Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, January 14 - 15 Parshat BeShalach 

Torah Reading: Beshalach (Exodus 13:17 - 17:16)
Candle Lighting  4:33 PM
Shabbat ends 5:38 PM

Shabbat Shirah 

Joseph’s Bottom Line

The newly formed Jewish nation has just left Egypt and become a free people. In describing their journey out of Egypt, the Torah mentions what seems to be a detail of secondary importance.

“Moses took Joseph’s bones with him, because he had made his brothers swear saying, ‘G‑d will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.’”

Why is this detail of Joseph’s remains highlighted here?

The Midrash enlightens us by applying the verse in Proverbs, “A wise heart takes Mitzvot” to Moses, who occupied himself personally with transporting Joseph’s bones.

Commentators are baffled by the application of the term “wise” in relation to Moses’ involvement with the Mitzvah of transporting Joseph’s bones. What wisdom did that display? If anything it was a sign of his piety, his devotion to Mitzvot, and his concern for the dignity of Joseph. In what way was it a testimony to his wisdom?

To better understand the significance of Moses' carrying Joseph’s bones in the context of the Exodus, we should focus our attention on the Hebrew word for bones-Atzamot. The same word, according to the Kabbalistic work Megaleh Amukot¸ also conveys a very different translation, which is “core” or “essence.” Hence, the phrase “Atzmot Yoseph” which is usually translated as, “Joseph’s bones” can actually be rendered, “Joseph’s essence.” What Moses did was not just transport Joseph’s bodily remains but, in addition, he was actually carrying Joseph’s essence.

What is Joseph’s essence?

If we had to describe Joseph we could say many things about him based on all the Torah’s narratives with the light shed on them from our Oral Tradition as it is preserved in the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar. Joseph was a precocious child, brilliant scholar, favorite of his father, hated by his brothers, industrious, good-looking (inside and out), a slave, manager of his master’s household, resistor of temptation, manager of the prison’s affairs, all of these arising from his inner moral strength and courage, compassion, prescience, regal bearing, a leader forgiving and nurturing.

But what is Joseph’s essence?

The Rebbe addresses this question (in his voluminous work Likkutei Sichot, volume 26) and refers to Joseph’s name as his essence, because it is our Hebrew name that is the very source of our existence. The Torah tells us that G‑d created the world with Divine speech. The forces of creation are thus the Hebrew letters. Each letter represents a Divine energy which possesses creative powers. The Hebrew name therefore represents the very life force of the person with that name.

What does the name "Joseph" mean?

The Torah explains that when Rachel bore Joseph—her first child after many years of childlessness—she named him Joseph saying, “May G‑d add [Yosef] another son for me.”

In other words, Joseph represents the desire to increase the family's children. His life is about growing the Jewish people.

But there is more to it than just increasing the number of Jews quantitatively. The text does not just say, “May G‑d add a son.” It inserts the word “another”—“another son.” The Tzemach Tzedek (the third leader of Chabad) derives from this additional word that Joseph’s name—and therefore his essence—relates to Joseph’s ideal as one who takes “another,” i.e., a person who is an outcast, outside the pale of the Jewish people, and transforms him into a son, an insider.

Joseph’s essence, the Rebbe concludes, is a qualitative increase. Not only do we try to increase our numbers; the greatest increase is when we take a Jew who appears lost to us and bring him back into the fold, into the domain of holiness.

So when Moses prepares the Jews for a long sojourn through the desert—as mentioned in the preceding verse: “G‑d led the people on a circuitous route through the desert… " he needed to arm himself with Joseph’s essential trait, his ability to transform the most threatening situations and daunting challenges into a “son.”

The Rebbe proceeds to apply the Jewish people’s journey through the desert after the Exodus to our own experience in exile. The desert is a foreboding and hostile place and a fitting metaphor for exile. We need to take Joseph’s essence with us and bring every Jew back into the fold by bringing the light and warmth of the Mitzvot to every Jew no matter how far he or she may have strayed.

The Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of sainted memory, the sixth leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, whose passing in 1950 occurred on the Tenth day of Shevat, which we will observe this Shabbat) was—as his successor, the Rebbe, stresses—an heir to the Joseph tradition in our own time. He pioneered the movement of reaching out to every Jew by reaching into his or her inner core and revealing that the “outsider” and stranger status of the Jew is only that: on the outside. What lies within is a warm and receptive Jewish heart and soul—a son.

