Jacob’s Response to Joseph’s Angst

In this week’s parsha, Jacob sees that his end is near.  He summons Joseph and makes him swear not to bury him in Egypt but transport him to the Land of Canaan and bury him in his family’s plot, in the Cave of Machpelah.

Later on, when Joseph was told that his father was ill, he took Menashe and Ephraim to see their grandfather for a final blessing.

But before blessing the boys, Jacob strangely recounts the passing of his wife, Rachel, Joseph’s mother:

When I was coming from Padan, Rachel died on me… and I buried her on the way to Efras, in Beis Lechem.

Why did Jacob bring up the passing and burial of his wife Rachel at this juncture?

Rashi explains that Jacob was concerned Joseph might harbor a grudge against him for not having buried Rachel in the Cave of Machpelah. Instead, Jacob buried her on the side of the road where she died. Jacob was concerned that Joseph would resent his request to transport him to Canaan and bury him in the vaunted Cave of Machpelah, which honor he did not accord to Rachel.

To assuage Joseph’s possible displeasure with the less than dignified burial of his mother, Jacob indicated that it was a prophetic Divine directive that she be buried on the side of the road so that in the future, after the destruction of the First Temple, when the Jews were driven out of the land, and journeyed along that road they would pray as they passed by her grave and she would intercede with G‑d for mercy on her children.


But Why Now?

Commentators have raised the question why Jacob brought up the narrative of Rachel’s burial to heal Joseph’s possible grudge just as Jacob was prepared to bless Joseph’s sons, Menashe and Ephraim? Why didn’t he bring up this painful chapter at an earlier time, such as when he had asked Joseph to carry his body out of Egypt?  Weren’t these words intended to mollify Joseph so that he didn’t feel upset about taking his father all the way to the Cave of Machpelah even though Jacob hadn’t done the same for Rachel?

Commentators answer that when Jacob was about to bless the boys he realized that there could be a serious obstacle to fulfillment of the blessing. Blessings must be given wholeheartedly, without the slightest tinge of resentment on either side; neither by the one who gives the blessing nor by one who receives the blessing. A blessing given without love is tainted and a blessing received by someone who doesn’t have love for the one who blesses will be resistant to the energy of the blessing.


The Priestly Blessing-With Love

This explains why a Kohain, before delivering the Priestly Blessing, recites the benediction: “Blessed are You… Who commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.”

While the Priestly blessing is mandated by the Torah, nowhere does the Torah state that it must be done with heartfelt love. How, then, can the Kohain state that he was commanded to bless the Jews with love?

The answer is that in order for a blessing to materialize it must be given and received with love. Even the slightest tinge of resentment by the Kohain or the recipient of his blessing would deprive the blessing of its effectiveness. A blessing is much more than an expression of good will. It unleashes a surge of positive energy from the Source of blessing to the recipient. If there is no love on either side the blessing will lack the power to effect a positive result.

Jacob therefore wanted to ensure that Joseph did not harbor the slightest tinge of bitterness for his not burying Rachel in the Cave of Machpelah, before he blessed Menashe and Ephraim.  

So, Why Did Jacob Wait?

The question can still be asked, why did Jacob wait until the time he would depart from this world to ease Joseph’s possible resentment?

We can gain the answer by developing a better understanding of Jacob’s concern. It is difficult to imagine that Jacob suspected that Joseph would consciously harbor such negative feelings. Rather, Jacob was concerned that Joseph would subconsciously have these feelings.   Jacob was reluctant to discuss this with Joseph because that discussion could have been harmful. It may be compared to the removal of asbestos, a hazardous chemical, which when untouched causes no harm. But if tampered with and released into the air it is potentially lethal. Jacob wanted to follow the maxim to “leave well enough alone.”

However, when Jacob realized that the future of the Jewish people depended on the blessing he would give his grandchildren, he had to make sure that it was not tainted by Joseph holding onto even a subconscious resentment.


All Secrets Exposed

The above lesson can be applied to our own situation.

The Prophet Daniel stated that in the Messianic Era all the things that were concealed will be exposed and clarified. The Rebbe explained that since we are now living in the last days of Exile, poised to enter into the Final Redemption, hidden matters are being revealed.

The Rebbe tied this to human nature. Many of us may have hidden positive and/or negative traits that, under normal circumstances, may never be exposed and will not help us or harm us. However, in the present Messianic climate, these negative and positive traits are coming to the fore. This explains the phenomenon of certain individuals, known as kind and decent people, who unexpectedly exhibit some very unwholesome behaviors and attitudes. Conversely, some rather ordinary people unpredictably display hitherto unknown incredible talent and positivity.

In the past it was not advisable to dig too deeply into our inner sanctum and expose our undesirable traits because there was a possibility that once in the open they could overpower us and cause our downfall, G‑d forbid.

However, as we get to the end of our exile, and prepare ourselves for the Final Redemption, it is crucial that we pull out all the stops and make good use of our subconscious, positive talents.

Conversely, we must also reveal the subconscious destructive forces so that we can expunge every trace of them and come clean before the coming of Moshiach.

The Messianic Age will be the ultimate blessing for the entire world and for the Jewish people in particular.  Jacob felt that in order for the blessing of his grandchildren to come to fruition it could not be tainted by even the slightest tinge of Joseph’s subconscious resentment.  Similarly, we must enter into the Messianic Age – G‑d’s ultimate blessing – without even a tinge of negativity.

The Rebbe’s message was that when we discover certain ugly traits of our own surfacing we should find a mentor, one who possesses the three traits of kindness, compassion and modesty, the hallmarks of our Jewish identities. Together with our mentor, we will successfully and safely extricate, eradicate and even transform those undesirable traits.

As a result of dealing completely with our subconscious positivity and negativity we will merit to see the fulfillment of Jacob’s blessing to Ephraim and Menashe, which presages the ultimate blessing of the Final Redemption through our righteous Moshiach.