we have seen,13 Rachel gave up the privilege of being buried for thousands of years in the Cave of Machpelah for her descendants' sake. Rachel thus epitomized the spiritual sacrifices all mothers make for their children.

Men need to seek self-affirmation and spiritual satisfaction through manifestly spiritual experiences. They are thus required to study the Torah and perform the commandments every moment—unless they are busy earning a living—so that they can experience revealed spirituality.

Women, in contrast, being the bedrock of the home, are freed from the obligation of certain commandments so they can better occupy themselves with the spiritual and material well-being of their families.14 Women thus relate to the soul's essence, which transcends revealed spiritual experience.

(This is why a child's status as a Jew is defined by the mother, whereas tribal affiliation within the Jewish community, i.e., the child's specific role within the Jewish people, is designated by the father. This is because our Jewishness relates to the essence of the soul and women are in touch with the essence. Our specific roles, in contrast, relate to revealed spiritual experience, which is primarily man's realm.)

This is the deeper meaning of what Jacob explained to Joseph:

"As a man," he was saying, "I need to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah, a place of revealed holiness. Your mother, however, willingly sacrificed her resting place beside me due to her essential connection to her children, to pray for them—even for those who will sin and be sent into exile!"

By exhibiting her essential connection to her children, Rachel aroused God to reveal His essential connection to His children—the Jewish people—which remains intact even when they sin, thus ensuring that all Jews will experience the future redemption.15

But now, in light of my request that you bury me in the Machpelah cave, it probably pains you that your mother did not merit to be buried there, also: So although Joseph trusted his father's judgment completely, he was not at ease until the matter was explained to him.

The lesson here is that students must be bothered by their teacher's puzzling decisions. Despite trusting the teacher completely,16 they must seek to understand the teacher's ways and teachings.

This is the necessary approach to Torah study in general. Although it is important to trust the wisdom of the Torah's teachings, that alone is not enough; we must appreciate and understand the Torah's wisdom.17

19 But his younger brother will become greater than he: As we have seen,18 Manasseh represents our obligation to protect ourselves from the negative influences of our surroundings (and our own inner baseness). Ephraim, in contrast, represents our obligation to influence our surroundings, to introduce the truths of Judaism to the world, to transform what is dark and evil into something Godly and good. Manasseh corresponds to the call of "turn from evil,"19 Ephraim to the call of "do good."20

Since before we attempt to refine the world, we must take measures to ensure that we are immune to its temptations, Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh, and wished to give him precedence in receiving Jacob's blessing, as well.

In granting his blessing, however, Jacob focused on the purpose of our descent into exile: not mere survival, but the ascent that follows our successful encounter with exile. By transforming the exilic state into one of redemption, we achieve a greater degree of Divine consciousness than we began with. Furthermore, we have to summon deeper spiritual powers to transform exile than we do merely to survive exile. Jacob therefore wished to give precedence to Ephraim.

Likewise, in our own exile, although Manasseh is the firstborn—securing our Jewish identity is the first step—we must recognize that our purpose is to be an Ephraim, to influence the world around us.21

Chapter 49

1 But God did not want Jacob to divulge this information: Jacob's strategy might well have worked: divulging the date of the Redemption might well have inspired his children to redouble their efforts to accrue merits and to encourage their descendants to do likewise, and these additional merits might well have hastened the redemption. Nonetheless, knowing when the Redemption was to occur would have bolstered their efforts "from without," so to speak, and they would not have had to call upon their own latent powers of dedication to the same extent in order to persist in their mission. This, in turn, would have negatively affected the nature of their dedication to their Divine mission, and therefore would have lessened the effect of their efforts. The redemption earned by their efforts would therefore not have been complete, for in order for the Redemption to be absolute and eternal, it has to be brought about by dedication to the Divine mission that is likewise absolute and eternal, able to withstand all the tests of exile on its own—including the test of not knowing how long the exile will endure.

