The Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel is very ancient. For 2,000 years, we viewed ourselves as a people living in exile among the nations of the world. Throughout that time, we never forgot our connection to the Land of Israel. Three times a day in daily prayers, Jews recalled the Land of Israel and reaffirmed our connection to it and our longing to return.
In the late 19th Century, the Zionist movement was founded and through their efforts the State of Israel was established in 1948. Today, the Jewish people are again planted in our ancient homeland.
This connection is reinforced in this week’s Torah portion, which marks the end of the Book of Genesis. Jacob dies in Egypt, and his last words to his sons are, “I am about to be gathered to my kin. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave which is in the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre, in the land of Canaan, the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site” (Genesis 49:29-30).
Later, Joseph dies in Egypt as well and says, “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. So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here” (Genesis 50:24-25). The Israelites will be enslaved for 400 years. But when they leave, they will take Joseph’s remains with them and bury him in the Land of Israel.
Our connection with our ancient homeland is as old as history, our myth and our master-story. Since the time of Abraham and Sarah, we have been connected to this small, beautiful strip of land along the Mediterranean.