Yosef’s Bones

There’s something in this week’s parsha that struck me as odd.  Something I had taken for granted for years, and for some reason only now, stood out.

We are told early in B’Shalach that Moshe took Yosef’s bones with him when B”Y left Egypt.  Why?

כִּי הַשְׁבֵּעַ הִשְׁבִּיעַ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד אֱלֹהִים אֶתְכֶם, וְהַעֲלִיתֶם אֶת-עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה אִתְּכֶם.

for [Joseph] had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying: ‘God will surely remember you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.

The more I got to thinking about this, the more things about this whole story struck me as odd.

First, when Yosef was alive, B”Y weren’t in any plight.  It’s only after Yosef and his entire generation die off that the Jews become enslaved.  So why would Yosef even consider the idea that they would need to be “remembered” or “redeemed.”  From Yosef’s perspective, things are fine.  Remember, he thinks he’s been sent to Egypt to prepare things and make sure that his family has a place to go.  Even if he sees the arrangement as temporary, there’s no way he can concieve of the scope of the hardship that they endured, the length of the subjugation and the necessity for a miraculous intervention by God to take the people out.  There’s no reason for Yosef to think anything other than “when we want to go back, we’ll leave” and there’s no reason for him to think that it will be this massive camp of 600,000 people leaving in mass exodus.

Second, the Torah generally refers to “Bnei Yisrael” to refer to the nation.  But when Yosef is alive, he’s one of 70, or if there were some more kids born, 100 or 150 max.  That’s not a nation, it’s a big family.  A clan.  Who is he making this pact with?  Who is he making swear?  Did they have a leader?  Wouldn’t it naturally have been him?  Maybe one of his brothers after his father dies?  So why not say Yosef made his brothers (or Yehuda or Reuven, the only two other viable options for leader) swear.  Why use the national term, when there was no nation?

Third, what about the rest of the brothers?  Why is Yosef the only one mentioned as wanting his bones brought out of Egypt with them when they leave (assuming the first two questions have satisfactory answers).  I suppose it’s possible that the other brothers were allowed to be buried in E”Y when they died, and this was only as issue for Yosef being the Vice-Roy, who Egypt would insist be buried there.  But at some point, when there was enough people dying, burials started in Egypt.  Why aren’t those bones considered worthy of being brought out of Egypt as well?

Finally, why is Moshe doing this?  And how is Moshe doing this?  Presumably, Yosef is preserved and enterred somewhere.  I don’t have trouble with it being common knowledge where this is.  But how does Moshe just go there and swipe the bones?  That seems odd to me.  And, back to the first question of this section, why Moshe?  Moshe’s been very busy this entire time, leading and whatnot, and he’s gotta make a detour to go get some bones from some royal mauseleum (possibly a pyramid)?  He can’t send anyone else, maybe someone from Yosef’s lineage?  This seems like the kind of thing that would fall to, if anyone, the elders of the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, not to Moshe personally.  Even if we assume that the Israelite clan that came to Egypt had some sort of mechanism for transmission of long-term vows, and that it was passed down from generation, that “hey, if this ever gets really bad, and we need to leave, we have to take Yosef with us” would that be something passed to the elders?  Sure.  But Moshe isn’t in an “elder” role at any point, and wouldn’t be privy to this mesorah (unless it was pervasive, that every single child learned it, which seems implausible to me) and wouldn’t be tasked with it, especially having grown up in the house of Pharaoh.  Did someone say to Moshe, once he takes the Supreme Leadership of the Children of Israel (a role that was created for him, btw, not one he assumed from someone else), “oh, hey, now you’ve gotta get Yosef’s bones!”??  Seems doubtful to me.  Before Moshe, there is no centralized leadership, no one person who would be tasked with taking Yosef’s bones if they left at any point.  Not to mention that they never considered the possibility of leaving.  So who did Moshe inherit this “job” from?  Why Moshe?

Yeah, so I don’t really have any answers to this quandry, but I would love to hear from some people in the comments if anyone does.

Have a nice Shabbos Shira.  Try to think of me when you’re listening to layning tomorrow.

Advertisements

9 responses to “Yosef’s Bones

  1. The Midrash covers this.

  2. Oh man, tell me you know the answers to these questions. I was sort of hoping that you were leading up to some cool dvar Torah, you know where you ask seemingly disparate questions and weave it all together.
    Anyway, if you don’t, its too much for me to type.
    G

  3. Personal thoughts:

    So why would Yosef even consider the idea that they would need to be “remembered” or “redeemed.” From Yosef’s perspective, things are fineThere’s no reason for Yosef to think anything other than “when we want to go back, we’ll leave”
    –Why assume that he did not know about the Bris ben HaBisarim? He was the closest to Yaakov of all the sons, it is not such a stretch to think that this fact had been passed on to him. So he new that a long era of slavery was coming and that a massive redemption was to happen one day.

    Who is he making this pact with? Who is he making swear? Why use the national term, when there was no nation?
    –His brothers (Yosef died first) the sons of Yisroel or the “bnei Yisroel”. It is only a national term now, when there is a nation. The wording is quoted as it was said then, before nation status had come into play.

