Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beshalach
To dedicate this lesson

Yosef Returns Home


Various Rabbis

"Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, because Yosef had emphatically made the
Sons of Israel swear: ‘Hashem will certainly redeem you, and you shall take up my bones with you from here’" (Shemot 13:19). There are several questions one can ask about this pasuk. Why did Moshe, specifically, have to take Yosef’s remains? Why does it mention that he took specifically Yosef’s bones, as (assuming the other brothers were also buried in Egypt- Rashi), the brothers’ should have been taken as well? Why does it stress that he took the bones because Yosef made them swear, if a request should have been enough?
It is very possible that one question answers the other. The Netziv assumes that the other brothers were exhumed and taken with them, but that was done by each tribe for its forebear. Only Yosef was taken by Moshe himself. The Seforno explains that since Bnei Yisrael had sworn to Yosef, it was the present leader, Moshe, who had to ensure that the national obligation via oath was fulfilled.
Rav Hirsch suggests that Yosef is singled out because he was a model of belief that Hashem would redeem His nation as promised, as opposed to many in Bnei Yisrael who later on doubted that Hashem would bring victory to the nation. One can argue with the rigorousness of the comparison’s logic. Yosef said only that at some point, redemption would take place. He did not say how long it would take or how many martyrs would be lost before it happened. Bnei Yisrael, on the other hand, were nervous that they might be killed in battle for the Land, whereas the promise might be kept later.
In any case, it is not clear why Yosef needed to make the family/nation swear. Was it so important to him that the nation’s leader would take him out, and not his great grandchildren? It is possible that Yosef was concerned how he would be viewed in Jewish history. He was the one who orchestrated the move to Egypt. In the beginning, it looked like a move that really paid off, as they went from famine to riches and fame. However, by the time of his death, the transition to helplessness and even slavery could be seen by the likes of Yosef. So, the dream of leading his brothers, for their benefit, was turning into a national disaster. The uncle who spent his entire adult life in Egypt had taken them from their homeland to his homeland for the benefit of his dream and their nightmare.
Yosef told the young generation that the stay in Egypt was temporary and part of a process of geula that had to come. This was the reason he had brought them down to Egypt. In fact, he was not only sure of their eventual liberation and return to their homeland but wanted to be (posthumously) at the helm, as they left Egypt in shambles. He would be buried where, to a great extent, it all began, in Shechem (see Chizkuni). Indeed, Jewish leaders do not purposely want to remain buried in exile in order to glorify the past stay in that exile. Those stays, despite the occasional golden eras, repeatedly begin and/or end with oppression and heartbreak.
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