Hope in a Box
By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Volume 3 Issue 12
"And Yoseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years
and they put him in a coffin in Egypt." (Genesis 50:26) Thus
ends the Book of Genesis. With those words the entire congregation
rises in unison and shouts, "Chazak! Chazak! V'nischazek!"
Be strong! Be strong! And may we all be strengthened!
It is troubling. First, Sefer Bereishis (Genesis) ends in
a state of limbo. Yoseph is not even buried; he lies dormant in
a box through the entire ensuing exile. He asks his children
to remember him and eventually bury his bones with them upon their
exodus. Why does he not seek immediate burial in Canaan like his
Second, the entire juxtaposition seems inappropriate. After we
end Sefer Bereishis and declare that "Yoseph was put
in a box in Egypt," we all shout almost as in a cheer, "Be
Strong and be strengthened." Are those somber words a proper
lead-in to the shouts of Chazak?
Would it not have been more fitting to end the book of Genesis
with the passing of Jacob, his burial in Israel, and the reconciliation
of Yoseph and his brothers? That would have been a morally uplifting
ending and would have left the congregation with a sense of closure.
Yet, it seems that there is a definitive purpose in ending Genesis
with Yoseph's state of limbo. What is it?
Alexander the Great (356-322 B.C.E.), king of Macedonia, and
ruler of most of the civilized world, died at a young age. Before
he embarked on his conquest of Asia, he inquired into the welfare
and stability of his loyal followers, lest their dependents fall
destitute during the long battle. After assessing their needs
he disbursed nearly all his royal resources amongst hs faithful..
His friend General Perdiccas was surprised.
"What have you reserved for yourself?" he asked the
"Hope," answered the king. "There is always
"In that case," replied his followers, "we who
share in your labor shall share in your hope."
With that they refused the wealth that Alexander allotted them.
Perhaps there is great meaning behind the Torah's abrupt conclusion
leaving a congregation to ponder as they hear the words "and
he was put in a box in Egypt" juxtaposed with shouts of rejuvenation.
Yoseph's quest was to leave this world with more than memories.
He wanted to declare to his survivors that he, too, would not
find his final rest during their tenure of suffering. Yoseph,
the first of the sons of Yaakov to die in a foreign land, understood
that with his passing, the long exile would slowly emerge. The
children of Jacob would slowly and painfully transform from saviors
to visitors, and then from visitors to strangers. Finally they
would be considered by their hosts as intruders worthy of enslavement.
But Yoseph also knew that one day the exile would end and that
his people would once again be free. By remaining in a box, Yoseph
concurrently declared his message of hope and solidarity to the
multitudes that simultaneously awaited his final burial and their
redemption. Silently, in an unburied box, he waited with them
as the echoes of his pact rang in their memories. "When
G-d will indeed remember you, then you must bring my bones up
It is a message for all generations. It is a message for all
times. When we see the bones of Yoseph, unburied and in a box
-- "we must not see a box of bones -- see the hope that lies
therein. " We see the hope and faith that the patriarch
declared to his children. "Do not bury me now, as you surely
will be remembered one day. My hope is your hope."
And as the congregation finishes the Bereishis on that unfinished
note, they stand up and shout in unison, "Chazak! Chazak!
V'nischazek!" Be strong! Be strong! May we all be strengthened!"
For one day we will all be free.
Good Shabbos ©1996 Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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