“וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ
שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת אַל נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם”.
When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called his son Yoseph and said to him, “If I have now found favor in your eyes, now place your hand beneath my thigh, and you shall deal with me with lovingkindness and truth; do not bury me now in Egypt.”
[Bereishit (Genesis) 47:29]
Before his death, Yaakov/Israel insisted that his son Yoseph swear to bury him in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), not in Egypt.
Why was it so important to our father Yaakov to be buried specifically within Eretz Yisrael?
Why was it sufficiently important that Yaakov insisted that Yoseph take an oath to fulfill his request?
Indeed, Yaakov referred to this as “lovingkindness and truth;” it was obviously not a simple matter for him!
The Importance of Burial Within Eretz Yisrael
The Jerusalem Talmud [Kilaim 9:3] raises the question of why Yaakov insisted on being buried within the Land and answers that it is because the Land is known as “the Land of the Living,” as the posuk (verse) states: “אֶתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה בְּאַרְצוֹת הַחַיִּים” (“I shall walk before the Lord in the Lands of the living”) [Tehillim (Psalms) 116:9]. Radak elucidates the verse as referring to David’s period of hiding from King Shaul in the land of the Philistines, outside the boundaries of the Holy Land. David prayed to God to be privileged to return to Eretz Yisrael, which is holier than, and has a better climate than all other lands, and therefore those who dwell within her have vitality and health.
Eretz Israel is the choicest of lands, both for the living and the dead. The Jerusalem Talmud [ibid.] explains that Eretz Yisrael is called “the Land of the living” because its dead will be the first to be resurrected in the days of Mashiach (Messiah). The remains of those who died and were buried outside the Land will roll down to Eretz Yisrael and only upon reaching the Land will their souls be returned to them and be brought back to life. Since resurrection will take place only within Eretz Yisrael, those buried abroad will have to endure the suffering entailed in rolling down to the Land.
In his work Avat Nefesh, Rabbi Yedaya writes that this suffering is a metaphor for the spiritual advantage of Eretz Yisrael. Chazal (Our Sages) compared this suffering to rolling through underground passages, but this is not to be understood literally. The meaning of the metaphor is that since one is influenced by his dwelling place, one who lives in the holy environs of Eretz Yisrael is positively influenced spiritually and therefore has the ability to progress spiritually and to achieve spiritual refinement. In contrast, one who lives outside the Land, in such lands, a person requires special efforts in order to avoid the negative influences and to merit resurrection. This is true even of a person as great as Yaakov. Spiritual refinement requires the individual to place spiritualism at the center of his being, focusing on study and on minimalizing the materialistic aspect of life. The suffering of rolling through subterranean passages symbolizes traveling through dark places in order to reach the light.
Resurrection comes through Eretz Yisrael, as Ezekiel prophesied, in the vision in the Valley of the Dry Bones. [Ezekiel 37:1-14] In this prophecy, God showed Ezekiel a valley filled with dried-out bones and informed the prophet that the bones will be brought back to life. Malbim explains that the prophecy refers to the future resurrection, and Ezekiel’s vision is of what is destined to be. God showed Ezekiel the future as if it were happening in front of his eyes.
Posuk 12 of Ezekiel’s vision reads: “כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְקֹוִק הִנֵּה אֲנִי פֹתֵחַ אֶת קִבְרוֹתֵיכֶם וְהַעֲלֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם מִקִּבְרוֹתֵיכֶם עַמִּי וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵל” (“Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves as My people, and bring you home to Eretz Yisrael’”). Thus, resurrection will take place only upon reaching Eretz Yisrael. The reason for the connection between the Land and resurrection is related to the reason that those buried outside the Land will have the suffering of rolling through subterranean passages. Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land, which possesses the highest spiritual level of any land on our planet, as Rabbi Yehuda haLevi writes in Kuzari: “בני יעקב היו כולם סגולה, כולם יחד ראויים לענין האלוקי, ולכן היה להם המקום ההוא, המיוחד בהתגלות העניין האלוקי, לנחלה” (“The sons of Yaakov all have a unique quality, all are worthy of the Divine context; therefore the Land which is uniquely suited to Divine revelation was given to them as their portion”). Am Yisrael (The Nation of Israel), which in its entirety, possesses a unique spiritual quality, is worthy of the Torah, which is “the Divine context.” Eretz Yisrael, as well as the nation, is possessed of a unique spiritual quality. Only in such a place can the awe-filled miracle of resurrection take place.
Burial Within the Land is Considered Holding Onto He
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook adds another dimension to the importance of burial within Eretz Yisrael, pointing out that burial within the Land is considered as physically holding onto it. Since one’s physical remains are buried in the holy soil of the Land, they are connected to the Land, and thus, the Israelite is connected to the Land even in his death.
Beyond this, burial within Eretz Yisrael indicates the departed’s connection to the collective Israel (klal Yisrael). This is so because there is deep spiritual connection between the Land and Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), to the point that they are a single entity. This concept is elucidated by Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak Kook, who writes:
“ארץ ישראל איננה דבר חיצוני, קניין חיצוני לאומה, רק בתור אמצעי למטרה של ההתאגדות הכללית והחזקת קיומה החומרי או אפילו הרוחני. ארץ ישראל היא חטיבה עצמותית קשורה בקשר חיים עם האומה…”
“Eretz Yisrael is not something external, an external acquisition of the nation; it is not merely a means of accomplishing the goal of uniting the nation and facilitating and strengthening its material existence, nor even of its spiritual existence. Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit which is bound with vital attachment to the nation”.
That is, the Land is not a separate entity which has been added to the nation, but the Land and the Nation are a single entity; their connection is that of different limbs of the same body to each other.
This can be seen in times of exile, periods during which Am Yisrael was not in its Land and the Land remained desolate. No nation was able to revive the Land as the Nation of Israel has done in recent times, the generation of the redemption. Throughout Israel’s almost two millennia exile from its Land, no state prospered within the Land or achieved the potency which the State of Israel has today. The State of Israel is recognized throughout the world as being potent in all realms: militarily, economically, scientifically and agriculturally. Only once the Am Yisrael returned to its Land, arriving from all corners of the earth, has a strong and well-developed state arisen here.
Since one is eternally bound to the land in which he is buried, one buried in the Land is eternally connected to the collective Israel, as the Land and nation are intertwined. Burial within the Land demonstrates that the departed one eternally connects himself to Eretz Yisrael, on a physical and on a spiritual level. This is the deep significance of Yaakov’s desire to be buried in Eretz Yisrael; connecting his body to the soil of the Holy Land.
Ibn Ezra [Bereishit 23:19] comments that the detail the Torah devotes to describing the purchase of the Machpela Cave by Abraham as the burial place for his wife Sarah, teaches the virtue of the Land for the living and the dead. We noted two central points concerning the virtue of the Land for the dead. The first is that burial within the Land has a spiritual influence. At the time of resurrection of the dead, which will take place exclusively in the Land, one buried in Israel will avoid the spiritual suffering of those buried abroad. The second point is that burial within the Land connects the departed to the Land and to the nation with an eternal bond.