Thursday, January 16, 2020

How Joseph's Coffin Ended Up in Israel By Levi Avtzon and Temple model at Aish HaTorah

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Yehuda Lave, Spiritual Advisor and Counselor

Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works  with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money,  and spiritual engagement

Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.

William Arthur Ward

If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

Mark Twain


Temple model at Aish HaTorah

The older Moe, Larry and Curly (Yehuda, Ephriam and Sam) visit the Kotel and Aish Ha Tora Roof for the Temple Model


Are You Listening, Jew?

(So appropriate for what is happening to Jews today)

Rabbi Ya'akov Emden (Yavetz) was one of the great halachic authorities of his time.  He lived in Hamburg at a time when – despite general belief – the Jews were already beginning to acclimate to society and live comfortably.  And in the introduction (Sulam Beit El) to his famous siddur (Prayer Book), he wrote the following remarkable words – a cry to the Jew in the Exile:


              Not one in a thousand arouses himself to dwell in the Land (of Israel), to live there.

              Only one from a town and two from a family.  No one seeks its love, desires its peace

              and good and waits to see it.  It appears to us as we sit in comfort in the Exile that we

have already discovered another Land of Israel and another Jerusalem.  And that is why there came upon us all the evils when we sat in Spain and other lands in comfort and great honor since the time of the Destruction … until we were later driven from there and not a trace was left of Jews in those countries.


And he concludes with words that shake the firmaments of the Jewish world:


              How long will you sleep, O lazy one, in the bed of laziness … until the foundations of

the universe shall be uncovered!  And why shall you not acquire for yourself wise counsel to flee for your life while you yet may?


Stunning, powerful, awesome words from a halachic giant, Rabbi Ya'akov Emden!  And the Jew hears nothing.  And why should we be surprised?  Why should we be astonished that the Jew fails to hear the words that echo from the eighteenth century, from Hamburg, German, when he cannot hear the cry of Bensonhurst?


I arrived in the United States for two weeks in time to see and hear the awesome cry of Rabbi Ya' akov Emden – this time from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  And I look about me at the Jew who apparently is blind to what is so obvious; so deaf to the screeching sounds about him, and so dumb – both in inability to express the reality and to understand it.


In the cold-blooded murder of a black youth in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, lies the reality of America, and the impossible dilemma for the Jews of that country who, like those of so many generations of Exile past, thought, in the words of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden, that "they had discovered another Land of Israel and another Jerusalem."


Bensonhurst lies in White America, attacked to Boro Park – land of Jewish certainty and assurance that herein lies yet another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem.  Bensonhurst is an almost all-white enclave that, incredibly, brings comfort and security to the Jews who live there or who border on it.  And in Bensonhurst a young man was gunned down because he was black – and the Jew heard nothing and understood nothing and felt not the slightest alarm.  Indeed, G-d help us, there were not a few who agreed with the white gentiles that blacks who come into the neighborhood risk receiving what the murdered black man got.


Does no one see?  Does not the Jew understand what the lesson of Bensonhurst is?  Does not one look at the faces and souls of the Bensonhurst whites who stood jeering and taunting blacks and shouting "niggers," and understand that the bells toll for him?  Is there not a Jew who saw the hate and venom and willingness to murder, and understood that those same faces and same haters and same people could, tomorrow, just as easily and willingly do the same to the Jew?  Does the Jew not understand what he is hearing?  Is the Jew listening?  Does he want to listen?  Does he want to understand that haters are not capable of being limited in their hatred to one particular people that is different?  That those who hate blacks hate Jews, too, and perhaps even more?  That hatred is a disease that enters the marrow of the bones and emerges in all its horrors whenever social or economic or psychological conditions drive it out into action?


What is it about the Jew that fails to make him understand that the hater, the bigot, the murderer of the black man today will be the destroyer of the Jew, tomorrow?


There is a host on a large New York City radio station.  He is immensely popular with Jews, especially those of Brooklyn.  He is a bigot and a hater – albeit a clever one.  And how the Jews love it when he, in his viciousness, goes up against a "shwartzer."


