In viewing Breishit 50:10 it says that the group came to Goren Ha'atad and they made a seven-day mourning period for their father there.

Only afterwards, does it state that they buried Jacob in the Cave of Machpela.

Currently, the 7 day period of mourning follows the burial. Was Jacob an exception or was the practice different then compared to what current halacha is? Why was the mourning before burial? Would that have been considered the equivalent of our shiva period, or was that something else that we no longer do?

  • 2
    I don't see any clear proof from the verses what the order was. After discussing the great mourning period, it goes back and summarizes the whole venture.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 23:06
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/52797/759 as understanding the geography can possibly help understand the timeline
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


There are a people who suggest that Yosef and his brothers were accompanied by a large group of Egyptions. These Egyptians were the "official delegation" who were accompanying Yosef. Reading the description, we see that this is more like a military operation and as such would not be allowed to actually enter another country. Yosef and his brothers on the other hand continued on to Chevron to put Yaakov in Mearas hamachpelah. As a result, they stopped at the place where the Egyptians broke off and mourned Yaakov there before the continuation.

Professor Yoel Elitzur cites his father, Professor Yehuda Elitzur, in Parashat Vayechi: Goren Ha-atad with a similar answer, but states that the Egyptian military delegation had another purpose.

We read here that the delegation of mourners for Jacob consisted of chariots and horsemen, “a very large troop.” The scope of this journey seems to more closely resemble that of a military operation than that of a mourners’ procession. If we analyze the verses carefully, we will see that the delegation was actually comprised of two separate groups. One group consisted of Jacob’s family: “Joseph’s household, his brothers and his father’s household.” The second group consisted of “the officials of Pharaoh, the senior members of his court and all of Egypt’s dignitaries,” and with them, chariots and horsemen – a very large troop. In other words, it is a small group of Israelites traveling alongside a large Egyptian delegation. A close reading of the verses demonstrates that, following the mourning ceremony in Goren Ha-atad, Jacob’s sons alone proceeded on to bury their father: “His sons did for him as he had instructed them. His sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, the field near Mamre, which Abraham had bought” (50:12-13).

What perhaps seemed like a joint procession of Egyptians and Israelites was actually two separate delegations traveling alongside each other for the first leg of the journey. The Torah lingers on the actions of Jacob’s sons, as well as on the large portion of the journey that was dedicated to mourning for Jacob. However, it seems very likely that the Egyptian delegation that set out to bury Jacob actually had an ulterior motive for its journey. While they certainly had great respect for Jacob – they “bewailed him seventy days” (50:3) and embalmed him as they would their most respected figures – the journey seems to have had a different purpose as well.

According to Egyptian sources, Egypt ruled over the land of Canaan during that period. To maintain their hold on the land, the Egyptians would set up garrisons in various locations. The most important of these garrisons were located in Beit She’an and Gaza, and each year the soldiers manning these garrisons would be replaced with fresh troops. Apparently, this yearly changing of the guard would be accompanied by a large military delegation.

Professor Elitzur thus concludes:

To summarize, our parasha describes a large-scale Egyptian military expedition, a yearly operation that involved numerous chariots and horsemen. The purpose of this expedition was to replace the troops manning the Egyptian garrisons throughout Canaan with fresh soldiers from Egypt.

Before each group of soldiers went off to their respective garrisons, the delegation stopped at a central location – Goren Ha-atad – for seven days, to mourn the loss of Jacob, the father of the second-in-command of Egypt. After this ceremony, the Egyptian troops all traveled to their designated garrisons, and Jacob’s twelve sons departed for Hebron to bury their father.

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