Jacob's Final Request and Hebron's Significance

11.1.23, 15:45 | נעם ארנון | 163 reads
This past Shabbat we read Parshat Vayechi which finishes the book of Genesis.
This portion tells about the life and death of Jacob. Full of emotion it describes the blessing of Jacob to his sons, his last will, his blessings to his grandchildren Menashe and Ephraim, and more.
Let us focus on one interesting subject, the final words of the patriarch Jacob. At the beginning of the parsha, Jacob calls his son Joseph and commands him to bury him in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.
And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and Jacob's days, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty seven years. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have now found favor in your eyes, now place your hand beneath my thigh, and you shall deal with me with lovingkindness and truth; do not bury me now in Egypt. I will lie with my forefathers, and you shall carry me out of Egypt, and you shall bury me in their grave." And he said, "I will do as you say." - Genesis Chapter 47:28-30

If Joseph promised and swore to bury his father in the graves of his ancestors in Hebron, then the matter is closed and assured.
But apparently not yet, because later Jacob gathers all his sons, gives them blessings and words of wisdom, and at the end tells them that these are the last words of his life.
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them; each man,      according to his blessing, he blessed them. And he commanded them and said to them, "I will be brought in to 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 is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which field Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for burial property. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and there I buried Leah. The purchase of the field and the cave therein was from the sons of Heth. – Genesis 49:28-32
Here the question arises: Joseph, the deputy king, has already promised this, and the authority was in his hands. Why should this request be repeated again in the presence of all the sons?
Maybe the answer is, this final request was not only meant to ensure the execution of Jacob's transfer to burial in the Cave of Machpela, since the execution of this order was already guaranteed. There is another intention here.
When he spoke to his sons, Jacob wondered: What will ensure that they will continue the identity, the tradition, the mission, and not abandon the way and faith of their fathers and mothers? What will his last words be? He could of course say things like "believe in the Creator and walk in His ways," or "love the Lord your God,” or "love your neighbor as yourself" and so on. But he decides to tell them, "connect with your fathers and mothers, continue on their path. You have a tradition, heritage, be proud of it, know it, continue it, pass it on in the future."
Jacob achieves this goal by commanding all his sons to attend his funeral in Hebron. This is how they will connect spiritually to their parents and grandparents who imparted them identity, values, faith, and a historical mission. These are the values they will pass on to their children and grandchildren. That is why Jacob dedicates his last words to connecting with the patriarchs and matriarchs and he sends this message not only to Joseph but to all the sons.
Another thing is expressed here by Jacob: We do not belong here in Egypt. We have a homeland. Abraham began to buy it, and that is where we belong.
Today, after thousands of years, we can say that Jacob succeeded. The name "Israel" continues to identify its sons and daughters for generations, and the sons and daughters  continue the heritage of their fathers and mothers, preserve the identity and pass it on generation to generation, despite all difficulties and challenges. And when they finally go back and establish a country, it is called Israel, the name of Jacob.
Let us only hope that we will be worthy of bearing this name and realize the sublime values that our fathers and mothers, both the ancient ones and our personal ones believed in and that we remember them with love.
Dr. Noam Arnon is the spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron and author of several books about the city's history. 
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