By Shalom Olensky
This week in the Torah:
The book of Genesis concludes with Joseph’s last words, reiterating G-d’s promise to eventually take the Jews out of Egypt, following which he is interred in a coffin in Egypt.
Why does the Torah conclude the book of Genesis with a sad subject – the passing of Joseph? What is the connection between beginning the book of Genesis with the story of Creation, and ending with the interment of Joseph in Egypt? What is the connection between that, and the main theme of Genesis which is the life of the Patriarchs?
At the beginning of Genesis, Rashi explains that the reason the Torah opens with the story of Creation is for the Jews to be able to defend their right to the Land of Israel; since G-d created the world, everything is His and hence the Land of Israel has simply been given to them by G-d.
This is the opening theme of the whole Torah because it is a crucial element of the Torah dictating to the Jews their life’s goal. The goal is to elevate and transform the mundane land to holiness; the Land of Israel. This applies to Jews not only in Israel but wherever they may be. The purpose of their presence in a foreign land is to elevate that place too, to holiness.
For this same reason:
The book of Exodus is about the birth of the Jewish nation by means of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Book of Genesis is to record the preparation for that birth. Nevertheless, the book of Exodus starts, not with the Exodus, but with the Egyptian Exile. This is because, as explained above, the very inception of Jews as a nation is strongly connected with Exile; to elevate the mundane by transforming it into an abode for holiness.
The beginning of Genesis – the story of Creation – is to instruct the Jews about the purpose of their lives to elevate the mundane. This is connected with the main theme of Genesis – the story of the life of the Patriarchs – because it is our Patriarchs that bequeath us with the necessary spiritual stamina to accomplish this task of elevating the mundane. This is connected to the conclusion of Genesis – the presence of Jacob and Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, for the Patriarchs had to go through a descent into Exile in order to be able to empower their descendants to elevate Exile. In this vein, Genesis concludes with the interment of Joseph in Egypt, providing a lesson of encouragement to those in Exile, that Joseph too is in exile with them and by his merit they shall transform the Exile into Redemption, with the coming of Moshiach.
(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 30, Vayechi)