The First Anti-Semite

Genesis: Vayechi

The First Anti-Semite

“Father,” the boy asked, “why is that coffin made out of metal? I thought they are usually from ceramic or wood?”

“That is perceptive of you my son,” the father answered, as they followed the funeral procession. “This is a special coffin for Joseph, the old Viceroy.”

“Why is his so different then?”

“You shall see soon enough. His burial will be different.”

“And there are so many people here. I have never seen such a large crowd for a funeral before.”

“Yes, it is large indeed. I think Jacob’s funeral, the Viceroy’s father, may have been this big, though his family has grown significantly since then.”

“What family, Father?”

“Why, the Children of Israel. They have multiplied at an astonishing rate.”

“You say it like it is a bad thing.”

“I do not think it is good that strangers should become so powerful. It was worrisome enough when the Viceroy had such strong control of Egypt.”

The procession continued towards the Royal burial grounds.

“And who are those old men carrying the coffin?”

“Those are the Viceroy’s brothers and his two sons.”

“The Royal honor guard seems more armed than usual and with many soldiers.”

“That is very observant of you, my son. That is very good. It is always important to take note of all the details. I suspect those guards may be called upon shortly.”

At the entrance to the Royal burial grounds the brothers wished to enter, however the honor guard directed them towards the river.

The procession stopped for a moment. When the brothers realized the guards had the advantage, they continued towards the river.

“You see, my son. Sometimes just a show of force is sufficient to prevent the use of force, and can spare wasteful violence.”

“Yes, Father. For a moment though, I thought there would be a fight.”

“That was a risk. But the Hebrews are smart. They would not fight over this matter.”

The procession approached the banks of the Nile, with the honor guard closely directing the brothers with the coffin to the shore.

“Where are they going to bury him, Father?”

“In the Nile.”

“In the Nile? That is so strange. I have never heard of such a thing. Why in the river?”

“To make his body less accessible.”

“Less accessible? Less accessible to who? For what?”

“Let us say that it would be less than convenient if his family were to have easy access to his remains.”

“But why? I thought the old Viceroy did great things for Egypt. I learned that he had single-handedly saved the empire from starvation. This does not seem like an honorable burial.”

“Hmmm. They should stop teaching that history. Joseph may have done good things for Egypt in the past, but he was still a Hebrew. Besides, he did those things in his own self-interest as well. He had been a lowly imprisoned slave before the previous Pharaoh elevated him, and invited his entire family to move to Egypt – and to the best land!”

The procession reached the water and the brothers, under the watchful eyes and spears of the honor guard, solemnly lowered the coffin into the river.

Hoards of Hebrews rushed to the shore, to look at the rapidly sinking coffin. They all pointed and looked at each other. They looked at the surrounding trees and road and at the landscape on the other side of the Nile, as if they were trying to memorize the exact location.

“I do not understand, Father,” the boy continued, “the Hebrews have always been loyal, if not outstanding Egyptian citizens. I know that many of the grandchildren of Joseph remain in royal service and they are usually the best administrators and most fearsome soldiers.”

“Nonetheless, my son,” the father explained as he surveyed all the Hebrews at the shore, “they are foreigners. They are not our friends and you would do well to remember that. They have always remained aloof from us Egyptians and our culture. They look down upon our gods and worship and practices. And those Hebrews that do embrace our ways – they are the worst! They try so hard to ingratiate themselves into our circles, but they are nothing but two-faced traitors. I fear them the most!”

“Yes, Father. I understand and hear what you say. There must be a way that we can protect ourselves then from these Hebrews. They are so numerous!”

“We shall have to devise a way. Now with the Viceroy gone it will be easier. But it will take time and patience. The other brothers are no less intelligent than old Joseph was, though perhaps not as sophisticated in the ways of government.”

“As you say, Father.”

“Son, you are old enough to call me by my formal name. You must become accustomed to this.”

“Yes, Pharaoh.”

“Do not forget that these Hebrews are a threat. Perhaps the greatest threat the empire will face. I will set the wheels in motion, but it may very well be you who will have to face them head on.”

“Yes, Pharaoh. I shall not disappoint you.”

* * * * * *


“Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” Genesis 50:26

The Egyptians made a metal coffin, which they lowered into the Nile River so that its waters would be blessed. Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile and called, “Joseph, Joseph, the time of the vow of the Holy One, Blessed is He, that He would redeem you has come; the time for fulfilling the oath that you adjured the Children of Israel has arrived. If you show yourself, fine; if not, we are released from our oath.” Thereupon Joseph’s coffin floated to the surface. Tractate Sotah 13a

They made a coffin weighing 500 talents, which the sorcerers threw into the river. They said to Pharaoh, “Is it your wish that this nation never leave? If they do not find Joseph’s bones, they will never be able to leave.” Devarim Rabbah 11:7

His coffin was placed in a river, where it would not become unclean. Zohar 1:222b

How did Moses know where Joseph was buried? Serah daughter of Asher showed him. Tractate Sotah 13a

Moses took Joseph’s goblet and cut four pieces out of it. On one he drew a lion, on another an ox, on another an eagle, and on another a man. Then he stood at the Nile, threw in the image of the lion, and said, “Joseph, the time has come for Israel to be redeemed”, but the coffin did not rise. He threw in the drawing of the ox and then of the eagle, but it did not rise. Finally he threw in the drawing of the man and said, “Joseph, the time has come.” Joseph’s coffin immediately floated to the top of the water, and Moses took it. Midrash Hagadol, end of Bereshit

Joseph’s sons were not enslaved in Egypt, nor did they “sit on a pot of meat.” Rather, they were shield-bearers and warriors. Shocher Tov 81:7

As long as Joseph was alive, the Children of Israel did not suffer the burden of Egypt (i.e., slavery). After Joseph died, the burden was placed upon them. Shemot Rabbah 1:4

“A new king…who did not know Joseph.” Exodus 1:8. He pretended not to know. Tractate Eiruvin 53a

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