Don’t Leave My Bones in Egypt

This weeks Torah Portion, ‘Vayechi’, is named for the first Hebrew word of Genesis 47:28 – וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם <- (‘Vayechi Ya’cov b’eretz mizraim).  The AV translates it exactly as written, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt…”  The first Hebrew word in the above phrase is וַיְחִ֤י(vah-yi-chi). The root of וַיְחִ֤י is חיה and means ‘live’!  Often it is used in the plural, חַיִּים֙ – chaim, like in Genesis 2:9 speaking of the ‘tree of life’. However, it is always translated into English in the singular ‘life’. Chaimis a frequently used Hebrew word. Perhaps you have heard the phrase l’chaim meaning, ‘to life’.  Chaim is also a popular male name in Israel.  Israel’s first president was Chaim Weizemann.

Jacob’s life was basically lived in three different places.  For 77 years he lived in Hebron ( חֶבְר֑וֹן ) with his parents – Isaac and Rebekkah.  [This was also where Abraham had lived.] Then he left Hebron (not as young man as many tell the story, but at the age of 77), to find a wife among Rebekah’s family back in Syria ( Padanaram). He lived there for 20 years where he married his wives and had 11 sons and one daughter. Upon his return to Hebron, Rachel gave birth to the 12th son, Benjamin, but died in childbirth and Jacob buried her near Bethlehem. Jacob lived 33 more years back in Hebron.  The last 17 years of Jacob’s life, however, were spent in Egypt.  At the time of his death, he commanded his sons to return his body to the family burying place, the cave of Machpelah in the plains of Mamre that Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite.
The 12 sons of Jacob all died in Egypt, but only Joseph had the faith to tell the children of Israel, “God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” (Genesis 50:24-25) The final sentence of Genesis says, “So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” (Genesis 50:26)  The English word ‘coffin’ is translated from the Hebrew word אָר֖וֹן (ah-ron) which literally means a closet, or something with doors that you store things in.  In this case, Joseph’s body was stored inside.  As Viceroy of all of Egypt, Joseph could have no doubt requested to be buried in one of the great Pyramids where the Pharaohs were buried. Joseph had lived most of his life exiled in Egypt, but he never forgot that Egypt was not his home and he did not want his final resting place to be there! Joseph was the only one of the 12 brothers whose final resting place was Israel. The children of Israel honored his wish and when they left Egypt on the first Passover, Moses himself made sure they took the bones of Joseph as he had commanded: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. ” (Exodus 13:19) This action guaranteed his placement into the honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11: “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22) It takes a huge amount of faith to pray prayers that we know won’t be answered in our lifetime. Joseph had that kind of faith! I want this kind of faith too!

