The Torah portion of Vayechi , the final section of the book of Bereishis , concludes with the demise of Yosef: “Yosef said to his brothers: ‘I am dying. G‑d shall surely remember you and bring you out of this land….’ Yosef died … and was placed in a casket in Egypt.”1

How does the concluding passage, speaking as it does of Yosef’s death, comply with the principal2 that “one is to conclude on a good and positive note”?

There is also a custom of connecting the end of each book of the Torah with its beginning. This is because “the end is embedded in the beginning.”3 What possible connection is there between the story of Creation (the beginning of Bereishis), and Yosef’s demise (the conclusion of Bereishis)?

In his commentary on the opening verse of Bereishis , Rashi says that the Torah begins with the tale of Creation in order to “relate to His nation the might of His actions, to give them the inheritance of the Nations.”4 This answers the complaint of the Nations: “If they should say, ‘You are thieves, for you have conquered the land of the Seven Nations,’ they say to them: ‘The entire world is G‑d’s; He created it and gave it to whom He favored. Willingly He gave it to them, and willingly He took it from them and gave it to us.’ ”

Rashi thus means to teach that even the Nations are aware that G‑d “chose us from among all the Nations and gave us His Torah.”5 It is specifically because of this that they claim: “You are thieves, for you have conquered the land of the Seven Nations.”

According to the gentiles’ understanding, the Jewish people should not be bound to physicality in general or to a specific land in particular, for our entire essence is divine service, which is incumbent upon us at all times and in all places. The Jews’ nationhood, claim the gentiles, consists of being chosen by G‑d to live a spiritual lifestyle.

Therefore conquering Eretz Yisrael in order to dwell there is considered thievery by the Nations; such conduct is fit for other nations, whose identity involves a group of people settling a particular portion of land. The Jews, they say, do not fit into this category, since we were elevated by G‑d above all nations, languages and lands.

The Jewish response to this is: “He relates to His nation the might of His actions, to give them the inheritance of the Nations.” That is to say that giving Eretz Yisrael to the Jews is entirely dissimilar to having land occupied by other nations — Eretz Yisrael is part and parcel of our spiritual service, for we reveal “G‑d’s might” there.

This is because the ultimate purpose of our spiritual service is to create a dwelling place for G‑d in this nethermost world,6 so that His sanctity will be found within material reality. Indeed, this is why so many mitzvos are involved with the physical, for through the performance of Torah and mitzvos, holiness permeates the physical world as well.7

The same is true of the Jewish people as a whole. It is specifically because of our particular merit that we were granted a physical land, Eretz Yisrael , upon which are dependent many of the Torah’s mitzvos. This kind of spiritual service applies not only when the Jewish people are in their land, but is in some ways even more germane when we find ourselves in exile — at which time it causes us to overcome the darkness of exile and transform it into the light of holiness.

It is this theme that concludes the Book of Bereishis : Yosef tells his brethren that exile will have no lasting dominion over them, for eventually G‑d will redeem them. The only reason they are in Egypt is to achieve an even greater degree of elevation. More specifically, Yosef’s being buried — and thus remaining with the Jewish people — in Egypt gave us the fortitude to overcome exile and achieve redemption.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, pp. 249-255.