Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Three reasons for Yaakov to avoid being buried in Egypt

Summary: R' Yonasan Eibeshitz explains why each is necessary.

29. 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.כט. וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם:
Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz writes:

"In the midrash it states three reasons why Yaakov did not wish to be buried in Egypt.
  1. in the end, its dust would become lice
  2. that the dead of chul laAretz only live via the pain of underground rolling
  3. so that the Egyptians should not make him a deity.
And it appears that all three were necessary specifically, for one would not have sufficed. For behold, they ask about the chacham the Kuzari that he answered the king of the Khazars that Goshen was from Eretz Yisrael, such that they did not slaughter the paschal lamb outside. And if so, it is difficult why Yaakov put Yosef to all the trouble to bury him in Eretz Yisrael because of the underground rolling, and did not command him to bury him in Goshen. However, he knew that the dust of Goshen would not be smitten with lice, and that the Egyptians would say that this was because Yaakov was buried there that this occurred, and they would make him a deity.

However, why did he not command to bury him in the Nile {J: which would not have lice and so the Egyptians would not make him a deity}? And one must say the reason is because of the underground rolling. And also, without this, there is to consider that behold, they were able to make him a deity in Eretz Yisrael as well. And so too, why should it bother him if there were lice upon his grave above? Perforce, one must give all the reasons."

One can read the midrash in Midrash Rabba here.

There is an additional reason given in Midrash Rabba besides these three:
דבר אחר: יעקב אמר שלא יפדו בי המצרים. הם משתחוים לשה ואני נמשלתי בשה, שנאמר (ירמיה נ) שה פזורה ישראל. ובמצרים כתיב: (יחזקאל כג)אשר בשר חמורים בשרם. 
וכתיב: (שמות לד) ופטר חמור תפדה בשה, הוי, אל נא תקברני במצרים. 
In terms of why Yaakov might be concerned about lice upon his grave above, the midrash elsewhere says that the ground up to two amos down turned to lice, and IIRC, the minimum burial depth for a mes is two amos. Would these lice bother him? Perhaps we could refer to the Talmudic statement in Berachos 18b:
And R. Isaac said [commenting on this]: The worm is as painful to the dead as a needle in the flesh of the living?
Maybe we could extrapolate to other sorts of pain. Or perhaps a living person does not like the thought of what would happen to his body after death.

All this operates on the assumption that the midrash must work together with the teretz of the Kuzari. This is not a necessary assumption. Perhaps the Kuzari was not thinking of these midrashim. And what about the midrashist?

  1. He can assert that there was no requirement for the Pesach Mitzrayim to be in Eretz Yisrael
  2. He can agree with the Mechilta and with Targum Yonasan that Hashem flew the Jews to Israel for Pesach Mitzrayim, and then brought them back,

Regardless, this dvar Tirah is a rather nice and clever construction, and we can appreciate it for its merits.

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