Friday, January 13, 2017

Jacob's Burial and the Crown of Thorns

In Parashat Va’ye’chi we read about Jacob’s departure from his earthly sojourn and his amazing burial. Not only was he embalmed, Egyptian style, he was also mourned for 40 days, after which his hearse went with great pomp and ceremony to the land of Canaan, accompanied by a large entourage which included “all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the leaders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers… and there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great encampment” (Genesis 50:7,8,9).  Next “…they came to the threshing floor of Atad which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. …” (v. 10).  Interestingly “atad”, which is rendered as a proper name here, actually means “bramble”, being a type of thorn.

The midrash in the Babylonian Talmud has some interesting things to say about this episode. Here is just an excerpt: “Joseph's crown lay on top of the hearse. Behind them followed members of the royal family of Pharaoh, princes and nobles and common people, in a procession that seemed to have no end. On the border of Canaan, 31 Canaanite kings were waiting to pay homage to the patriarch [as well as Ishmaelites, according to more of the midrash]. Seeing Joseph's crown on the hearse, they placed theirs, too, alongside. A memorial service was held in which great tribute was paid to Jacob.”

Rabbi Fohrman from Aleph Beta ( adds that, these Canaanite kings were there to originally strike the massive party that was carrying Jacob’s coffin. But when they saw Joseph’s crown laid on the hearse, they all proceeded to lay down theirs. So let’s ask: what was it about Joseph’s crown that brought about such a drastic change in the attitude of these warring individuals who were prepared to attack the entourage? These Canaanites and Ishmaelites were the descendants of two unwanted and rejected ancestors, namely Canaan in Ham’s family and Ishmael in Abraham’s. So, again, what was it about Joseph’s crown that caused these ones to lay down their own and give up their belligerent attitude? The rabbi explains that, they knew that Joseph, like them, was rejected and abandoned by his family. And because Joseph, although oppressed and afflicted, did not open his mouth (see Is. 53:7, not that R. Fohrman quotes this...), he was able to fully identify with the outcasts in a powerful and effective way, and thus disarm them by his very presence and action. In Revelation 4:10 - 5:1 we read about the twenty-four elders who fell “down before Him who sits on the throne and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:  ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.’" 

What’s more, rabbi Fhorman informs us that the crowns around the coffin formed an arrangement which looked like thorns. Here we recall the name of the place of the burial, which was the Threshing Floor of Atad, with the latter, as mentioned above, being a bramble, a thorn. King Yeshua was coronated with a crown of thorns as He was being mocked and oppressed but, “He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

So, whether the account in the Babylonian Talmud is true or just a conjecture, its interpretation by a contemporary rabbi (namely, rabbi Fohrman) certainly reveals a timeless truth that casts light upon the One who “was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3), who by identifying fully with Man’s suffering was and is able to disarm all warring entities, causing them to humble themselves before Him. Philippians 2:10-11, quoting in a modified fashion from Isaiah 45:2 declares:  “… that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,  and every tongue should confess that Messiah Yeshuah is Lord, to the glory of Elohim the Father,” even some day all of Joseph’s brothers, as well as the Canaanites and Ishmaelites.

1 comment:

  1. Everything that has come across my desk this morning has been the same thread...... learning how to walk in submission to the Holy One IS our purpose here on earth. When we learn how to do that - walking truly in HIS footsteps - we will attain that rest and peace we seek so desperately. Seek Him first - and all things will fall into place!