Three verses, narrating the death of Joseph, seal the book of Genesis. Like Jacob, his father, Joseph asked to be buried in Israel, not Egypt. However, he did not request to be buried immediately. Instead, Joseph instructed the people of Israel to take his remains along with them only when they eventually leave Egypt.
As one of the most powerful people in the greatest civilisation of his time, Joseph could easily have arranged for a burial in the place of his choice soon after his passing. It is possible he knew the people of Israel would endure unimaginable suffering in Egypt. Either because of a shrewd prediction or because Joseph may have been told by his ancestors that God revealed to Abraham, ‘You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them for four hundred years’ (Genesis 15: 13).
Dreading an unbearable future for his nation, Joseph wisely and lovingly planted a seed of hope, which would inspire the people to dream of freedom and the land of their ancestors.
Before his death, he declared: ‘God will surely remember you and take you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob’ (Genesis 50:24). This message of hope became the core Jewish identity of the slaves over subsequent dark centuries. Because of their collective oath, they promised to take his remains with them on the day of their freedom. In his final recorded message to his family, and in the closing verses of Genesis, Joseph ensured the nation would never forget they are destined to be free.
υ Rabbi Boruch M Boudilovsky serves Young Israel of North Netanya