Jacob understood this, of course, but he wanted his descendants to spend as little time in exile as possible, even if the help he sought to offer them would mean that their redemption would not be as total and final.22 Nonetheless, God insisted that the Redemption be final, and therefore withdrew the knowledge of the date of redemption from Jacob.

Alternatively, Jacob knew that had the Jewish people merited, God would have them led directly into the Land of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt, without having to go through the desert. According to the Zohar,23 such a redemption would have been unconditional and eternal, like God Himself; no exile could have followed it, and their entry to the Land of Israel would have been the beginning of the messianic era, "the End of Days." On a deeper level, then, it was this scenario of the "End of Days" that Jacob wished to reveal, thereby inspiring his children to behave righteously so they would expedite the redemption—perhaps causing it to occur in their own lifetime.

As for the fact that this knowledge would adversely affect the quality of their efforts, as above, in turn affecting adversely the quality of the redemption, Jacob perceived his sons to be on the same spiritual level as he was, having already completed their Divine mission, so the issue of summoning their latent powers was irrelevant.

Jacob, like all the patriarchs and matriarchs, was a vehicle for God's will; his thoughts and desires always reflected God's. Thus, even though God did not allow him to reveal when the Redemption would occur, his desire to do so reflected a similar desire on God's part. Even though God does not reveal to us when the Messiah will come, on some level He deeply wants to, and in fact, did.

By seeking to reveal the date of the Redemption to us, Jacob instilled within us the ability to live to a certain extent in an aura of redemptive reality, free from the constraints of exile, from servitude to foreign masters, and from our own inner baseness.24 Although we live temporarily in exile, we can and should be focused on and be mentally and emotionally rooted in the Redemption.25

5-6 They killed men (lit. a man): The Torah's use of the singular "man" allows for an incorrect interpretation, i.e., that Jacob was referring to some other killing committed by Simeon and Levi, one that the Torah does not speak of. That such a conclusion could be reached teaches a valuable lesson: When we harm another, even with the holiest motives (as was the case with Simeon and Levi), we can acquire a destructive nature, so much so that we can justifiably be suspected of harming yet others.

Conversely, when we act generously toward others, even if at first we seem to be motivated by selfish considerations, we eventually become truly generous people, whose only desire is to bestow goodness to all.26

9 Your elder brother Reuben also tried to save Joseph: Reuben's intentions in saving Joseph also seem nobler than Judah's: Reuben wanted to save Joseph and bring him back to his father; Judah saved Joseph only so that he could be sold into slavery.

Similarly, Reuben's repentance seems far superior to Judah's. Firstly, Judah simply admitted that he was guilty, whereas Reuben repented through fasting and other forms of penitence for many years. Secondly, Judah knew that if he did not admit his guilt, three lives would have been taken unjustly; no comparable consequence compelled Reuben to repent.

Nonetheless, Judah's deeds actually helped people, whereas Reuben's did not. (In fact, had Reuben not been preoccupied with his personal repentance, he might have been able to save Joseph.) Therefore, Reuben lost the kingship to Judah and the priesthood to Levi, for the primary function of the king and the priest is to serve others.

This teaches us that we cannot be satisfied with devoting ourselves only to our own spiritual perfection; we must also engage in helping others.

Furthermore, the difference between self-involvement and care for others can spell the difference between exile and redemption: Reuben's preoccupation with his own spiritual state indirectly contributed to Joseph's sale to Egypt and the eventual exile in Egypt, the precursor of all future exiles.27 Judah's repentance, in contrast, may not have been as profound as Reuben's, but it saved three lives, one of which was the ancestor of the Messiah, who will end all exile.28

10 Until the coming of Shiloh, which is one of the names for the Messiah: "Shiloh" alludes also to the person who began the process of redemption that the Messiah will complete—Moses. The numerical value of "Shiloh" (שילה, 345) is thus numerically equivalent to the name Moses (Moshe, משה).

