Letters II Jan. 2009


Reader: Genesis 47:29,30: “Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt. (Requested Jacob) But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place.”

Do we not learn here, that Jacob acknowledges, that after he dies his soul will be already sleeping with his fathers. Yet, he is concerned with where his body will be buried?

Genesis 50: "And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying: “G-d will surely remember you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.”

Both of our ancestors were very concerned where they would be buried.

What is so important as to where we are buried? Once we cross over, our bodies become just dust and are likened to withered grass. Since the mass of Jewish immigrants from Russia,Germany,Hungary, and Poland have now filled up the old Jewish cemeteries in Brooklyn and Queens, the new tenants are unable to join their families’ resting plots, and are forced to be carried to far out locations in Long Island or New Jersey.

I have been involved in serious discussions with seniors, who are very disturbed about this dilemma. They have expressed feelings of sadness and frustration because they will not be resting nearby their loved predecessors.

Does it really matter, where we are buried, once we are dead? What can I tell them, to off-set their sadness? Is there a hidden message in the above Torah passages?

Thank you,


Mesora: Your question is on target, as is your observation that Jacob was already "lying with his fathers" prior to burial in Machpelah. For the verse first says "when I lie with my fathers", and this precedes his burial with them. 

Our first lesson: one does not require close proximity in death, to share the next world with one's forefathers. Why then did Jacob desire to be buried "with" them? 

But this question is not on Jacob alone: why did Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca desire to be buried together? I would suggest as follows...

Jacob realized that once he dies his body would decay, and he would no longer have any use or care about it. If so, he must have desired burial with his ancestors not for himself, but for whom? For all others.

Jacob did not wish his lessons to end, with his life's end. He desired that even after his death to promote true ideas. 

Being buried alone would cause the visitor at his grave site to reflect on "him". But that was not his goal...he desired people to reflect on God. The institution initiated by Abraham – the Maaras HaMachpelah – conveys a message which emerges from the philosophy shared by all three couples buried there. The visitor to this mass burial plot reflects not on the individual, since there is more than one person buried here. The visitor reflects instead on what theme bonds these couples. The visitor arrives at the commonality: they all sought to follow God. This I believe is the primary intention that Abraham initiated through a mass grave site. The visitor must reflect on all three couples, and this will inevitably cause the visitor to be inspired not by the individuals, but what they shared: a life devoted to God's will. 

Thus, those people with whom you discovered were saddened by the lack of sites close to their deceased loved ones, can be taught to follow Jacob's lessons: 1) there is not proximity to our loved ones after we die; 2) sharing a plot with other Torah followers can inspire the living towards a Torah lifestyle. This would benefit others, whereas being buried with ancestors who may not have been observant does no one any good at all, other than the convenience of visiting two grave sites at once. But of course, if one's relatives were observant, then close burial plots could achieve what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob taught.

Joseph may have desired that his bones be carried out of Egypt for a separate lesson. At the end of genesis, he initially informed the Jews that God will "certainly remember them" and take them out. Perhaps Joseph wished to concretize this reality of the forthcoming Exodus, by commanding that his bones be taken out with the Jews. Such a command conveys to all Jews in Egypt just how convinced Joseph was about the ultimate redemption. This gave hope to the Jews, and perhaps was Joseph's lesson.