Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bones of Joseph and the Exodus

In the description of the Exodus of Benay Yisrael from Egypt, the Torah takes a detour to describe Moshe's involvement in the bones of Yosef.

שמות פרק יג
יט וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת עַצְמוֹת יוֹסֵף עִמּוֹ כִּי הַשְׁבֵּעַ הִשְׁבִּיעַ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֱלֹהִים אֶתְכֶם וְהַעֲלִיתֶם אֶת עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה אִתְּכֶם:

The Gemara in Sota says that this was a tremendous merit for Moshe:

ת"ר: בא וראה כמה חביבות מצות על משה רבינו, שכל ישראל כולן נתעסקו בביזה והוא נתעסק במצות, שנאמר: +משלי י+ חכם לב יקח מצות וגו'. .

While the rest of Benay Yisrael was collecting gold and silver from the Egyptians, Moshe was keeping a promise made to our father Yosef Hatzaddik many centuries ago.
The Rav points out that this was at great risk to the entire plan of Benay Yisrael since they had told Pharaoh that they were only leaving for a 3 day journey into the desert. Even the collection of gold and silver from the Egyptians was done under the premise that they were "borrowing" the precious metals to use in their three day celebration and then they would return it. Rabbi Soloveitchik asks why did Moshe Rabbenu himself have to be involved in Yosef's bones and why he risk his whole plan by taking Yosef's bones which is clearly a statement that they were planning a permanent Exodus from Egypt?
The Medrash Tanhuma begins to answer this question explaining that it was because of Yosef's bones that the Yam Suf split as we read in Hallel הים ראה וינוס, the sea saw and fled. What did the sea see that caused it to flee and split? She saw the bones of Yosef Hatzadik who also fled from the wife of Potiphar who was trying to seduce him as it says וינס ויצא החוצה.
This Medrash is based on another Gemara in Sota:

בראשית לט: ותתפשהו בבגדו לאמר וגו' - באותה שעה באתה דיוקנו של אביו ונראתה לו בחלון, אמר לו: יוסף, עתידין אחיך שיכתבו על אבני אפוד ואתה ביניהם, רצונך שימחה שמך מביניהם?

What led Yosef, a teenage boy living alone in a strange land to such an act of heroism against the constant advances of this beautiful woman? He saw the image of his father in the window. What was his father saying? In the future, the stones of the tribes will be inscribed on the Kohen Gadol's breast plate. Do you want to be counted with the tribes?
Yosef Hatzaddik in the moment of his greatest trial used two images to triumph over his Yetzer Hara, his father representing his glorious past and traditions, and the stones on the breast plate, representing his hopes and aspirations of an even greater future as a part of Kelal Yisrael. How could he sacrifice his role in this great chain of Jewish history for the pleasures of a fleeting moment?
This was the reason why Moshe Rabbenu risked all to take the bones of Yosef with him when he left Mitzrayim. He knew that at the Yam Suf, the angels will turn to Hashem and ask הללו עובדי עבודה זרה, והללו עובדי עבודה זרה? Why save the Jews and drown the Egytians? These worship idols and these worship idols. And Hashem will see the bones of Yosef and split the sea. Yosef used the images of the past and future to conquer the desires of the present. It was the merit of Yosef who brought us into Egypt and it was also his merit that brought us out on dry land through the waters of the raging sea.
Throughout the travels of Benay Yisrael in the desert 2 Arons led the way, the Ark of the Covenant and the ark of the bones of Yosef and it was in both of these merits that Benay Yisrael was victorious in all of its battles as the Yalkut Shimoni says:

שהיה ארונו של יוסף מהלך עם ארון חי העולם והיו או"ה א"ל מה טיבן של שני ארונות הללו והן אומרים זה ארונו של מת וזה ארונו של חי העולמים והיו אומרים להן אומות העולם מה טיבו של מת מהלך עם ארון חי עולמים, והן אומרים המונח בארון זה קיים מה שכתוב בזה,

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