Vayechi, Genesis 47:28-50:2 Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, January 7, 2023

Where is home? What does home mean to us, as individuals and as a people? This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, brings the Book of Genesis (Sefer Bereshit) to an end. Jacob senses his life is ending, as we read “And when the time approached for Israel to die, he summoned his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Do me this favor, place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty: please do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie down with my ancestors, take me up from Egypt and bury me in their burial-place.’ He [Joseph] replied, ‘I will do as you have spoken.’” (Genesis 47:29-30) Jacob has lived in many places, he was born and raised in the Land of Canaan, lived 20 years with his uncle Laban in Padan Aram (modern day Iraq), returned to Canaan, and the last 17 years of his life in Egypt. But at the moment of his death the most important thing is that he be returned to Canaan, where he was born and where his ancestors are buried, the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants, to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah, near Hebron, where his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham were buried. For Jacob, this is home. Commenting on this verse, Ramban (14th C. Spain) wrote, “the exile prolonged itself upon Jacob and he died there, and his bones ascended from there accompanied by all the elders and courtiers of Pharaoh,… and the exile has exceedingly prolonged itself over us, with its end, unlike the other exiles, … But in the end they will bring us from all the nations [and return us to the Land of Israel].” Ramban wrote these words over 500 years ago, when the exile of the Jewish people had already lasted over 1,400 years. For all that time we have viewed the Land of Israel as our ancestral home, even if many Jews had never seen it. That connection is an essential component of Jewish identity and has been since the beginning of the Jewish story. Where do you feel at home? What does home mean for you?