JOSEPH’S FINAL ALIYA
The sidra of Vayechi and the book of Bereishit conclude with Joseph making his brothers promise that when they (i.e., their descendants) leave Egypt, they would take his remains with him.
A number of commentators are puzzled by this request. Why doesn’t Joseph make his sons promise that they would do this for their father? After all, the sidra begins with Jacob making Joseph swear that he would bury him in Israel, not Egypt.
Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik (d.1993) in Chumash Mesorat Harav p.373, offers the thought that Joseph was not only concerned about his final resting place, but his very legacy.
He had become estranged from his brothers. Although he had tried to heal the breach since they had become reunited with Jacob coming down to Egypt, he did not know if a complete reconciliation had taken place.
In an antithesis of his dreams, where his brothers bow down to him, he subjugates himself to his brothers, imploring them to ensure that he would leave Egypt with them. It is significant that the words he uses to make his request, Veha’alitem et atzmotai mizeh itchem – “And you shall take up my bones out of here,” can also mean, “you shall elevate me.” Joseph wanted to finally be brought back inside the brotherhood of the tribes. It was vitally important to him that his brothers demonstrate that he was one of them.
When the time finally comes to leave Egypt, it is Moses who busies himself to ensure that Joseph’s coffin is not forgotten. Moses is a descendant of Levi – grandson on his mother’s side; great grandson on his father’s side. Levi, together with Shimon, were primarily responsible for Joseph being sold as a slave. It is deeply significant that Moses is the one to ensure that Joseph’s wishes are fulfilled. In contrast to Levi, who scoffed at Joseph’s dreams, Moses demonstrates how much the children of Israel owe to Joseph for his leadership and his example. When Moses carried Joseph’s coffin out of Egypt, it was the complete fulfilment of his dream of the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to me. (Bereishit 37:9.) By showing respect to Joseph in this way, Moses, as the representative of all of the tribes, showed that they all acknowledged their debt to him. It is a beautiful irony, but the ultimate realisation of Joseph’s second dream occurred in his death, not in his life.