And I remember once, driving in an automobile and listening to the man as an Hispanic caller phoned in.  How the radio host-bigot ridiculed the man's accent!  How he humiliated the man because of that accent that was different from the "American" one.  And the very next caller fairly fell over himself in delight and congratulations to the host for how he handled the foreigner.  The caller who was so delighted was from Brooklyn and had a Hungarian accent thick enough to serve with goulash under the light of his chandelier and the happy smiles of his wife under her sheitel


It is more than blind and needless hate that I cry out against.  It is the fact that the Jew hears the haters of Bensonhurst crying out their bigotry and does not hear the unspoken word, "Jew!"  For those thugs and gross hooligans and ignoramuses hate Jews with more passion than they do blacks.  For what they really feel about blacks is fear, but they hate Jews.  They are jealous of them and envious, and no greater hate emerges than from that .  What did Solomon say: "Wrath is cruel and anger is overwhelming, but who is able to stand before jealousy?" (Proverbs 27:4).


The same ones who murder blacks, and hate and fear them and curse them and  "make the neighborhood safe," are those who sit in their bars muttering about Jews in frightening envy and jealousy that breeds the most awesome hatred of them all.  They are a danger to the very survival of Jews and G-d help us all should there be an economic collapse that will drive them into unemployment and desperation and loosen the social chains that bind them.


And that is the dilemma.  For the black community is one that is riddled with Jew-hatred.  Real hard-core hatred of Jews.  And much more open and much more "legitimate" than the kind that is endemic to whites.  Not only is a Jesse Jackson capable of making outrageous anti-Jewish comments and yet remain a legitimate national figure and candidate for the Presidency, but on every campus in American the local black student group can issue openly anti-Jewish statements and not be condemned, let alone lose its college funding.  Black papers and radio

stations can spew forth anti-Jewish hate, and the FCC and political leaders are strangely silent.  The fact is that, despite the obscene refusal of Jewish liberals to condemn black Jew-hatred but rather to rationalize it away, blacks in great measure and in huge numbers hate Jews.


And that despair grips a Jew from Israel as he sees, on the one hand, the mindless, ugly faces of the Bensonhurst whites with their Jew-hatred barely beneath the surface, while at the funeral of the black youth, Farrakhan and his black-faced brownshirts arrived.  The fact that they allowed the black Nazi Farrakhan to speak, and not one black leader protested (and naturally not a white politician dared to), underlies the despair and the hopelessness of the situation for the Jew.


On the one hand, a black community that has made anti-Semitism an integral part of its existence.  On the other, far more dangerous white majority Jew-hating class.  And that for the Jew is the real meaning of Bensonhurst and America that is riven, polarized, riddled with hate and violence that is held back only by economic prosperity.  But behind that dam lie the waters of hate and envy and jealousy.  And it is the Jew who is the target.


The Jew who saw and heard the faces and voices of Bensonhurst, the hate and violence and taunts, and who saw nothing and heard nothing.  And the voice of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden comes across the ages, crying:  Are you listening, Jew?   And the Jew does not even hear that.

Written September 1989

Editor's note:  Jacob Emden (1697-1776), rabbi, halachic authority, kabbalist.  Emden was regarded as one of the outstanding scholars of his generation.  Despite his distinguished descent and his remarkable Talmudic attainments, Emden occupied no official position, with the exception of a few years as rabbi of Emden, Germany.  This made it possible for him to be exceptionally critical toward the society and the tradition of his time.  In addition, he published an important edition of the prayer book (whose parts had different names) with a valuable commentary (1745-48.  There were six Jews living in Emden in 1967.

(Source: Encyclopedia Judaica, 1972 edition)


The tomb of Joseph, painted by David Roberts in 1839

How Joseph's Coffin Ended Up in Israel By Levi Avtzon

The Book of Genesis ends with the words "And Joseph died at the age of 110 and they embalmed him, and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt." And yet, Joseph is buried in Shechem (Nablus) in the Holy Land. How did he end up there?

The story of Joseph's coffin is an incredible story of hope, miracles and prayer. Let's unpack this story from the beginning.

Why Joseph Was Buried in Egypt

Joseph ruled over Egypt as viceroy for 80 years, from the age of 30 until his death at 110 (in the year 2309 from creation, or 1452 BCE).

As the leader who had saved Egypt from hunger and who had led with kindness and generosity, Joseph was held in high regard by the Egyptians, so they planned to place his body in a lead casket and sink it into the Nile.

