The Story of One Man’s Battle for Biblical Joseph

October 25, 2018

5 min read

Nachi Weiss has written a book about how he has been risking his life night after night to visit the Tomb of Joseph, the Biblical character he has adopted as his personal role model. Weiss does this in the belief that Joseph, more than any other Biblical character, is the key to bringing the Messiah.

Weiss was raised in an ultra-Orthodox home in Jerusalem and from a very young age, he made a special study of Joseph as a role model for what he wanted to become in life.

“He is powerfully male, active in finance, but straightforward in all of his dealings an immune to distractions and temptation,” Weiss said. “He lived in the house of the king so he was active politically. Against all odds, he retained his self-identity while being able to relate to those unlike him. These are traits I wanted for myself but, I see that Joseph is a role model to fix so many of the problems facing society today.”

At the young age of 14, Weiss acted on this religious attachment and decided to visit Joseph’s Tomb with a large group of Breslov Hasidim (men from the Breslov sect of Hasidism). This was no small feat. In the wake of the start of the Second Intifada in 2000, the IDF prohibited Jewish visitation. The IDF pulled out from Shechem (Nablus) after a confrontation with Palestinians at the tomb left one Druze soldier dead. No Jew had set foot in Joseph’s Tomb for two years and the building had been burned down. In 2002, Weiss joined 300 Jewish men who traveled to the site at night. The IDF caught and arrested all-but 14 of the group. Weiss was among the fortunate few who managed to evade capture and paid their respects to Joseph.

Nachi Weiss. (Credit: Nachi Weiss)

The action of those men that night forced the Israeli government’s hand and Jewish visitation was reinstated. Periodically and on special occasions, trips were organized under heavy IDF protection.

The experience left such an impression on Weiss that he vowed he would visit as often as he could. Not one to take such avow lightly, Weiss has made the dangerous journey hundreds of times over the past 12 years, visiting the site several times a week. This required avoiding the IDF patrols as well as the Arab residents and the Palestinian police.

“This meant sneaking in at night, figuring out which paths the IDF patrols took, sometimes hiking through fields in total darkness,” Weiss explained. “Several times, we were shot at by the Palestinians, many times pelted with stones, and one time they threw an explosive device at us. But we always kept running and always made it to Joseph.”

“It’s what we refer to in Breslov Hasidut as hitoruta d’latata (awakening from below),” Weiss explained, citing a biblical source.

Turn back to me — says the lord of Hosts — and I will turn back to you Zechariah 1:3

“If we return to Joseph, then God will answer us with the Messiah from the House of Joseph,” Weiss said. After the first group came, the government, the army, and the rabbis decided to change the policy and allow Jews to come to Joseph.”

Breslov Hasidut was founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772–1810), a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. Weiss explained that this branch of Hasidut has three core tenets: Hitboddedut, Tikkun Ha’Brit, and a deep attachment to tzaddikim (righteous men, living and dead). Hitboddedut is a form of meditation, usually performed outdoors in a secluded an natural spot. Tikkun Ha’Brit refers to sexual purity, a trait emphasized in Breslov Hasidism.

“That was personified in Joseph,” Weiss explained. “He chose to go to prison rather than sin with Potiphar’s wife. Sexual purity is the key to bringing the Messiah from the House of Joseph.”

Weiss is referring to the first part of the Jewish concept of a two-stage Messiah; a physical return to the Land of Israel, the building of the Third Temple, and the return of the Davidic Dynasty.

“Joseph was the ruler of Egypt. The non-Jews, the other nations are supposed to take part in this Messiah, the Messiah of Joseph, help the Jews in return for Joseph helping them,” Weiss said.

“It is important to visit Kever Yosef (Joseph’s tomb) at least once,” Weiss insisted. He noted that Joseph had insisted the Hebrews bring his bones up from Egypt to be buried in Israel.

At length, Yosef said to his brothers, “I am about to die. Hashem will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.” So Yosef made the sons of Yisrael swear, saying, “When Hashem has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” Genesis 50:24-25

“He didn’t make this demand for himself,” Weiss said. ‘He could have asked to be buried right away in Israel, just like Jacob was. But there is no geula (redemption) without Joseph, so he insisted that they bring out his bones when they left Egypt to return to Israel. The power that will bring geula will come from Joseph.”

Other Jews with a deep connection to Joseph were not so lucky. In 2011, a group of Breslov Hasidim were in Shechem on their way to Joseph’s tomb when a Palestinian policeman opened fire on their car, wounding four and killing Ben Yosef Livnat, a 24-year-old father of four. Livnat had been circumcised at Joseph’s Tomb, where his father, Noam Livnat, had studied at the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva.

Weiss’s visits to the site are politically controversial, even inflammatory, but his motives are religious. As such, he and others like him are tolerated by some Palestinians. While still in his teens, he was on his way to the site with a group of Jews were understandably nervous when they were met on the outskirts of Nablus by the Mukhtar (spiritual leader).

“Listen well, young men,” the Muslim cleric said to them. “We know that you come here every night. We are not blind or stupid. Do you want to know why we don’t stop you? If I gave the order, you would never be able to come near Nablus without being killed. When we see you, we know that you are religious, the type of religious that believes in God, coming without weapons, not for provocation or to snatch our land away. You come to pray. I cannot tell my people to ignore it, but I will not tell them to stop you.”

“If there is ever going to be real peace between the Jews and the Arabs, it will come from Joseph, the King of Egypt,” Weiss explained. “But it will be spiritual, prayer-based, and not political.”

Weiss continues to visit the Tomb of his biblical role model. He emphasized that despite the organized trips to the site, there is still much to be done.

“Kever Yosef  is an important site and as such, should be entirely open to visitors, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim,” Weiss said.

As a young man, Weiss enjoyed writing in his journal and photography, eventually working in journalism and in the Prime Minister’s office. These hobbies became part of his attachment to the Tomb of Joseph. He took countless photographss of his trips, journaling about the impact they had on his relationship with God. These remarkable ventures into hostile territory became the basis of a book Weiss is about to publish.

The 450 page book will be large format with the many photos Weiss has accumulated over the years he has visited the site. Weiss is running a headstart, selling pre-orders of the book.

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