The Unseen Hand

Edith Samuel, in her book, “Your Jewish Lexicon”, says that chesed is one of the “most high-frequency words” in the Jewish lexicon. Chesedחֶסֶד [remember in Hebrew the ‘ch’ is pronounced as in ‘Bach’] occurs 237 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Strong’s #678) and is most often translated into English as the old fashioned word, ‘lovingkindness’, but also ‘mercy’ and ‘kindness’.
The best way to explain the concept of chesed is to look at someone who exhibited it to others. One of the greatest examples is found in today’s Torah portion when Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. During his 20 years in Egypt, God had taught Joseph some powerful lessons, preparing him to be the preserver of his family ie, the Jewish people!  During the same 20 years, Joseph’s brothers had been suffering with a very guilty conscience! In Genesis 42, the first time they meet Joseph (and of course they did not recognize him), he calls them spies, they reply, “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” (Gen. 42:21) Apparently they had an agreement among themselves never to tell the real truth about Joseph since they told Joseph in verse 13 that one brother “is not”. Joseph’s actions towards his brothers, before he reveals who he is, it not due to revenge, but he is trying to bring them to the point of repentance and freedom from their guilt. He realizes that while he was imprisoned in Egypt, they have been imprisoned inside of their guilty conscience. Finally when Joseph did reveal his identity, his brothers “could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.” (Genesis 45:3) Again, it was their guilty conscience that caused them to be “troubled at his presence”.
Because Joseph is full of chesed and forgiveness, he is the initiator in the entire event of restoration. Joseph immediately shares with his brothers the very powerful, life changing lesson that God had taught him.  From man’s perspective, Joseph was sold into Egypt.  Genesis 37:28 specifically states, “… they [his brothers] … sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.”  However here in Genesis 45, Joseph is able to say, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” (Gen. 45:5)God had taught Joseph one of the most important lessons of life – God is in control of every event and if we trust completely in Him, His unseen hand will work it out for our good. Joseph said that God SENThim into Egypt to preserve the very ones who had harmed him – his family.  In order for Joseph to be able to preserve his family from the coming famine, God had to send this special trial into his life to mature him. The twenty years in Egypt was not an intellectual pursuit of God by Joseph.  Joseph did not even  have the Word of God!  It had not been written yet.  All Joseph had was God!! God taught Joseph to view life from His perspective, instead of man’s perspective which is very limited because we are finite. Therefore, Joseph learned that bad things are often good things in disguise. Now it was time for Joseph to teach this lesson to his family. When the brothers least deserved kindness from Joseph, he gave it.  He forgave them and sought their good and wanted to preserve them from the famine. God deals the same way with us.  When we least deserve it, God shows us lovingkindness and forgiveness – usually through other people. Do you recognize God’s chesed towards you in all situations? The next time something ‘bad’ happens, remember that it may turn out to be the best thing to ever happen if we will view it from God’s perspective!
Nugget 216: Israel – Prince with God

Nugget 216: Israel – Prince with God

The Etymological Origin of the Word ‘Israel’

According to Webster, etymology is, “the tracing of a word back as far as possible in its own language.” The first occurrence of the word ‘Israel’ (yisrael) – יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל in the Hebrew Bible is found in this week’s Torah portion in Genesis 32:28. In this passage, the angel of the LORD confronts the patriarch Jacob at Peniel and changes his name: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” What does ‘Israel’ ( יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל <-) mean? First, note that the last two letters, אל, (El), is one of the names for God and occurs 6,581 times in the Hebrew T’nakh.  [The longer form of this word is אלוהים (Elohim) and occurs 2,602 times in the T’nakh.] (more…)

Nugget 215: Jacob’s Ladder

Nugget 215: Jacob’s Ladder

The first line of text in this week’s Torah portion:

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה <
For the Hebrew students, I will write the Hebrew in transliteration and translation: Vayetze (and went out) Yakov (Jacob) mi-be’er sheva(from Be’er Sheva) vahYehlech (and walked) haranah (to Haran). Pay attention that in Hebrew, the verb likes to be first in the sentence because it is the most important part of speech.  The first word in the text is the name of this Torah portion – וַיֵּצֵ֥א -(vayetze).  The root (יצא) means ‘to go out’ or ‘to come out’. This Torah portion begins and ends with two major events concerning stones and has a third event in the middle! Let’s look at each. Gen. 28:10-15 is a very important passage because here God reconfirms His covenant with Jacob:

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Nugget 214: An Ancient Promise Fulfilled

This Hebrew text of this week’s Torah portion, Genesis 12:1-17:27, begins with the phrase ( לֶךְ־לְךָ֛) Lech-Lecha. The word, לֶךְ (Lech) is from the Hebrew root ( הלכ) and means to walk or to go. Thus the Hebrew phrase lech-lecha literally means, “You go!” In the KJV, it is translated as, “Get thee out”. 

Genesis 12:1-3 is known to Bible scholars as the Abrahamic Covenant because here God first made His covenant with Abram:

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (more…)

Nugget 213: The Camel Test

Nugget 213: The Camel Test

Think of a modern day princess and how she is would be trained and taught. A lavish lifestyle, special privileges, tutors, etc. But, remember that God’s ways are different from man’s ways (Isaiah 55:8). So how does God determine who will be one of “the mothers” of the Jewish people?  Genesis 24, part of this week’s Torah portion, records the story of Abraham sending his servant Eliezer back to Mesopotamia, (Abraham’s ancient home), to search for a wife for Isaac.  Eliezer’s test for the right girl seems unusual at first, but later we realize it is perfect and very appropriate. (more…)