They had two reasons for this:

  1. The Nile was their source of food and sustenance, so they felt that his holy remains would bring blessing to the Nile.1
  2. They didn't want the Jews to be able to find the casket.2 The Egyptians knew that the Jews would not leave Egypt without it, as per Joseph's promise to them, "G‑d will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones out of here."3

Joseph himself knew that the Egyptians would want to keep his coffin in Egypt, and he was fine with that, provided that his brethren would take it with them when they would eventually depart. In contrast, Jacob asked that his remains be taken directly to the Holy Land for burial.

In a sense, this reflects Joseph's unique ability to be immersed within Egyptian culture, politics and leadership, all the while retaining his unique sense of self and moral compass.

Died on Shabbat Afternoon

Joseph's time came on Shabbat afternoon, as did Moses' and King David's. Indeed, this is why the Shabbat afternoon service includes three verses from the Book of Psalms, in which we extoll G‑d's justice, declaring our dedication and faith even in the face of tragedy.4

Years Later

One hundred and thirty nine years after Joseph's passing, the Jews were finally freed from their bondage in Egypt. The time had come to fulfill their promise to their great leader and source of inspiration. Moses spent three days looking for the casket. Finally, on the night of the Exodus, Moses turned to Serach, daughter of Asher and niece of Joseph, who had been blessed with a long life. In the words of the Talmud:5

And how did Moses know where Joseph was buried? It was said that Serach, the daughter of Asher, remained from that generation. Moses went to her and asked, "Do you know about where Joseph is buried?" She replied, "The Egyptians fashioned a metal casket for him and set it in the Nile so that its water would be blessed."

Moses stood on the bank of the Nile and said: "Joseph, Joseph, the time regarding which G‑d promised that 'I will redeem you' has arrived, as well as the time of your oath that you administered on the people of Israel. If you present yourself, good. If not, we are absolved from your oath." Immediately Joseph's coffin floated up.

(Alternatively, Rabbi Nathan cites a tradition that Joseph was buried in the crypt of the Egyptian kings. When Moses came to the burial site and made his declaration, Joseph's bones rattled, signaling to Moses whose they were.)

There is a midrashic tradition that Moses brought Joseph's coffin up from the Nile by taking a clean piece of pottery, writing G‑d's mystical name on it and the words 'Rise, oh ox!' and throwing it into the Nile. The casket then floated to the top. The appellation "ox" was a reference to Jacob's blessing to Joseph in this week's Parshah, comparing him to an ox.6

The Two Arks in the Desert

The Talmud continues to tell us that as the People of Israel traveled in the desert, Joseph's coffin was right alongside the Ark of the Covenant. People would wonder about the strange association, and others would answer that it was appropriate because "this one [Joseph] fulfilled all that is written in this one [the Ark, which contains the Torah]."

In Israel

The Book of Joshua tells the story of the Jewish people's arrival in the Holy Land. Towards the end of the book, we learn, "And the bones of Joseph which they had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shechem, in the portion of land that Jacob had bought from the sons of Chamor, father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of money."7

Rashi on this verse says: "It was from Shechem that they [the brothers] stole him, and it was to Shechem that he was returned."8 Remember that when Joseph was sold as a slave by his own brothers and taken away from his dear father, it was in Shechem. Bringing him back to this site was an act of closure and historical justice.

No Room for Arguments

According to the Midrash,9 there are three places in the Land of Israel that are undisputedly ours, since we acquired them through business transactions:

  1. The Cave of Machpelah—where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried—which was purchased by Abraham.
  2. The Temple Mount—where our two Temples stood in Jerusalem—which was bought by David from Araunah the Jebusite.
  3. The portion of Joseph in Shechem, which was bought by Jacob.

In an ironic twist of fate, Jewish movement and freedom are severely restricted in these three spots, and visiting Joseph's tomb entails special security arrangements.

May it be G‑d's will that Jewish freedom be once again restored in the Holy Land and in all of the world with the coming of Moshiach. Amen.

Footnotes 1.

Talmud, Sotah 13a.


Bechayei to Genesis 50:26.


Genesis 50:25.


Yalkut Chadash, as quoted by Me'am Loez.


Sotah 13a and b.


Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach 2.


Joshua 24:32.


Based on the above Talmud, Sotah 13b.


Bereishit Rabbah, ch. 5.

By Levi Avtzon

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See you tomorrow, bli neder

Love Yehuda Lave

Rabbi Yehuda Lave

PO Box 7335, Rehavia Jerusalem 9107202


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