With the Rebbe’s premise we can now also understand why the Midrash refers to Moses’ carrying Joseph’s bones from Egypt as a form of wisdom, not just an act of piety.

The definition of "Wisdom" according to the Talmud is one who can see now what the future will bring: “Who is a Chacham? One who sees the future.”

Moses, knowing that ultimately the Jewish people will be going through a long and arduous exile—symbolized by their journey through the desert —prepared them for the journey by taking Joseph’s essence with him. No matter how far and how long the exile, no matter how far a Jew may stray, Moses and all the Jewish leaders of each and every generation, personify the Joseph trait of caring for those lost souls and bringing them back into the fold, so that no Jew will be left behind when Moshiach takes us out of exile. 

There is another dimension of Joseph’s essence that is reflected in yet another translation of Joseph’s name. And as we shall see, even the essential trait of Joseph to transform the outsider into an insider is but his modus operandi. The second interconnected translation of his name relates to Joseph’s goal and ultimate objective.

Where do we find a hint to this second aspect of Joseph?

We find it in the very last words Joseph uttered to his brothers before his passing at the end of the Book of Genesis. The Talmud teaches us that everything follows the end or seal of a text—its “bottom line.” Here too, as we shall see, Joseph’s parting words, with which the entire Book of Genesis concludes—its seal—capture Joseph’s essence:

“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am going to die. G‑d will surely remember you and take you out of this land, to the land He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’”

The Torah then continues:

“Joseph made the children of Israel swear, saying, ‘G‑d will surely remember you, and you should take my bones [read: essence] out of here.”

Joseph’s last will and testament was about his people's liberation from exile and the removal of his bones from Egypt. Joseph did not speak to them about their next two centuries in Egypt. He did not advise them on his death bed about any of the things which related to his role as a Viceroy of Egypt. Joseph’s obsession was the getting out of Egypt—Geulah-Redemption! That was Joseph’s essence!

It is true that in order to reach this goal one must go through the desert of exile and confront the hostile conditions, withstand them, and transform the “other” into the “son.” However, we must not forget that that this is but the role of the Jew still on his or her way to the final Redemption.

When we were years, decades, centuries away from the Redemption we had to focus on the journey itself, and, to some extent, of necessity required to put the goal on a “back burner.” But now that we are so close to the final Redemption we have to look at the other translation of Joseph’s name. Indeed, the Rebbe often refers to this meaning of Joseph’s name  when discussing his illustrious father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, whose name was also Joseph:

The prophet Isaiah (11:11) states: “And on that day, G‑d will again [yosif], a second time, extend His hand to recover the remnant of His people…” Here too, the prophet uses Joseph’s name in conjunction with the future Redemption. Indeed, the Midrash on the beginning of Exodus links this verse with Joseph’s name.

In other words, Joseph’s name describes both his methodology and the goal of his efforts. His goal is to bring us to the time when we will all be liberated from all that is undesirable in exile, and the methodology is through lovingly reaching even those of our children who have become alienated.

This adds yet another layer of meaning to the characterization of Moses’ carrying Joseph’s bones as “wisdom.” Wisdom, as noted above, refers to the ability to see into the future. Moses does not only see Joseph’s bones (read: essence) as a means to help cope with the challenges of exile; he even sees beyond this and recognizes the second definition of Joseph’s essence—the goal of bringing the ultimate and final Redemption.

Yud Shevat, the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe, and also the ascension to leadership of the Rebbe, is the appropriate time to articulate and integrate the twin, interwoven Joseph essences. We must not lose sight of the goal and recognize that we are standing on the very threshold of “another” Redemption—one that will be unlike all the preceding ones in its magnitude and finality. Simultaneously, we must employ Joseph’s essence, i.e., the methodology of reaching into ourselves, our families, and every Jew to find the “son” even where the facade says it is an “other”, a stranger.

And just as we accept every Jew no matter how far he or she may have strayed because they are our children, we ask G‑d to look at us the same way and take us out of the state of “otherness” and exile-induced alienation and bring us to the state of Redemption when we will experience the embrace of the Divine.

Moshiach Matters  

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