This week’s Parashah, Parashat VaYechi, begins with Yaakov’s request to be buried in Me’arat HaMachpeilah in Chevron with his forbearers. After Yosef swears to Yaakov that he will fulfill his father’s request, Yaakov explains the circumstances regarding Rachel’s burial. Rashi explains that Yaakov does this in order to explain why he buried Rachel on the road, not even in the nearby town of Beit Lechem. Rashi, citing the Midrash, explains why Rachel had to be buried specifically where she is. After Nevuchadnetzar exiled the Jews to Bavel, Hashem allows Bnei Yisrael to return to our Land because of Rachel’s merit and her beseeching. But why does Yaakov first say all of this now, since he had already convinced Yosef to swear to bury him in Me’arat HaMachpeilah?
Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Yaakov explains himself only after Yosef swore because he knows that Yosef HaTzadik would never have suspected his father Yaakov of any misdeed. If Yaakov had told Yosef of this before Yosef swore, it may have seemed like Yaakov isn’t entirely sure of Yosef’s feelings towards him and thereby tries to convince Yosef with the story of Rachel’s burial. However, as Rav Moshe explains, Yaakov doesn’t do this to justify his actions, but rather to reveal to Yosef his thoughts and the true narrative. By informing Yosef about Rachel’s burial only after he swore, Yaakov clarifies that he does not suspect Yosef of bearing ill will towards him; rather, all that matters is that Yosef knows the truth.
Rav Amnon Bazak offers a different approach to this question, based on Yaakov next statement: his promise to give both Efraim and Menasheh portions among the tribes. Rav Bazak writes that the Torah here shows the importance of burial alongside one’s forefathers. In fact, burial apart from one’s parents is a curse, as the Navi states, “Lo Tavo Nivlatecha El Kever Avotecha,” that an unnamed Navi is cursed not to be buried with his fathers since he transgressed Hashem’s commandment not to eat in Beit-El (Melachim Aleph 13:22).
Rav Bazak explains that in many societies, being buried in the family plot symbolizes the connection between those who died and their heritage. Rachel is not given this courtesy, and to compensate for that, Yaakov promises Yosef that he would receive a double portion in Eretz Yisrael. Through her descendants’ double portion, Rachel’s suffering from being cut off from her familial burial plot, Me’arat HaMachpeilah, and from Eretz Yisrael will be paid back by allowing her to be better remembered and connected to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael. From here on, we see many examples of Rachel’s descendants’ deep connection to Eretz Yisrael, such as the quest of Tzelofchad’s five daughters from Shevet Menasheh to receive their father’s portion to be included in their family’s (and Rachel’s) heritage. We also see the importance of one’s being buried in one’s physical portion in Eretz Yisrael through seeing how certain people’s burials are described. Yehoshua, from Shevet Efraim, is buried “BiGvul Nachalato,” “Within the boundaries of his portion,” (Yehoshua 24: 30), and Gidon of Shevet Menasheh is buried “BeKever Yoash Aviv,” “In the burial plot of Yoash his father” (Shoftim 8: 32). This shows the impact of Rachel’s burial outside of her family plot and how it affected her descendants’ connection to their land.
These Pesukim and Midrashim teach us the importance of burial in Eretz Yisrael as well as Eretz Yisrael’s importance as a whole, which is instilled with even more gravity after Rachel sacrifices her life for it. Just as Rachel’s burial circumstances bestow her family a greater portion of Eretz Yisrael, as if she died for the sake of her children receiving the double portion, we should devote ourselves to improve our stake in Eretz Yisrael.