Vayehi – Promising and blessing at the end

29 Yisrael’s time to die was nearing…   

Genesis 47

The falling stone comes to rest in its own time when it falls from its original place. It may fall alone from the cliff or bring down the face of a mountain. Gravity invisibly guides its process – no will of its own to find a place to rest peacefully in the shade of a tree or cooled and smoothed at the bottom of a stream. Some stones will be moved, possibly a builder will move them on the order of an architect or simply be picked up casually by a nature lover.

Why do we even speculate on where we will be buried? Our minds cannot help but run ahead to the next chapter. Will any of us rest where we want to and at the kind hands of those we love? Will we be able to give proper instructions as we follow in the footsteps of those who went before us?

29 Yisrael’s time to die was nearing, he called to his son Joseph, he said to him:  if I have found favor in your eyes, place your hand under my thigh, do mercifully and faithfully with me – please don’t let me be buried in Egypt.  30 When I am with my ancestors, take me out of Egypt, bury me in their burial place; He said: I will do as you have spoken.

Genesis 47

The dying patriarch Jacob/Israel managed to give his instructions to Joseph, his son grown strange in a foreign land. It was a difficult request and so easy to promise but possible to ignore once the patriarch was dead. Did Jacob/Israel think the company more congenial or holy in the burial cave of his ancestors? Why not be buried near Rachel, his beloved wife and Joseph’s mother? Why did he ask this of Joseph and not one of his other sons?

21 Yisrael said to Joseph: I am about to die, may God be with you, bring you back to the land of your ancestors.

Genesis 48

Sometimes there are logical answers but it was Joseph that Jacob/Israel blessed first of all, the one he had loved so much and had thought was lost to him. He gave him a blessing to carry with him along with the sworn promise of his final resting place. Why did Jacob/Yisrael believe he would do what he swore to do?

24 Joseph said to his brothers, I am dying, and God will remember you, to take you up from this land to the land promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. 25 Joseph made the sons of Israel swear saying: when God remembers you, you must carry my bones out of here.

Genesis 50

Years later, when Joseph was dying he also asked to be buried in the Land of Israel, he made his brothers promise, even though they had failed to take care of him in his youth. Why did Joseph believe they would do what they swore to do?

Yet no blessing is recorded that he bestowed upon them. Might it be this ancient blessing?

22 May YHWH bless you and protect you

23 May YHWH deal kindly and mercifully with you

24 May YHWH bestow favor on you and bring you peace.

Numbers 6

May we bless those we love often so these blessings will be with them for our memory’s sake; we are all ephemeral beings and memory is gossamer and not etched in stone.

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021

Priestly Blessing from Siddur for Youth by Cantor Azi Schwartz of Park Avenue Synagogue