I know, I have to get back to palginan diburei, but I have a cold and don’t have energy for it. P’ VaYechi opens with Ya’akov asking Yosef to bury him in Eretz Yisrael. The parsha continues, “Vayehhi achar hadevarim ha-eilah”, after some time Ya’akov became ill and called Yosef to bless him and his sons, granting Ephraim and Menashe the status of shevatim. In the middle of presenting these brachos, Ya’akov seems to switch topics and speaks of having buried Rachel on the road to Beit Lechem instead of M’earat haMachpeila. Why does Ya'akov need to revisit Rachel's death here? The classical meforshim (Rashi, Ramban) read these words as Ya’akov defensively justifying his request to be buried in Me’arat haMachpeila despite the fact that he failed to do the same for Rachel. But if that was Ya’akov’s intent, shouldn’t this have been part of his conversation earlier in the parsha, when he discusses burial plans, and not here, in the middle of the blessings of Ephraim and Menashe (Ohr haChaim)?
Our parsha is the threshold between freedom and galus for Klal Yisrael, bringing to fruition the prophecy of “yado’a teida ki ger y’hiyeh zaracha” given to Avraham because he questioned G-d's promise of Eretz Yisrael. Was this question really a lack of emunah? R’ Shaul Yisraeli z”l suggests (see article on VaYechi) that Avraham’s question did not stem from lack of emunah, but aderaba, it stemmed from his heightened sense of emunah. Avraham did not understand why a Jew needed a country – could we not be citizens of the world, finding G-d in all places, teaching about G-d in all places? The message that G-d had to imbue in Avraham and his decendents is that Judaism is our national identity, not a religious movement of individuals. Creating this Jewish nation could only be done in our own country and homeland.
With this idea we can perhaps better explain the Ramban’s theory (see post here) that the Avos only kept mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael. In Eretz Yisrael there was no room for the type of personal cheshbonos that would allow for marrying two sisters if this was necessary for avodas Hashem; these calculations make sense only if G-d’s relationship is forged on the individual level. Eretz Yisrael is where G-d’s relationship is forged with Am Yisrael as a nation, and the same law had to apply across the board for all people.
Ramban (P’ Acharei Mos) goes so far as to write that the reason Rachel died on the road to Eretz Yisrael is because the Land would not tolerate Ya’akov living within it in violation of the issur of marrying two sisters.
I suggested over Shabbos that this Ramban is the key to reading Ya’akov’s revisiting Rachel’s death in the context of the brachos to Yosef. Ya’akov sensed the danger of the blessing which would turn Menashe and Ephraim into new shevatim as being taken as a sign that Mitzrayim could be a new homeland where the building of Klal Yisrael as a nation could continue. He therefore reminded Yosef of the death of Rachel. Rachel's death occurred davka because in Eretz Yisrael and only in Eretz Yisrael we relate to Torah as a national blueprint, not simply as individuals with private cheshbonos. Even if Torah could be learned in Mitzrayim, even if shevatim could be created in Mitzrayim, the mission of Klal Yisrael remained unfulfilled until we returned to our homeland.