With Parshas Vayechi comes the death of Yaakov and the ending of the era of the Avos. With Yaakov’s death, the focus of the Torah shifts to the children of these great men as they become the Nation of God. The parshah starts off with Yaakov preparing for his death by summoning his son, Yosef.
Yaakov calls Yosef in and instructs him not to bury him in Egypt. Instead, he should take his body back to Eretz Yisrael and bury him in Chevron in the Me’aras Hamachpela together with his forefathers. Yosef says that he will but Yaakov asks for a stronger commitment. “וַיֹּאמֶר הִשָּׁבְעָה לִי וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ” “He said, ‘Swear to me,’ and he swore to him” (Bereishis 47:31). Yaakov’s need for this swear is both puzzling and troubling. Yosef was his closest son and was most similar to him in many ways, both physical and spiritual; could it be that Yaakov did not trust his closest son to carry out his wishes? And so much so that he felt the need to make him swear that he would?
The commonly given answer is that Yaakov definitely trusted Yosef to fulfill his request, but there were different factors at work. Yaakov was worried that Paroh would want him buried in Egypt in order that his merit would continue to protect the country even after his death. So Yaakov made Yosef swear to take him to Eretz Yisrael since he knew Paroh would honor this commitment. The Gemarah in Sotah (36b) explains that one of the requirements of being king was that he must speak all the seventy languages of the world and Yosef knew that Paroh did not speak Hebrew. Yosef had sworn to Paroh to protect this secret and if Paroh would now tell him to ignore the promise he had made to Yaakov, what was stopping him from ignoring his promise he had made to Paroh as well? So once Yosef had sworn, Yaakov felt comfortable that nothing could stop Yosef from fulfilling his wishes.
The Kli Yakar gives another answer. When Yaakov tells Yosef to bury him in Eretz Yisrael, Yosef replies, “וַיֹּאמַר אָנֹכִי אֶעְשֶׂה כִדְבָרֶךָ” “And he (Yosef) said, ‘I will do as you say.” (47:30). The medrash says that Yosef was telling Yaakov that he too would instruct his children not to bury him in Egypt but rather in Eretz Yisrael as well. When Yaakov asked him to swear, he wasn’t asking him to swear to keep the instructions he had given Yosef, but to make sure Yosef kept his own commitment to be buried in Eretz Yisrael as well.
Chazak Chazak V’Nischazek!
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