A Tale of Two Coffins – Parashat Vayechi

December 28, 2017 at 1:13 AM , , ,

“….And his sons carried him….” – Bereishit 50:13

״….וישאו אותו בניו…״ – בראשית נ,יג

Rashi notes that Yaakov’s coffin was carried by all but two of his sons, Levi and Yosef, who were replaced by Menasheh and Ephraim instead. “Levi shall not carry it because he (i.e., his tribe) is destined to carry the Aron. Yosef shall not carry it because he is a king.”

Carrying the Aron, however, did not preclude Levi from carrying all coffins, as we find that Moshe, a member of the tribe of Levi, carried Yosef’s coffin when the Jews were leaving Egypt. Evidently, the carrying of these two coffins from Egypt represented two very different ideas, one of which conflicted with Levi’s future as bearer of the Aron while the other did not.

Yaakov's coffin
For as long as Yaakov lived, his presence in Egypt prevented the enslavement of his family to the Egyptians on any level. Thus, Yaakov’s passing and the transfer of his body from Egypt marked the early beginnings of the Jewish people’s slavery (see Rashi on Beraishis 47:28).

Levi and his tribe, however, were never subject to the slave labor (see Rashi, Shemos 5:4). As the commentaries explain, when Pharaoh originally came to recruit the people to “join him” in the work effort, the tribe of Levi didn’t join as they reasoned it wasn’t appropriate to participate in building Pharaoh’s cities when one day they would be the ones to carry the holy Aron. Consequently, when Pharaoh later forced his original workers into slave labor, the tribe of Levi was not affected by that decree (see Baalei Hatosfos, Shemos 1:13). It was therefore unsuitable for Levi, who “transcended” the Egyptian bondage, to take part in carrying Yaakov’s coffin – a stage in the slavery’s development: “Levi shall not carry it because he is destined to carry the Aron.”

Carrying the coffin of Yosef, on the other hand, marked the redemption from Egypt, as Yosef had assured the Jews that “G-d will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you (Shemos 13:19).” It follows that the most suitable to carry Yosef’s coffin – a symbol of the Redemption – was Moshe, the head of the tribe of Levi, and the Redeemer of the Jewish people.

 

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—Likkutei Sichos vol. 20, pp. 237-238

 

 

 

 

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