Many clamor today for the destruction of Israel. Currently, the U.N. is doing its best to rally support for the condemnation of the United States’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. The fact that Jeruselem is already the capital of Israel is not a concern to the opponents of this idea. No, the real issue is what a world power such as the United States proclaiming its solidarity and support behind Israel means to those who hate both Israel, and the United States. Consider this speech given at the United Nations assembly by the Israeli representative:
Because to acknowledge the sovereignty of Israel and, further, to acknowledge the claim of Israel to Jerusalem is to also expose the false claims that Islam makes to the same territory. If you listen to the Palestine Authority and those who sympathize with it, you would think that Israel’s presence is the result of a violent attack upon the peaceful inhabitants of the land, who have subsequently been bullied, marginalized, and impovershed by the imperialist, greedy, selfish and inhumane Israeli government.
The truth of the matter tells a far different story.
In our current parsha, we see an important piece to solving the puzzle of Israel, and how believers in the God of Israel, both Jew and Gentile alike, should understand the hope of Israel, as proclaimed by Her prophets of old.
Jacob gives his son Joseph final instructions concerning his burial arrangements, and the words are telling:
“Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” (Gen.47:29-30)
What is remarkable about the words of Jacob (Israel) is the sublime faith that it reveals. This is a faith that is later echoed by Joseph himself later in the same parsha:
“Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.” (Gen.50:25)
It is well worth noting at this point in the narrative that neither Jacob nor Joseph had ever viewed the Temple, or even had experienced something as memorable as the crossing of the Red Sea or the destruction of Pharaoh’s chariots or the giving of the Torah at Sinai. These declarations were based on God’s promise to their fathers alone. A promise made concerning a land which had, for the duration of their own lifetimes, been the domain and territory of others who claimed no such promise from HaShem.
Why, then, if none of these incredible events had been experienced, was it so important to these men to have their bones brought out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan?
Perhaps the answer lies within one of the fundamental aspects of Jewish faith; an attribute that has been inherited by Christianity to a large degree, which is that Jewish faith is a faith grounded in hope of what is yet realized. It does not rest it’s hope upon the past, or live in it. It remembers and honors the past, because the promises of the past point to a glorious future. This literal, and historically unquenchable, hope has carried the Jewish people through the centuries of its recent exile against all odds, and against all other accounts of human history. It is a similar hope that has enabled Christianity and its martyrs to also endure.
The hope that is based on what is yet to come is a force that death cannot stop.
This reality of Jewish faith is commented on frequently. One modern and cherished Jewish voice states it this way:
“There is…one aspect of Tanakh, systematically evident in the narrative of Genesis, that is rare to the point of uniqueness. It is a story without an ending which looks forward to an open future rather than reaching closure. This defies narrative convention. Normally we expect a story to create a tension that is resolved in the final page. That is what gives art a sense of completion. We do not expect a sculpture to be incomplete, a poem to break off halfway, a novel to end in the middle….Recall that the story of the people of the covenant begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave his land, birthplace and father’s house and travel “to a land which I will show you” (12:1). Yet no sooner does Abraham arrive than he is forced by famine to go to Egypt. That is the fate repeated by Jacob and his children. Genesis ends not with life in Israel but with a death in Egypt….Again, a hope not yet realized, a journey not yet ended, a destination just beyond the horizon.” (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Jewish Time”, from “Covenant & Conversation: Genesis: The Book of Beginnings”, Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, pg. 350-353)
We see that this is all true, and yet it still does not adequately answer our question about why it matters that the patriarchs are buried alongside their fathers in a land that is promised to them yet not controlled or even possessed by them. Sacks gives us the answer later in his essay:
“Tragedy gives rise to pessimism. Cyclical time leads to acceptance. Linear time begets optimism. Covenantal time gives birth to hope. (These are) radically different ways of relating to life and the universe.” (Ibid)
The apostle Paul alludes partly to this ethic as well in his own writings to the assembly at Corinth:
“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three…” (1 Cor.13:13)
But, traditionally, Christianity has often struggled with its understanding of the Jewish soul and its connection to the land of promise, Israel itself. Even though there are so many promises declared by the prophets of the restoration of Israel and of the kingdom age, it remains a mystery that the Church has largely been unable to reconcile in its collective understanding. That is, until 1948, and the rebirth of the presence of the nation of Israel on the world’s stage. At that time, Church theologians as well as historians had to rapidly recalculate their presumptions and theories to account for this new reality. So did the Jewish people, as well.
Perhaps part of the problem is in understanding how the physical land relates to a person who has died, and whose soul has returned to God. The sages of the Talmud speak of this:
“It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Eliezer says: The souls of the righteous are stored beneath the Throne of Glory, as it is stated: “And the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life” (1 Sam.25:29). And the souls of the wicked are continuously tied up, and one angel stands at one end of the world and another angel stands at the other end of the world and they sling the souls of the wicked back and forth to one another, as it is stated: “And the souls of your enemies He shall sling out in the hollow of a sling” (1 Sam.25:29).” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 152b, Koren Steinsaltz Edition)
The connection lies, of course, in the promise of the resurrection of the dead; a promise and a hope that both Christianity and Judaism mutually share. There are numerous places in the Bible in which there is allusion to the resurrection of the righteous dead, at which time the righteous of history will be “made anew” to inhabit the land of promise in the age of the Messianic King.
“And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open up your graves and lift you up from your graves, My nation” (Ezek.37:13). (Ibid)
Rashi connects Jacob’s request to “bring him to his burial place” to the “bringing in” associated with the Festival of Sukkot, and the “bringing in” of the harvest.
It is most interesting that Jacob is embalmed by the Egyptians after his death, before the burial procession proceeds out of Egypt to Canaan in chapter 50, the final chapter of Genesis. The people of the land take note of the great procession in verse 11.
The significance is palpable. This great prince of the Hebrews, who spends his final years in Egypt, living off of the produce of Egypt, finds his final rest in the land of promise, carried there by those who share the same promise and destiny, and escorted there by those who are not named in the covenant.
So much of Jewish identity is tied to the land of Israel. Indeed, much of Christian identity as well. The Jewish people are wed to the land.
The enemies of Israel can say whatever they want to discredit Israel’s presence in the land of Israel, or Her claims to this land. They may even destroy the modern State of Israel, as they have vowed to do. But even in this, a most unthinkable yet potential outcome, Israel cannot be destroyed utterly.
Israel cannot be destroyed by destroying Her homeland or Her government or Her military, because ultimately Israel consists of a hope that is based on a promise and hope can never be destroyed by the acts of men, since hope lives in the spirits and hearts of men and no weapon can touch these things.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom.8:35).
From whence did Paul derive such hope of the unseen realm?
Why, from the Patriarchs of Israel, of course.