Beshalach-Yoseph

In the beginning of our parsha (Beshalach), there are two consecutive verses that seem to have no connection with one another. One (Ex. 13:18) says, “And G-d led them around through the desert to the Reed Sea, as the children of Israel ascended armed from Egypt.” The next verse (Ex. 13:19) reads, “And Moshe took the bones of Yoseph with him, since [Yoseph had made his offspring swear] that they will take his bones with when they leave Egypt.”

To shed light upon the matter, it will be helpful to first understand why the Torah refers to the remains of Yoseph as “Yoseph’s bones.” At first glance, “bones” is not a polite way to refer to the remains of a tzaddik, especially one so great as Yoseph, who showed the Jews how to live prosperously and serve G-d even while outside the land of Israel. But in truth, atzamut may mean not only “bones,” but also “essence.”  The “essence” and strength of a person is in his bones, and it was the essence and power of Yoseph that accompanied the Jews on their way out of Egypt and most importantly, through the desert.

When we look into where his name comes from, we see that Rachel called her son “Yoseph,” because “G-d gave me another, additional son.” Yoseph was an additional son. But if that were the entire meaning of Rachel’s words, she could simply have said, “G-d gave me another son.” The fact that she used the word “additional” means that G-d gave her another son who was different and unexpected. That is, he was different, and he also became her son. And that is the lesson of Yoseph’s bones – they were brought along with the Jewish people in order to give them the power to transform a Jew who happens to be ‘different’ into a Jew who is a ‘son.’ There are Jews who are different – who don’t act at all like Jews – and our task is to make them into ‘sons,’ who keep Torah and mitzvoth as a Jew was meant to do.

The exodus from Egypt gave the Jewish people the power to transform one who is Jewish, but “outside of the fold,” into one who is and acts like part of the Jewish people. The exodus served as preparation, because the whole world could see that the Jews were the “children of G-d,” about whom G-d said to the Egyptians, “Send my children out.” And since they, as the children of G-d, also took pains to take out Yoseph together with them, it meant that they took upon themselves his power as well – the power to transform a Jew from “other” into a “son.”

If the Jews had entered the land of Israel immediately, they would not have had the same need for the power of Yoseph. Their very entrance to Israel would have constituted the final redemption, and it would have been clear that all Jews serve G-d as sons. However, as a result of their transgressions, G-d took the Jews to Israel through the desert, where they wandered for forty years. The desert is not a hospitable place. It’s dry and thirsty, full of snakes and scorpions (spiritual tests), and lacking water (Torah). And if that is its physical nature, so it is spiritually as well – a place that presents dangers and tests, which means that a Jew can (G-d forbid) fall from his or her spiritual level. Something was needed to recover and integrate the Jews that succumbed to temptation in the desert, or for whatever reason, found themselves outside of the clouds of glory that accompanied and protected the Jews on their journey. Being outside the clouds meant existing separate and unprotected, without the shield and structure of Torah. However, it was the presence of Yoseph – the essence (bones) of Yoseph – that imparted the power to bring the wayward Jews back into the camp and transform them from being acher (“different”) to being a son. With the remains of Yoseph accompanying them, the Jews had the power to recover their lost and wayward sons and bring the back under the protective clouds of the Shechina, or G-d’s presence.

And that provides us with the connection between the two verses mentioned above. First (13:18), G-d took the Jews around the desert in a roundabout way, indirectly to Israel. Then, the next verse (13:19) reports that the Jews traveled with the remains – the “essence” of Yoseph. The connection is that since they were to travel in the desert – an inhospitable place – they needed the presence of Yoseph, to pick up the Jews who fell by the wayside and transform them from acher (“different” or “other”) into “son” – one of the family.

And that provides us with the lesson of our parsha – Beshalach. There are those who would rather stay within the confines of the protective clouds of glory – learning Torah and praying and doing mitzvoth. They prefer not to have to deal with those who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have fallen by the wayside and have no connection with a Jewish lifestyle. One of the lessons of our Torah portion is that just as the Jews under Yehoshua left the protective power of the clouds and fought on behalf of the Jewish people, so everyone who is already connected has the power of Yoseph on his side, and not only can, but must get involved with other Jews who are acher – outside the framework of Judaism – and transform them into sons and daughters, within the confines and lifestyle of Torah and Judaism.

For a longer more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 26, pp. 85-94

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