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Two Minutes of Torah: Vayechi - Once a Hebrew, Always a Hebrew

I've now lived in America for the best part of eight years of the last ten.  And yet despite all of this time living on this side of the Atlantic I do remain in many ways British.  I still go to the B.B.C. as my first port of call for news, I still check the football (soccer) scores before I check any other sport, and I still sound like I come from somewhere else.  Despite all of these years here I still have a certain British core, amidst my American identity.

In this week's Torah portion we see a similar occurrence in the case of Joseph.  He was seventeen when he left his homeland and his family’s house to live in Egypt; and he lived the following ninety three years in Egypt rising to the very top of that society.  And we might assume that over that time Joseph assimilated and became an Egyptian.  And yet, as we read at the end of his life, this was not the case. 

After the death of Jacob, and as we come to the end of the book of Bereishit, the Book of Genesis, Joseph says to his brothers: ‘I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob’ (Gen. 50:24).   And Joseph made them promise: ‘When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here’ (Gen. 50:25).  In this way Joseph ensured that he would be buried back in his homeland; he would be returned to the Promised Land and would not remain in Egypt. 

Despite all of the wealth, and the prosperity that Egypt afforded him, and the salvation that it brought to his family, he felt at heart that he was a Hebrew.  He wanted to be buried back in his homeland.

For generations of Jews living in Diaspora, Joseph was a reminder of the fact that we can, and do, maintain a connection with that Land of Israel, despite the fact that we might not live there and despite the fact that for generations we might not have even been able to visit.  We have that strong connection in our history. 

And for the Israelites in the wilderness alongside the Ark of the Covenant that they carried with them they must have also been carrying the bones of Joseph.  He provided a real physical connection to the land to which they were journeying.  He had been born in the Promised Land, and throughout all of their wanderings they carried him with them, reminding them of the centrality of their commitment to that place; and that despite all of those years in Egypt; once a Hebrew, always a Hebrew.

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