In response to a request by Arab states, UNESCO recently passed a resolution declaring holy Jewish places to be sites of Islamic heritage. The significant exception is the burial site of Joseph, which they have chosen to destroy rather than usurp.
The Arab’s treatment of the Jewish holy site should not be attributed to any hatred Islam has towards the Biblical character of Joseph, who is held in high esteem in the Koran. His story is told in great detail in the Muslim holy book. Why would Muslims choose to burn the burial site of one of the major characters in the Koran? The answer lies in the special significance of Joseph’s burial site to the Jewish redemptive process.
Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein explained the special significance of Joseph’s burial site in a recent lecture, noting that it is the only holy site that the Arabs chose to burn. He explains the severity of their actions by saying that the worst type of person, someone God will not forgive, is a person who is ungrateful for something that was done for him.
The rabbi taught that this is learned from the story of Adam. When God confronts Adam for eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam passes off the responsibility onto Eve. The Rabbi quoted Rashi, a medieval French rabbi renowned for his incredibly influential commentary on the Bible, who wrote that by blaming Eve, Adam rejected the good that was done for man when God by created woman. It is specifically for this ingratitude that man was ejected from the Garden of Eden.
Rabbi Wallerstein went on to explain that this is precisely the sin Arabs are guilty of when they try to eradicate the memory of Joseph. In the Bible, it is written that Joseph actually saved all of Egypt by foreseeing the future and storing food to last through the famine. In that sense, the entire Arab world owes the Jews a debt of gratitude.
“Burning down the gravesite of Joseph is an attempt to deny or cancel out that debt. It is the highest level of ingratitude, an unforgivable sin for which they should be thrown out of the land,” Wallerstein said.
Rabbi Wallerstein gives another reason for the Arab desire to wipe out the name of Joseph. He quotes the Zohar, an important Jewish work which states that before the Messiah comes, while he is in heaven, God dresses him in a robe on which every name of every Jew that was ever killed would be written. God tells the Messiah, ‘When you reveal yourself, this is the robe you will be wearing, and every name will be revenged’. The fire that will be used to burn those who killed Jews is Joseph’s fire, as expressed in Amos 5:6: “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel”, and again in Ovadiah 1:18: “Then the house of Jacob will be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau will be as stubble, And they will set them on fire and consume them”.
Rabbi Wallerstein explained the special significance of Joseph’s fire to Breaking Israel News.
“Joseph’s fire that burns them is Moshiach ben Yoseph (the Messiah from the House of Joseph), which is the battle that comes before Moshiach ben David (the Messiah from the House of David). This conflict over Joseph’s Tomb is just one more step before Moshiach. This never happened before,” he explained.
According to Rabbi Wallerstein, the Arabs, who are responsible for many of the names on that robe, are trying to extinguish the fire before it appears in its full glory to burn them. They are attacking fire with fire, which is why burning it once simply was not enough.
When asked what was at stake in this battle, Rabbi Wallerstein was very clear. “In kabbalah, Joseph is yesod, the foundation. He is the foundation of all creation, just like Adam. That is what’s at stake at Joseph’s Tomb.”