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Jewish Value

Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Parshat Vayechi quotes Jacob as saying that when he dies, he wishes to be buried "in the grave which I dug"(Genesis 50:5) - a reference to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. This statement is problematic, however, because the gravesite was originally purchased by Abraham, and Jacob had been living in Egypt the past 17 years - so what did Jacob mean "the grave which I dug"?

The Midrash explains that the word "dug" can also mean a "pile." You see, the gravesite was jointly owned by Jacob and his brother Esau. Jacob recognized the eternal value of the Cave of the Patriarchs, and purchased the other half from Esau - in exchange for a pile of money - all the wealth that Jacob had accumulated during his 20 years in the house of Laban.

Yet this raises another question: Why did Jacob have to trade all his money for the gravesite? Wouldn't half the money have been enough to convince Esau to sell?

The answer is that during the 20 years he spent by Laban, Jacob was unable to fulfill two important mitzvot: honoring his parents, and living in the Land of Israel. So by relinquishing all the wealth that he'd accumulated during those 20 years, Jacob was demonstrating that the money was worth nothing to him, compared to the eternal value of a mitzvah.

That's an incredibly high level of Jewish commitment, and it serves as a model for all future generations who strive for loyalty to Jewish ideals. And it's an important question for each of us to ponder: Bottom line - what value do we place on our Judaism?


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