By leading us from Egypt and then to receive the Torah at Sinai, Moses gave us the potential to bring about the ultimate redemption—the "coming of Shiloh," i.e., the actualization of what Shiloh/Moses began. The numerical value words for "coming of Shiloh" (יבא שילה, 358) are thus numerically equivalent to the word for Messiah (Mashiach, משיח).29

In order for us to actualize the redemption, to get from Shiloh/Moses to the coming of Shiloh, i.e., the Messiah, we must unite, particularly by making the Messiah and the Redemption the foremost topics of public discourse. By giving these urgent topics the precedence they deserve, we can in fact hasten the Redemption. This is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of the word for "coming of" (יבא, 13) is numerically equivalent to the word for "one" (אחד).30

9-27 Judah is a young cub…. In his blessings, Jacob compares some of the tribes to wild beasts (e.g., Judah to a lion, Benjamin to a wolf) and others to domestic animals (e.g., Issachar to a donkey, Joseph to an ox). Those compared to wild animals are characterized by passionate love for God and a yearning to escape the earthly realm to cleave to Him. Those compared to domestic animals—whose nature is to dutifully accept the work given to them—are characterized by submission to the task of revealing Godliness within the physical realm.

The Temple was therefore situated in Benjamin's portion of the Land of Israel, since Benjamin, the "wolf," was one of the tribes that personified yearning for God and elevation of self, which is expressed in prayerful worship.

Conversely, the tribe of Issachar, which is compared to the obedient donkey, was distinguished by its selfless devotion to studying and absorbing God's Torah, bringing heavenly wisdom down into the human mind.31

11 He will launder his clothes in wine: Every time we observe a commandment, we create a spiritual garment for our souls.32 The garments, however, must be "laundered in wine," i.e., our fulfillment of the commandments must be imbued with joy.

This joy can be attained through studying the inner dimension of Torah, the "wine of Torah," which inspires us with love for God and the desire to cleave to Him through observance of His commandments. When we observe the commandments with the awareness that we are thereby cleaving to God, we are filled with joy—our "clothes" are laundered in "wine."33

27 Benjamin will be like a wolf that grabs: Benjamin, like his brothers, was a perfectly righteous saint. The Talmud counts him as one of the four guiltless persons who would have therefore lived forever were it not for Adam and Eve's sin of the Tree of Knowledge, because of which life cannot be eternal.34

Nevertheless, as we have seen,35 Benjamin is associated with penitence. According to the Zohar,36 when Rachel saw that Benjamin's birth would coincide with her death, she assumed that he stemmed from the "left side," the realm of evil, which is characterized by lifelessness. She therefore called him, "son of my sorrow."37 Jacob, however, called him "son of the right," meaning that he would be of the right side (holiness) not the left (evil). Jacob saw that Benjamin would be able to transform "sorrow" to "right" through repentance.

Benjamin is thus the fulfillment of Rachel's prayer (after the birth of Joseph): "May God add another son for me,"38 which, spiritually, as we have seen, means "May God transform one who is considered 'another'—i.e., one who is estranged from God—into a 'son'." Benjamin, like the penitent, is the "another" who becomes a "son."

Thus, while Benjamin himself was a saint, his mode of spiritual worship paralleled that of the penitent, since, just as penitents struggle with human weakness and eventually transform their failings into catalysts for growth, so, too, Benjamin's focus was on refining and elevating the physical (as opposed to drawing holiness downward into the world, which was Joseph's focus).

Benjamin's association with penitence is likewise reflected in the stones of the high priest's breastplate, each of which was engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes:39 The name of Joseph, who personifies the saint, was engraved on the onyx a stone that is naturally brilliant; Benjamin, in contrast, was inscribed on the jasper, a stone that must be cleaned and polished before it can shine.40

Thus, Jacob's blessed Benjamin to be "like a wolf that grabs," i.e., to possess such intense soul-powers that even in the face of extreme decadence—the incident at Givah—they will be able to "grab" hold of themselves and return to the path of holiness.

