Bezalel Naor

Father Jacob: A Godly Being?

There is something extremely puzzling in this week’s Torah portion. Father Jacob commands his son Joseph not to bury him in Egypt but rather together with his fathers (in the Cave of Machpelah). Commenting on the words “Do not bury me in Egypt” (Genesis 47:29), Rashi writes: “So that the Egyptians don’t make me into an idolatry” (Genesis Rabbah). One wonders why the Egyptians would be so inclined to idolatrize Jacob. After all, Jacob (unlike his son Joseph) was not a ruler of Egypt. Usually, only kings of Egypt would be deified after their death.

Earlier, Rashi provided a non-literal interpretation of the Rabbis to the verse in Genesis 33:20: “He erected there an altar and called it El, God of Israel.” Although as Rashi points out, the simple explanation of the verse is that Jacob gave the altar the name “El, God of Israel,” the Rabbis turned it around to mean that the God of Israel called Jacob “El” (TB, Megillah 18a).
Perhaps it was for this reason that Jacob feared being idolatrized, because there truly was something especially godly about him, to the point that God had bestowed upon him the appellation “El”!

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