“Please do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie down with my fathers, take me up from Egypt and bury me in their burial-place” Genesis 47:29-30


On his deathbed in Egypt, Jacob seems preoccupied with where he will be interred. He extracts an oath from Joseph that his body be transported for burial in his ancestors’ shared tomb in Israel and, in a separate interaction with his other sons, Jacob repeats this demand. We hear a genuine distress at the prospect of being buried and eventually left behind in Egypt.

One difference between the two interactions is Jacob’s title. Since his struggle with the angel and subsequent acquisition of the new name “Israel”, we witness frequent shifting between his names. Israel  represents the spiritual aspects of his person — matters connected to his eternal existence and spiritual accomplishments — while Jacob represents the physical parts of his personality. 

In his supplication to Joseph, it is the Israel persona that is manifest. He acknowledges his wariness of the seductions of Egypt; a threat to the family’s monotheistic beliefs that Jacob — who lived as a foreigner with the idolator Laban for so many years — could recognise. Where there is an existential question of nationhood, Israel represents the entire people and he wants a separation for eternity from the influence of Egypt.

Later, as Jacob, his demand of the rest of his progeny is that of a physical, terrestrial concern. “Bury me with my fathers … in the cave which is in the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre in the land of Canaan… the field that Abraham bought from Ephron” (Genesis 49:29-30). So specific in his direction, Jacob practically provides a geotag. 

This preoccupation with location is one of great import; “the land of which I speak” is a land that belongs to us. The title deeds are recorded; this land, too, is your inheritance. 

As reflected in his names, Jacob had a dual dimension to his personality and this translated into dual concerns for his legacy, both spiritual and physical. Joseph, tasked with the fulfilment of the spiritual dimension, is subtly warned of assimilation that is to come. 

Meanwhile, the brothers tasked with the physical dimension were to concern themselves with settling the land. Only through the combination of both these missions — codenamed “Israel” and “Jacob” — would the legacy of our nation be fulfilled.

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