'When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh [and swear] that you will do me a genuine act of kindness: Please do not bury me in Egypt.' (Gen. 47:29) Joseph personified the ideal of elevating lower reality…

Jacob knew that Joseph would want to bury him in Egypt so that his merit could protect his descendents there. On a deeper level, Joseph knew that having Jacob buried in Egypt would enhance the ability of his merit to help the Jewish people fulfill their purpose for being there - to bring divine consciousness into lower reality. G‑d had told Jacob (46:4): "I will descend with you to Egypt" (Gen.46:4), so as long as Jacob remained in Egypt, even after his death, G‑d's presence would be manifest there. Since Joseph personified the ideal of elevating lower reality, he saw burying Jacob in Egypt as a way to help the Jewish people to fulfill this ideal in the best way possible.

Jacob, however, personified the ideal of being above unrectified reality. This is why, even in Egypt, he settled in Goshen, a separate district that was removed from Egypt proper and its decadent society. He did not want to be buried in Egypt, for he realized that in order for the Jewish people to eventually leave Egypt, they had to maintain some connection to the higher reality, which they could hold on to and lift themselves out of their lower context. As the sages said: "A prisoner cannot free himself from his prison", meaning that someone on the outside has to do it. By being buried in the Holy Land, Jacob would serve as a reminder to his descendants that they were rooted in something higher than Egypt and did not really belong there. We do not belong in our present state of exile…

Since he realized that this perspective was antithetical to Joseph's, he made him swear that he would not bury him in Egypt. Jacob was rooted in the world of Atzilut proper, and thus was too sublime to descend into the impurity of the lower worlds, represented by Egypt. Joseph, in contrast, though also rooted in Atzilut, embodied the ability of Atzilut to descend and elevate the consciousness of the lower worlds.

The lesson for us here is that no matter how good our life may be, both materially and spiritually, we must always remember that we do not belong in our present state of exile. We must stay true to our Divine calling, to hasten the coming of the Mashiach and usher in the final Redemption.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 25, pp. 270-274
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org