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The Bones of Joseph

Parshat Beshallach

Exodus 13:17-17:16

Our Torah portion contains one of the most well-known moments in the Bible.  This week the Children of Israel walk between walls of water on dry land to escape Egypt and Pharaoh’s army.  Cinematic images of Charlton Heston as Moses are burned into our global psyches!


Moses raises his staff high as God commanded and the waters parted only to come crashing down on the chariots of Pharaoh as they chased the escaping Israelites.  Pharaoh regretted letting the slave class leave and were trying to bring them back to slavery in Egypt. But they met their watery end.


We all know that in this episode the Children of Israel celebrated their new found freedom in song and dance that their deliverance had been granted.  Miriam led the women and children in a victory celebration singing the poem, Shirat Hayam that is attributed to Moses.  It is then the real journey in the wilderness towards Mt. Sinai begins.  Their dramatic escape was just the first round.  But the real march toward the Revelation at Mt. Sinai will begin in this week’s Torah portion.

On this journey however, Moses remembers to bring with them the bones of their ancestor Joseph.  Joseph who brought his brothers and father to Egypt to escape famine more than 400 years earlier will not remain in Egypt.  Though he became an Egyptian vizier he never forgot that he was a Hebrew.  And Moses though he too was raised in the Egyptian royal palace as an Egyptian prince, knew as well that he was a Hebrew.


Verse 13:19 states: Moses took Joseph’s bones with him, for he [Joseph] had adjured the sons of Israel, saying, God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.


This ancient promise was not forgotten.  And our ancestor was not forgotten but rather, Joseph accompanies the Israelites!


Which of your ancestors are with you on your journey?  Whose memory continues to inspire you each day?


Our custom of reciting Kaddish for our loved ones on their yarzeit is one of the ways we honor our family and friends whose memories are precious to us and who still accompany us on our journey.  The mitzvah of reciting the Kaddish prayer during a worship service  observing the yarzeit is how we can be like Moses and “carry the bones” with us to our own Promised Land.


All too often today many do not even make the effort to say the special and life affirming words of the Kaddish.  The challenge I take away from this week’s Torah portion is to reaffirm our commitment to honoring our ancestors who guided us, shaped us and still accompany us.


I invite you to honor them and come say Kaddish for them by making the extra effort.  The blessing of memory will uplift you and all of us.