Similarly, through repentance Benjamin's tribe will "grab" the Divine sparks hidden in evil, since, as our sages teach, through repentance we transform sins to merits.41 This power of Benjamin to transform darkness to light was demonstrated when Mordechai and Esther foiled Haman's plot and were given his estate: the very house that Ahasuerus had given to Haman, the embodiment of evil, was transferred to Esther, i.e., to the domain of holiness.42


[27] Benjamin will be like a wolf that grabs: Because Benjamin's blessing relates to penitents, whose achievements transcend those of the completely righteous,43 it therefore begins a new reading (aliyah), setting it apart from the previous blessings, which relate primarily to the ways of the completely righteous.44

28 He blessed them, giving each one the blessing appropriate to him, and giving them all the blessings he gave each one individually: The sharing of the blessings manifested itself in several ways:

a) The tribes did not actually internalize the qualities unique to the others, but only benefited from them. For example, the land inherited by Judah's progeny produced barley and that of Benjamin's produced wheat, but they shared the produce with each other.45 Similarly, when Jacob blessed Judah that his descendants, as kings, would vanquish their enemies, he was at the same time blessing the entire nation.46

b) On a deeper level, Jacob united the tribes, thereby enabling them to internalize each other's qualities.47 Thus, although Dan is characterized by Jacob as a "snake," he is characterized elsewhere as a "lion,"48 indicating that he received the quality of a "lion" from Judah.49

c) On yet a deeper level, the tribes received each other's unique qualities not from each other but directly from Jacob. This level is reflected in our interpolation, which follows Rashi, who writes that Jacob included all of them in all of the blessings.

The lesson here is that although we each have our unique roles—some of us are immersed in Torah study, others in communal activities—we can and must be involved to some extent in the other roles as well. As above, we can do so in three ways:

a) Because we are all united, working toward the same goal, we all have a share in the good deeds of those whose roles are different from ours. Those who engage in commerce and good deeds, for example, have a share in the Torah study of those immersed in Torah study. Conversely, those immersed in Torah study have a share in the good deeds of those involved in good deeds.

b) On a deeper level, each group imparts some measure of its unique strength to the other groups: those immersed in Torah study influence others to increase their own study of the Torah. Conversely, those engaged in good deeds influence those immersed in Torah study to increase in their own good deeds.

c) On yet a deeper level, although we engage primarily in a particular sort of work, we can experience all paths of holiness completely. For example, when business people take time from their business affairs to study Torah, they should engage with Torah at that time as if that were their sole occupation. Conversely, students of Torah must be fully engaged when doing good deeds and observing the commandments.

Participating in our compatriots' endeavors enhances Jewish unity, making us receptacles for God's blessings, including the ultimate blessing of redemption.50

32 Levi will not carry me since his descendants will carry the Holy Ark, and Joseph will not carry me since he is viceroy of Egypt: As we saw in the Overview, Jacob's death signaled the beginning of the descent that would end in the physical enslavement of his descendants.51 His removal from Egypt further intensified this descent.52

This is the deeper reason why Joseph and Levi could not be party to Jacob's removal, since both embodied transcendence from subjugation: Joseph was practically the king of Egypt, both physically and spiritually.53 Similarly, the fact that Levi's descendants would one day carry the Holy Ark meant that their job was to remain aloof from mundane life, focused on the Divine mission of the Jewish people. Levi's descendants were therefore never enslaved; they remained free to study the Torah throughout the Egyptian exile54 so that they could be a spiritual inspiration to the rest of the nation. Likewise, when the Jews reached the Holy Land, Levi's descendants did not receive a portion of the land,55 so that they could remain dedicated to serving God and teaching His ways of righteousness to the rest of the nation.56

This explains why, although Levi was not to carry Jacob's bones, Moses, who was not only a Levite but a member of the Levite family that carried the Ark, carried Joseph's coffin out of Egypt: Carrying Jacob's coffin out of Egypt constituted a further descent into Egyptian exile; carrying Joseph's coffin out of Egypt, in contrast, was a part of the redemption. It was therefore fitting that a Levite, indeed the chief Levite, Moses, carry out Joseph's coffin.

