“….And his sons carried him….” Bereishit 50:13.
Rashi notes that Yaakov’s coffin was carried by all but two of his sons, Levi and Yosef, who were replaced by Menasheh and Ephraim instead. “Levi shall not carry it because he (i.e., his tribe) is destined to carry the Aron. Yosef shall not carry it because he is a king.”
Rabbi Alon Anava explains: “Carrying the Aron, however, did not preclude Levi from carrying all coffins, as we find that Moshe, a member of the tribe of Levi, carried Yosef’s coffin when the Jews were leaving Egypt. Evidently, the carrying of these two coffins from Egypt represented two very different ideas, one of which conflicted with Levi’s future as bearer of the Aron while the other did not. For as long as Yaakov lived, his presence in Egypt prevented the enslavement of his family to the Egyptians on any level. Thus, Yaakov’s passing and the transfer of his body from Egypt marked the early beginnings of the Jewish people’s slavery (see Rashi on Beraishis 47:28). Levi and his tribe, however, were never subject to the slave labor (see Rashi, Shemos 5:4). As the commentaries explain, when Pharaoh originally came to recruit the people to “join him” in the work effort, the tribe of Levi didn’t join as they reasoned it wasn’t appropriate to participate in building Pharaoh’s cities when one day they would be the ones to carry the holy Aron. Consequently, when Pharaoh later forced his original workers into slave labor, the tribe of Levi was not affected by that decree (see Baalei Hatosfos, Shemos 1:13). It was therefore unsuitable for Levi, who “transcended” the Egyptian bondage, to take part in carrying Yaakov’s coffin – a stage in the slavery’s development: “Levi shall not carry it because he is destined to carry the Aron.” Carrying the coffin of Yosef, on the other hand, marked the redemption from Egypt, as Yosef had assured the Jews that “G-d will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you (Shemos 13:19).” It follows that the most suitable to carry Yosef’s coffin – a symbol of the Redemption – was Moshe, the head of the tribe of Levi, and the Redeemer of the Jewish people.’
When Joseph went up with his brothers to bury Jacob, “they came to the threshing floor of Atad (= bramble)” (Gen. 50:10). According to Rashi, “It was surrounded by brambles. All the kings of Canaan and princes of Ishmael came to war, but when they saw the crown of Joseph hung on Jacob’s ARON (= Ark), they all stood and hung their crowns and surrounded him with crowns from the threshing-floor which was surrounded by a fence of brambles. The kings and Canaan and princes of Ishmael were confounded by the ARON, the holy ark of Jacob, crowned with the crown of Joseph.
Rabbi Yehoshua Greenbaum comments: “According to tradition, this took place on during Chanukah-time. Jacob’s HISTALKUS (ascent) was on 15th Tishri, the first night of Succos. The Egyptians wept for him seventy days, upon which Joseph and his brothers went up to Israel to bury him. The seventieth day after 15th of Tishri is 25th Kislev, the first day of Chanukah. The initial letters of the four Hebrew words in the verse “and the dweller of the land of the Canaanite saw” are the permutation of the name of HaShem that holds sway in the month of Kislev (see Kavanos of Rosh Chodesh Musaf prayers). There is an integral conceptual connection between Jacob’s funeral procession and Chanukah, which is the time of the inauguration of the Temple. Jacob’s twelve sons, the holy House of Israel, under the leadership of Joseph the Tzaddik, were taking Jacob — the archetypal House-Builder — to his final, eternal house and home in the Cave of Machpelah, the resting place of Adam and Eve as well as the patriarchs and matriarchs. The funeral procession was a “rehearsal” for the formation in which the twelve tribes would would bring the Ark of the Covenant up from the wilderness and into the Holy Land. This is paradigmatic of the building of the Holy Temple, the House of G-d on the spot where Jacob had his dream of the ladder: “This is none other than the House of G-d and this is the Gate of Heaven” (Gen. 28:17). That place is alluded to in the opening word of the Torah, BEREISHIS, the letters of which, when re-arranged, spell out BAYIS ROSH, the House that is Head (=Tefilin shel Rosh). It was to that place that Joseph promised his brothers that they would return from Egypt: “G-d will surely redeem you and bring you up from this land to the Land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob” (Gen. 50:24).”
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim