"Shimon ben Azzai said: I found a scroll of genealogy, and it was written, 'So-and-so is a mamzer, [having been born] from [a forbidden union with] a married woman; and it was written, 'the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob is small in quantity, and clean'. And in it was also written, 'Menashe slew Isaiah'" (Yevamot 49b).
Perhaps no greater question has vexed the Jewish people as that of our relationship with the nations of the world. Should it be one of integration? Assimilation? Separation? Acculturation? Ghettoization? Should we embrace or reject the world around us? For much of our history, we did not have the luxury to debate this question; the nations of the world made sure that we were a nation that dwelled apart. Thankfully, Jews today can choose whether we should emphasize our similarities or our differences with the nations in whose midst we dwell.
"G-d wanted to give merit to the Jewish people; therefore, He increased for them Torah and mitzvoth". A Jewish way of life offers so many opportunities for mitzvoth. We accumulate mitzvoth--and hence, merit--for such things as saying good morning to a passerby, conducting a business transaction honestly, showing up in shul to hear shofar, eating a meal on Shabbat, and many other activities that are both easy and enjoyable.
After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Jewish people were finally ready to enter the land of Israel. Their experience in the desert and the raising of a new generation would enable them to confidently enter the land. Yet the desert served not only as physical training ground for the Jewish people, but also as spiritual training for the future, much of which would be lived outside the land of Israel.
"If you really want to do me a kindness... act towards me with truth and kindness and do not bury me in Egypt" (47:29). So begins Yaakov's exhortation to Yosef as he realizes that the end is near. Though Yosef promised to carry out his father's request, Yaakov was not yet satisfied and demanded that Yosef take an oath that he would do as Yaakov asked.
That one has a natural love for one's place of birth is a truism long recognized by our Talmudic sages. Emigration is never an easy prospect, even for those who do so willingly. How much more difficult and traumatic is a forced exile? We are all aware of the great difficulties many Jews fleeing anti-Semitism had in integrating into their new-found countries. How much more difficult and painful is it for those forced to leave at the hands of their brethren?