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Walking with Joseph’s Bones

At last the plagues have persuaded Pharaoh to let the children of Israel leave Egypt. And as they go, Moses takes with him the bones of Joseph, thus fulfilling the promise Joseph had made the children of Israel swear—to carry Joseph’s bones from Mitzraim when they left. (Gen. 50:25) It took a long time—400 years—to fulfill that promise. One has to wonder: What took so long?

It is fair to say that if the children of Israel had not left Egypt after years of slavery, and if there had not been harsh treatment there, and if before that there had not been a period in which the children of Israel had been treated well in Egypt, and if they had not been starving in Canaan, then not only would there be no Passover story, there would today not be a Jewish people. Or perhaps there would be a Jewish people of some sort, but they would be nothing like who we are. History, our stories, our lives have complex ways of unfolding.

In the case of the Jewish people, each link is so improbable that our existence thousands of years later is astonishing. There were so many other routes that seemed more probable. For example, when Joseph died, why didn’t the children of Israel leave Egypt and go home to Canaan? Or why didn’t they leave earlier? Why didn’t they just wait a couple years till the plague ended and go home? What made them stay in Egypt, which then led, hundreds of years later, to exodus and wandering and the story of who we are?

Perhaps Joseph could not leave because of the ties he had developed. And perhaps his family felt they could not abandon Joseph again and return home. Or maybe Joseph and his brothers had such a nice life in Egypt they didn’t want to leave. And because Joseph lived such a very long life, by the time he died—and even though he expressed a strong attachment with his homeland—perhaps none of his family had the will to go to a place they had never lived or could barely recall.

And had they left, who is to say that life would have been better in Canaan? They could have been free people in their own land living out their destiny in the promised land. Or perhaps not. They could just as easily have been conquered in war or assimilated by foreign cultures and disappeared from history.

Maybe they and we needed those hardships and the remembrance of hardship to become a people. Maybe we needed them to have the daring to go into the unknown. Maybe we need to be molded by a voyage through the wilderness to withstand the later conquests and exiles and schisms and still exist 2500 years later in some form.

But this story is not only the Jewish people’s story, it is our own personal stories.

Though we are born with many possibilities, our lives can only thread through them once.

Some of us live out our lives happy to stay in one place. Some stay put and suffer in one place rather than risk the unknown. Some wander from place to place but remain untouched by the experiences. Some move and build new lives and become new people.

And each of us, as we move through our lives, occasionally stops to ask: What have I done? Where am I going? What is the point of my life? There are many paths open to us, if we are willing to see them. All may be worthy in their own way. But the thing that makes them worthy is whether we walk them in living purposeful lives. In order to live a purposeful life, we must constantly ask for the insight to know what we can do to live the best lives we can and to have the courage to act on that knowledge. We need constant questioning as to the paths we walk.

Consider Joseph. He was not just the pawn of fate. He sought answers, and he acted on them to elevate his life and the lives of those around him. On his deathbed, when he asked that his body be taken with the children of Egypt on their journeys, his presence could be a reminder of the need to live a purposeful life.

And when the children of Israel left Egypt, Moses signaled his willingness to live a purposeful life by taking the body of Joseph on the last stage of his journey. And in each of our lives—and in who we are, he is journeying with us.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah

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