Thus, with Joseph's passing, the descent into slavery increased57 and with Levi's passing the actual slavery began.58

In our own lives, we can draw on the power of Joseph to be "king over Egypt," to recognize that we are inherently aloof from our challenges in exile. And like the tribe of Levi, who carried the Holy Ark, we, too, can draw upon the power of Torah to transform the darkness and challenges of exile into the light of spiritual growth.59

Chapter 50

13 He...struck Esau on the head, killing him: According to the sages, Esau's head rolled into the Cave of Machpelah and remained buried in Isaac's bosom.60 This seems odd, considering the law that a wicked person may not be buried near a saint.61 Indeed, God performed a miracle to remove the corpse of a false prophet who had been thrown into the grave of the saintly Elisha.62

As we have seen,63 Esau stemmed from a lofty source in the realm of holiness. Esau's latent holiness, being his greatest asset, is symbolized by his head, while his wicked, lowly behavior is symbolized by his body. Thus, once his head was isolated from the wickedness of his body, it was indeed suitable to rest in Isaac's proximity.64

20 Though you intended me harm, God intended it for the good, in order to…preserve the lives of many people: In this verse, Joseph first explains how darkness can be turned to light:

Though you intended me harm, God intended it for the good. We must look beyond the veneer of "harm" to its true purpose, which is to be transformed "for the good."

Joseph then explains why light must emerge from darkness:

To preserve the lives of many people: The word used here for "many" (rav) is associated with the realm of evil. Esau used this term when referring to his possessions, implying that although he had "many" possessions, it was still not enough to satisfy his greed.65 By using this "unholy" term, Joseph revealed the value of transforming evil. As we have seen, evil contains within it lofty sparks of holiness that possess plentiful energies—"many." Through our holy interactions with evil, we liberate these energies and use them to power our pursuit of Godliness.66

As we have seen, even sin can retroactively contribute to God's plan when, as we repent, it prompts us to achieve a deeper connection with God than we possessed prior to sinning. Nevertheless, the decision to sin remains a wrong one, and we must take full responsibility for it and fully regret having intentionally gone against God's wishes.

In contrast, the selling of Joseph was not a negative means to a positive end—it was the end that God intended. Although, as in all other sins, the brothers correctly regretted their evil intentionfor which they were punishedJoseph told them that they did not need to feel distressed about the actual ramifications of their sin vis-a-vis him. This explains why Joseph reminded his brothers of their harmful intentions although his desire was to comfort and reassure them.67


[20] Though you intended me harm: This, the final verse of the sixth reading of parashat Vayechi, recalls the message of the first verse of this reading, i.e., that through repentance darkness is transformed to light.68

21 He thus comforted them: As we have seen,69 the Midrash compares our sins against God to the sin of the brothers against Joseph. The Jewish people thus say to God: "O that You would be as a brother to me," meaning "Comfort me as Joseph comforted his brothers who had done him harm."70

· Just as Joseph provided for his brothers and even gave them the best of the land,71 we ask God to do the same despite our sins.

· Just as Joseph did not begrudge his brothers, even in his heart, and instead sought to help them atone for their sin,72 we ask God to cleanse us of our sins without causing us to suffer.73

· Just as Joseph inspired his brothers to repent,74 we ask God to inspire us to repent. But whereas Joseph inspired them to repent by tormenting them, we ask God to inspire us without causing us to suffer.

