Friday, January 14, 2011

Parshat Bshalach – The Bones of Yosef

This Shabbat I was asked to give a short Dvar Torah between Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv. Here’s a sneak preview of some of the ideas I plan to use….

Shmot 13:19 tells us:

ויקח משה את עצמות יוסף עמו כי השבע השביע את בני ישראל לאמר פקד יפקד אלקים אתכם והעליתם את עצמתי מזה אתכם

Moses took Joseph's remains with him. Joseph had bound the Israelites by an oath: 'God will grant you special providence, and you must then bring my remains out of here with you.'

Why did Moshe, in the middle of the action and excitement surrounding the Exodus, need to stop to take Yosef’s bones, and why does the Passuk only talk about Yosef? Chazal tell us that the remains of all the brothers were brought out from Egypt, why is only Yosef mentioned specifically? What is unique to Yosef that makes him an essential part of the Exodus?

Ibin Ezra gives us a brief history lesson, that it was because of Yosef that they went down to Egypt, and Yosef swore his decedents that they would take his remains with them, an oath which was passed down through the generations until Moshe was able to fulfil the commitment to previous generations.

I think that part of the message that Ibin Ezra is trying to convey is that as we move forward in life it is important to remember who we are and where we come from.

As Bnei Yisrael started this next chapter in their history, it was important that they not abandon the past, rather they carried the past with them in a very physical way.

But what were the attributes of Yosef that we needed to take with us as we left Egypt and entered the Desert?

Firstly we refer to Yosef as “יוסף הצדיק” Yosef The Tzadik. Tradition identifies Yosef with righteousness. The Kli Yakar says that there were 2 Aaronot that we carried with us through the dessert, the Ark of the Covenant (Aaron Habrit) and Yosef’s coffin, and these 2 aronot were equivalent – one carried the Physical Ten Commandments, the other carried Yosef who was a personification of the Ten Commandments. It was that image of complete righteousness that we took with is as an example into the Wilderness.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe “ויקח משה”) takes this idea one step further, Yosef represented not only righteousness, but also, in spite of his important position in Egyptian society, remained humble. Moshe realized that if he was going to serve as a leader of the people, he would have to learn this humility from Yosef, which is why Moshe personally took responsibility for carrying Yosef’s bones, instead of delegating the task to someone else.

The Slonimer Rebbe (Rabbi Shalom Noach Barzovsky (1911-2000) in his Netivot Shalom (פרשת בשלח, ויקח משה) says that Yosef not only represents Righteousness, but also Holiness (Based on the Zohar). Moshe realized that the reason that we were leaving Egypt was not only to escape slavery, but to build a Holy nation, and in fact building a Holy nation is a major theme of the rest of the Torah. Moshe wanted to bring this image of Holiness, represented by Yosef with them as an example to emulate as they built a nation.

Finally, the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his Sichot (Volume 26, Page 85) had a different understanding of the essence of Yosef. The “bones” (עצמות) of Yosef represent hiss “Essence” (עצמיותו). What is the Essence of Yosef? We learn it from when he was named (Berashit 30:24)

וַתִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר יֹסֵף ה’ לִי בֵּן אַחֵר.

She named the child Joseph (Yoseph), saying, 'May G-d grant another (yoseph) son to me (“ben acher”).'

The Passuk says that his mother (Rachel) prayed for “Another Son” (בן אחר). In Jewish Tradition “אחר” (Another) has come to represent someone who is removed or far from Jewish tradition – The Tanna Elisha ben Abuya was referred to as “Acher” after he adopted heretical beliefs and removed himself from Klal Yisrael.

The Rebbe points out that Yosef’s name refers to “Ben Acher”, that even though someone can be far removed from the Jewish People, he should still be regarded as “Ben”, a son of our people.

Before the Jewish people could leave Egypt, Moshe had to find the essence of Yosef – the “Ben Acher”, who is removed from the Jewish people, but is still our brother and son.

It is only once we find that person and include him in our journey that the Bnei Yisrael were able to leave Egypt.

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