12/12/2013

Shabbat Vayehi

Candles Friday 4:10pm
Havdalah Saturday 5:04pm

Friday is also the fast of Asara BeTevet from dawn till 4:49 pm

When Yaakov dies, in this week’s Sedra, he is embalmed by the Egyptians who were experts in mummification. We are naturally surprised. According to the Jewish tradition one does not mummify a body or put it on display after death. Rather we bury it as soon as possible. This looks like a massive concession to Egyptian culture or perhaps a sign of how assimilated the children of Jacob had become. Yosef had risen to the very top of Egyptian society. We know he looked and lived like an Egyptian and that was why the brothers could not recognize him. And so perhaps there was pressure for him to do what all good Egyptians did.

Yet he did not put Yaakov in a pyramid. He did follow his dying wish to be taken to the family tomb in the cave of Machpela. And there he was buried. But to get there his body had to travel for weeks through very hot barren territory. Perhaps the mummification was not after all a concession to Egyptian culture, just a very practical way of preserving the body for its long journey in this world. And Yosef himself did not allow his body to put in a mausoleum but in a box ready to move when his people did.

The lesson is clear. We all make some concessions to the dominant non-Jewish society we live in, in our clothes, customs even attitudes. At different times in our lives we are less religious and at other times more. But it is the final impression we leave behind, the impact we have on the next generation that matters. And Yaakov finally buried in the Cave of Machpela is the ultimate symbol of his belonging to us, his descendants and the land that we as a people originated from.

The fast we have on Friday reminds us of how we ourselves were responsible for losing what we were given by HaShem. We must not make that mistake again.