· Just as Joseph comforted his brothers by explaining the inner purpose of their sin, so we ask God to reveal the purpose of our sins, i.e., that we should realize that the inner purpose of our sins is that we should experience the advantage that is gained through repentance. Once the inner purpose of the sins is revealed, they are transformed to merits.75

23 Joseph also lived long enough to teach them: A father and a grandfather are obligated to educate their children and grandchildren in Torah.76 But according to the predominant view in Jewish law, a great-grandfather does not bear the same obligation to a great-grandchild.77

Nevertheless, we can derive from Joseph's behavior that if we merit to live long enough to see our great-grandchildren, we should, as Joseph did, study Torah with them (especially since according to some opinions, we are obligated to do so78). And if we are incapable of doing so—either for lack of strength or ability—we should donate generously to the Torah schools in which our great-grandchildren study.79


[23] The children of Machir son of Manasseh, were born…between his knees: According to one opinion, this means that Joseph held his great-grandchildren on his lap during their circumcision. Though their circumcisions took place eight days after their birth, the Torah still refers to them as being "born on Joseph's lap," alluding to the fact that the Divine soul enters the newborn's body during the circumcision.80 Circumcision is thus considered the spiritual birth of the child.

This interpretation also supports a halachic ruling of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (known as the Chatam Sofer): According to Jewish custom, one person should not receive the honor of holding the child during the circumcision for more than one child per family.81 This reflects the law restricting priests from offering the incense in the Temple more than once.82 Rabbi Moshe Sofer, however, rules that the leading rabbi of a city is exempt from this restriction,83 comparing this to the privilege of the high priest to offer the incense whenever he wishes.84 Thus Joseph, the ruler of the land, which can be compared to the leading rabbi of a city, was justified in receiving this honor for the children, i.e., more than one child, of Machir.85

[25] Take up my bones: Some commentators maintain that only Joseph's bones were taken up from Egypt and that his flesh had decomposed.86 However, as we read in the next verse, Joseph was embalmed, which means that his flesh was preserved.87 Rather, we must conclude that although Joseph's remains are referred to as "bones,"88 in actuality his entire remains including his flesh is buried in Shechem.89

26 He was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt: It seems odd that the Torah would conclude the book of Genesis with the seemingly disheartening imagery of Joseph's death and burial in depraved Egypt. Upon further reflection, however, we see that this verse not only contains a positive message but in fact sums up the message of the entire Book of Genesis:

Genesis primarily recounts the history of our patriarchs and matriarchs. These were men and women who, as we have seen, were above material concerns and were inextricably bound to God and His plan for creation throughout their lives. They were therefore unaffected by the Divine concealment that pervades our world.

We, their descendants, live within a different, much lower consciousness—the consciousness of exile. But as their heirs, we inherit some measure of their transcendence. And it is with that power that we are able to succeed in fulfilling the Divine mission laid out in the next book of the Torah, Exodus. In Exodus, we enter exile, receive the Torah, and begin the process of building a home for God out of this world.

To provide this sustenance and inspiration to us, our ancestors had to live their holy lives in a quasi-state of exile. This would lessen the disparity between our reality and theirs and enable us to draw sustenance from their lives. We thus read at the end of Genesis about Jacob and his family's descent into the Egyptian exile. Although they were never enslaved and lived a good life both materially and spiritually, they were in "exile," banished from the Holy Land. By maintaining spiritual dominion over Egypt during their exile, they gave us the strength to dominate the spiritual darkness of our own exile.

Just before the era of the patriarchs was to end and the real exile about to begin, Joseph called over his brothers and told them not to worry: "God will surely remember you and take you up from this land"—because exile cannot dominate the Jewish people. To the contrary: the very purpose of the exile is to challenge us to overcome it and grow in the process.

At this point in the narrative—after the inspiration generated by the lives of the patriarchs, God's promises to them, the descent of Jacob to Egypt, his blessings to the tribes, and Joseph's promise to his brethren—the Torah gives us the final piece of information that will sustain us throughout our exile:

Joseph was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. We are not alone; Joseph, the ruler over Egypt, is with us reminding us that we too can "rule over Egypt," transcending exile and transforming it into redemption.90