Upon his deathbed, Joseph revealed visions he’d had, in which the future of Israel was made known to him. He closed with these words: “I know that the Egyptians will oppress you after my death, but God will lead you to the land of promise. You must remember to carry my bones with you, for if my remains are taken to Canaan, the Eternal will be with you. . .” (Midrash Rabbah)
This week’s Torah portion, Va-y’chi, closes the book of Genesis. It concludes with the death of Joseph, and the midrash above elaborates on that scene. Joseph has always been a visionary, with the God-given ability to foresee future events. Now, as he prepares to die, he shares his last prophecy. He recognizes that difficult times lie ahead—and notes that they will end with the promise of redemption. He also insists that when that moment of liberation arrives, the Israelites should take his bones with them as they journey toward the promised land.
This message seems especially timely. This is a challenging season for our nation. Many of us see dark days on the horizon. It is worth remembering, though, that the light will, ultimately, return—if we keep faith and work for justice and compassion. Now, more than ever, we are called upon to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Our calling is to preserve the best of our country’s historical legacy, and to carry it forward through the struggles, just as our ancestors kept faith with Joseph, taking his bones out of Egypt and into Canaan.
The poet Theodore Roethke wrote: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” So may it be for us. May we partake of our forefather Joseph’s vision, looking toward redemption even—especially—in the most trying of times.