The book of Genesis ends with a profound paradox. Joseph, despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, ascended to become the second in command to Pharaoh. His wisdom and foresight enabled Egypt to weather seven years of famine, attracting even his own family to the land of Nile. The offspring of Abraham, once firmly rooted in Canaan, now find themselves in Egypt, marking the beginning of a prophecy God made during the covenant of the parts predicting 400 years of foreign servitude (Genesis 15:13).
Yet even in the twilight of his life, the land of Canaan echoed in Joseph’s heart. Echoing the wish of his father Jacob (Genesis 48:21), Joseph also made a deathbed request to his brothers to ensure that his final resting place would be in Canaan. Genesis 50:24-25 captures the essence of Joseph’s sentiments, the firm belief in God’s promise of redemption and his unwavering attachment to the land of Israel. These wishes were dutifully fulfilled when Moses carried Joseph’s bones out of Egypt during the Exodus (Exodus 13:19).
Why this profound attachment to a land that Joseph left at the tender age of seventeen? Joseph’s love for the land of Israel was woven into the fabric of his existence, a flame kindled by the divine promises to his forefathers, of which his father reminded him before his death, and reinforced by his father’s deathbed wish to be buried in the land.
Joseph passed on his love for the land to his descendants, particularly through his son Manasseh. This enduring love for the land manifests through two significant instances recorded in the Bible. First, the daughters of Zelophehad, descendants of Manasseh, demanded their father’s portion of the land after he died without sons, an act of great love and devotion to the land of Israel (Numbers 27:1-11).
Second, when Reuben and Gad wished to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River, Moses included half of the tribe of Manasseh as well. It was a strategic decision. Moses knew the intrinsic love of Manasseh’s descendants for the land would ensure Reuben and Gad’s enduring connection to it (Numbers 32).
In contemporary times, Jewish parents bless their sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh every Friday night, as proscribed in Genesis 48:20. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin explains why these two sons of Joseph were chosen as special role models. They were the first Jews to be born in exile, yet they remained tethered to the land of Israel and Jewish tradition. Ephraim and Menasseh therefore symbolize the survival of the Jewish people and their future return to the land of Israel.
The story of Joseph and his descendants reaffirms the enduring bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Like Joseph, Jews today, no matter where they find themselves, continue to keep the love for their homeland alive in their hearts.
We are blessed to live in times when the longing of generations to return to the land of Israel is not just a dream but a reality. The return of Jews from all corners of the world is an echo of that same yearning that Joseph and his descendants felt.
As Jews and friends of Israel, may we continue to keep the land close to our hearts, and let its stories, promises, and teachings shape our lives. Through the modern miracle of Aliyah, may we too, live the realization of centuries-old dreams.