The Torah portion this week relates a fascinating exchange between father and son. Jacob was lying on his deathbed when he turned to his second to the youngest son, Joseph, whom at the time was the viceroy to the King of Egypt, with a request. “If I have now found favor in your eyes, please place your hand beneath my thigh and [swear an oath] that you will do for me a true kindness: please do not let me be buried in Egypt. Let me lie with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave.”
Jacob requested that Joseph swear that he will not leave his remains in Egypt, rather bury them in the Land of Israel.
Joseph was the most powerful man in the world at the time. Could he not have performed the last wish of his father fairly easily? Was he not a man of his word? Why did Jacob demand that he swear to him? It seems that Jacob was concerned that his wish would not be fulfilled, thus prompting him to request that Joseph swear to him. Why is it that Jacob was worried?
The Jewish people living in Egypt at the time had a lot to be happy about. It was one of the most glorious times in Jewish history. They had “their guy” running the country. They were protected citizens living comfortably in the outskirts of the city. Every single need was taken care of for them by Joseph.
Jacob knew, however, that they were still in exile. Although they were living quite comfortably, a Jew belongs in the Land of Israel serving G-d. At the time of Jacob’s request, they were still in servitude to a king of a foreign nation.
Jacob was concerned that Joseph and the Jewish nation would become too comfortable with their surroundings, failing to realize that ultimate freedom is only when you are in servitude to G-d alone.
And that is why Jacob stressed the necessity to remove his remains from Egypt. Although the Jewish nation was living a comfortable life of content, it was important that they remember that they do not belong in Egypt, rather they belong in complete service to G-d.
We live in a world where spirituality has become increasingly taboo, and the joys and pleasures of physicality have become increasingly attainable. It is all too easy to become content with our physical lives and regretfully neglect our service of the Creator.
Jacob’s message to us is to never become content with our present spiritual state. No matter the circumstance, as long as we remain in a spiritual exile, we must constantly strive to come closer to G-d.
One of the fundamental beliefs in Judaism is that G-d will redeem the Jewish people with the coming of Moshiach. In fact, Maimonides records this belief as one of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith. “Even though he may tarry, I will still await [his arrival] daily.” Why is it that this belief is a fundamental part of Jewish faith?
With the arrival of Moshiach, a new era will be ushered in. An era where spirituality and G-dliness will be easily recognized. An era where the common goal will be to perfect one’s service of G-d.
By affirming our belief in the arrival of Moshiach, we are affirming our commitment to fulfill Joseph’s promise to Jacob. That we will not forget, no matter the circumstance, that our first priority must always be service of G-d. We affirm that as G-d’s nation we remain committed to preparing the world for the time when He can call it His home. A time when all will recognize His existence and we will be committed to serving Him alone.
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is executive director of Yeshiva Schools and Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.