The Beginning of Wisdom p.658

The last chapter of Genesis begins with the burial of Jacob at Machpelah and ends with the mummification of Joseph in Egypt. The contrast between burial and embalming/mummification reveals a crucial difference between Israel and Egypt: the difference between the acceptance and the denial or defiance of death. Embalming the body is an attempt at human control after death. The putative beneficiary of the treatment is the deceased: embalming resists time and change, prevents decay, beautifies the body, and prepares for reanimation and continued life – not to say immortality. Burial accepts that we are “dust to dust.” It manifests a different attitude toward the body and its fragile beauty, toward time and finitude and memory, and toward the source of life and the (im)possibility of apotheosis. Burial, the Israelite way, lies between the extremes of revering the body and worshipping the dead, on the one hand, and condemning the body and ignoring the mortal remains, on the other. The way of Israel is the way of memory, keeping alive not the bodies of the dead but their ever-living legacy in relation to the ever-living God, who in the beginning created heaven and earth and made man alone in His own image, and who later summoned Father Abraham and his descendants to “walk before me and be wholehearted.”

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.658

The Beginning of Wisdom p.444

What, then, does this suggest about eros and piety, about the love of women and the love of God? Love of the beautiful, this story seems to suggest, is at best a detour and a distraction, at worst a form of idolatry. Love of visible beauty is, at bottom, an attempt to make time stand still, to deny one’s own mortality and insufficiency, to attach one’s perishable self to some seemingly perfect and unchanging earthly form. Only if such love is transformed and domesticated by custom and marriage and turned toward its ever-present possibility, the generation of children, can it become, for the children of the book, a help to piety. For it is from the recognition of our own mortality and the resulting desire to give to our children not just life, but a good and righteous way of life, that men and women can open themselves to the ways and attitudes of the Bible. In the parental love of children lies the possibility of the sanctification of life – even in today’s world. Not eros as such, about which the text is at best neutral, but procreation is the biblical way by which the love of man and woman can lead to the love of God.

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.444