By Rabbi Meir Goldwicht
At the end of sefer Bereishit, we find Yaakov Avinu’s last words before his death, in which he describes the history of Me’arat haMachpeilah, which Avraham purchased from Ephron haChiti. Have Yaakov’s sons never heard of Me’arat haMachpeilah? Were they unfamiliar with its history? Why does Yaakov end his life with this history lesson?
Additionally, as the funeral procession travels toward Eretz Yisrael, Yosef escorts it to the eastern bank of the Jordan, where they wait for a week. Afterwards, they enter Eretz Yisrael and travel to Chevron, where they bury Yaakov. Why does Yosef first lead the funeral procession to the eastern bank of the Jordan, rather than traveling from Mitzrayim to Chevron directly?
The answer to these questions is as follows: In the 17 years that Yaakov spent in Mitzrayim, he realized how comfortable and complacent his children were becoming, as the final passuk of Parashat VaYigash testifies, “And Israel dwelled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they took possession of it (va’ye’achazu bah) and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly” (Bereishit 47:27). Before his death, Yaakov Avinu wanted to teach his family that the true achuzah, the true possession, is not Goshen, but Eretz Yisrael. Reviewing the history of Chevron and Me’arat haMachpeilah was the way to teach this lesson.
Chevron was where Avraham Avinu made the initial connection to Eretz Yisrael. He paid 400 silver shekel for Me’arat haMachpeilah, which Rabbeinu Ephraim on the Torah, one of the Tosafists, explains corresponded to the dimensions of Eretz Yisrael – 400 parsah by 400 parsah. By taking possession of Chevron, Avraham was really taking possession of all of Eretz Yisrael. Ephron’s statement of “and all the trees therein” is another code that the purchase of Chevron represents the purchase of something greater, as planting trees is the first thing we are to do when we enter Eretz Yisrael.
In Chevron, Avraham made connected to Eretz Yisrael. In Chevron, Avraham connected to Hashem, through the brit milah. (Chevron is therefore called Kiryat Arba, because four tzaddikim—Avraham, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre—were circumcised there.) In Chevron, Avraham connected to the previous generations—Adam and Chava. This is the true place of achuzah, and this is the lesson Yaakov wished to remind his children before his death.
For this very reason, Yosef brought the entire procession to the eastern bank of the Jordan, teaching his family that even though, in the future, some of the tribes would dwell on the other side of the Jordan, they must recognize that it is the wrong side of the Jordan, and the true Eretz Yisrael is on the western bank of the Jordan.
Practically speaking, the lesson of Yaakov is that we must not make ourselves too comfortable in the Exile. We must rather feel as if we have just arrived. This is attested to by the first passuk of Shemot, “And these are the names of the Children of Israel coming (haba’im) to Egypt,” which speaks in present tense (haba’im) rather than in past tense (sheba’u), which would have been more appropriate. The navi Yeshayah confirms this: “Haba’im yashresh Yaakov, yatzitz ufarach Yisrael” – those who view themselves as arriving recently (haba’im) in the Exile will take root and blossom.
If we follow in the footsteps of our father, Yaakov, we will merit the fulfillment of, “Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov [as in haba’im yashresh Yaakov, representing the Exile], but it shall be called Yisrael [as in yatzitz ufarach Yisrael, representing growth in Eretz Yisrael]” – and we will merit the ingathering of the exiles and the complete Redemption, speedily and in our days.
Originally appears on YUTorah