Yosef’s reward, befitting his actions


The concluding verses of parashat Vayechipresent Yosef’s final words to his brothers. They contain both a reminder of Hashem’s promise to ultimately redeem the Jewish people from Egypt, and Yosef’s poignant personal request: “G-d will surely remember you and take you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov … G-d will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones out of here.”

Here, Yosef reveals the depth of his faith in Hashem, twice declaring, “G-d will surely remember you.” In this context, he imposes an oath upon his brothers and their descendants to transport his bones with them in the course of the promised Redemption and bury him in Israel. In so doing, he emulated his father, Yaakov, who had insisted Yosef take an oath not to bury him in Egypt, but with his forebears in Israel (Bereishit 47: 29-31).

A straightforward reading of our passage indicates that the obligation to transport Yosef’s bones from Egypt and bury him in Israel was delegated to the entire Jewish people. 

When the Exodus takes place, Sefer Shemot 13:19 tells us that Moshe, as the representative of the entire Jewish people, gathered Yosef’s remains and began the long process of reinterring him in Israel: “Moshe took Yosef’s bones with him, for he [Yosef] had adjured the sons of Yisrael, saying, ‘G-d will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.’”

The first chapter of Mishnah Sotah (7 and 9) utilizes this to teach us a crucial lesson about how our present behaviors determine the way we will be treated by Hashem and our fellow man in the future.

“According to the manner in which a person acts, others [G-d and man] will act toward him … This [general rule] is in effect when it comes to matters of a positive nature as well … Yosef merited the right to bury his father [Yaakov], and there was no one among his brothers who was greater than he. As the Torah states: ‘So Yosef went up to bury his father … And chariots and horsemen also went up with him, and the camp was very numerous’ (Bereishit 50:7, 9).”

The Mishnah goes on to inform us that Yosef was worthy of the greatest possible respect and, therefore, it was only fitting that the most prestigious person alive at the time should be involved in his burial in the Land of Israel. The operating principle here is the well-known concept of middah k’neged middah— according to the manner in which a person acts, G-d and man will act toward him.

What is the standard of behavior that should guide us? We are fortunate that the Torah provides us with a clear and direct answer to this question: “V’halachta b’drachav” (“And you shall walk in His path,” Devarim 28:9).

This commandment is explicated in a celebrated passage in Talmud Bavli, Sotah 14a: “Just as Hashem clothed the naked [Adam and Chava] … so, too, should you clothe the naked. Just as Hashem visited the sick [Avraham after his brit milah] …so, too, should you visit the sick. Just as Hashem comforted the mourners [Yitzhak after Avraham’s passing] …so, too, should you comfort the mourners. Just as Hashem buried the dead [Moshe] …so, too, should you bury the dead.”

Quite simply, our goal is to emulate the Almighty’s actions in all of our deeds.

As my rebbi and mentor Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik noted on many occasions, v’halachta b’drachavemerges as thefundamental underpinning of Judaism’s ethical structure. By emulating the actions of the Holy One blessed be He, we create substantive changes in ourselves, and positively impact those with whom we interact. In this sense, we become partners with Hashem in creating the world —shutfim im Hashem b’maaseh Bereishit. 

With Hashem’s help, may we merit to fulfill the mitzvah of halachta b’drachovin its most profound sense. Then may we may become shutfim im Hashem b’maaseh Bereishit, to make the world a better and nobler place, and, may the middah k’neged middahwe receive be replete with merit.