    Third, what about the rest of the brothers? Why is Yosef the only one mentioned as wanting his bones brought out of Egypt with them when they leave (assuming the first two questions have satisfactory answers. Why aren’t those bones considered worthy of being brought out of Egypt as well?
    –Firstly, they were – the bones of all 12 shevatim were brought out.
    –As I noted above Yosef died first and established this as the way things should be and the brothers followed suit.
    –Or only Yosef had to worry about it being a problem for his bones to be taken out as he was an important Egyptian figure and people might protest. Nobody was really gonna care if someone walked off with the bones of Dan, but Yosef? or – he knew his burial sight would be of major importance and it might not be so easy to get at his bones (as opposed to simply digging up a body of a “regular” person”) this ended up being correct as he was laid to rest in the Nile and it was not so simple to get him back.

    Finally, why is Moshe doing this? And how is Moshe doing this? Presumably, Yosef is preserved and enterred somewhere. I don’t have trouble with it being common knowledge where this is. But how does Moshe just go there and swipe the bones? That seems odd to me.
    –Why Moshe? Because nobody else thought to do it or they were busy doing other things related to leaving Egypt. Why is it odd that Moshe, of all people, can get away with it?

    And, back to the first question of this section, why Moshe
    –Specifically because HE WAS MOSHE is why he did it. Instead of worrying about other matters he made it his business to fulfill a shevua taken by all the brothers, including Levi.

    Thoughts…

  4. I can accept, as an answer to my first part, that Yosef was aware of the Brit Bein HaB’Tarim and therefore expected a protracted stay in Egypt.

    I can also accept that Joseph was the one who was asked my Yakov to bury Yakov in E”Y, so this may have been on his mind.

    BUT, please source the following:

    1. Firstly, they were – the bones of all 12 shevatim were brought out.

    2. he was laid to rest in the Nile and it was not so simple to get him back

    Also, this The wording is quoted as it was said then, before nation status had come into play. doesn’t fit with the wording. He says “take my bones out with you” “itchem” indicating a collective national responsibility (especially if we assume that he was imposing a vow on a generation 400 years in the future), not referring to his brothers. Though Yosef’s brothers are referred to as B’Nei Yisrael elsewhere in the narrative, not in the context of being addressed by Yosef, so I don’t accept that answer.

    Finally, regarding Moshe, he never grew up in a jewish house. How does he come to know this mesorah and this responsibility? It’s not from growing up in the house of paraoh. And once he became the leader, was this really on someone’s mind to tell him about? Didn’t you just say nobody else thought to do it or they were busy doing other things related to leaving Egypt. which makes a lot of sense?

    Finally, it strikes me as odd that the Torah specifies that Moshe did this. I don’t believe that Moshe, even if he was responsible for it, did the physical lifting. So why not say, in a way that will match the grammatical construction, that B”Y took the bones because B”Y swore. It looks odd that Moshe took the bones because B”Y swore. The opposition of the singular/collective doesn’t match to my eye and looks weird.

  5. Thoughts. My own hypotheses, not mesorah.

    Maybe the Israelites had a tradition, maybe they didn’t; but Moshe, growing up in the house of Pharaoh would have had access to archives. While you are assuming a masorah, it seems that something that got as much attention from Egypt as Yosef’s death would have material in an Archive. Moshe may have been the only one who knew.

    He says “take my bones out with you” “itchem” indicating a collective national responsibility.

    Non-sequitur. Itchem can refer to any number greater than 1. So it can refer to Joseph’s brothers in his generation.

    It looks odd that Moshe took the bones because B”Y swore.

    You could say this of any individual. Let’s just say Moshe was acting as Shaliach Tzibbur, then.

  6. I don’t think Moshe’s the only one who knows where Yosef is interred. It’s probably a well-known and public place, and certainly the B”Y were aware of it.

    Non-sequitur. Itchem can refer to any number greater than 1. So it can refer to Joseph’s brothers in his generation.

    Why is Yosef making his brothers swear? They are all dying as well, what good does that do him? That makes little sense to me. The plural form of “itchem” doesn’t sit well with what we’re being told is going on. Why does he use the third person? If he intends this to be a lasting oath speaking in the future, then who is speaking to? If he intends this to be a current oath to the group he can see, but understands that he it won’t take effect until everyone leaves, he should say “itanu.” Why does he remove himself from the klal?

    You could say this of any individual. Let’s just say Moshe was acting as Shaliach Tzibbur, then

    Yes, I could say it about any individual. My question was why is the act performed in the singular but the oath applied in the plural. It should say “and B”Y took Yosef’s bones with them, because Yosef had etc.” Why does the Torah single out Moshe for having performed this?

  7. Finally, regarding Moshe, he never grew up in a jewish house. How does he come to know this mesorah and this responsibility? It’s not from growing up in the house of paraoh. And once he became the leader, was this really on someone’s mind to tell him about? Didn’t you just say nobody else thought to do it or they were busy doing other things related to leaving Egypt. which makes a lot of sense?

    How did he know he was jewish? How did he know the Hebrews language? How did he know he was a Levi? How did he know that Aaron was his brother?

    Most probably all of this was relayed by his mother during the time that she was employed as his caretaker and the rest was filled in by Aaron at some point.

  8. G, your questions are better than your answer. The torah doesn’t tell us that his mother was his “caretaker” she was his maineket i.e. wet nurse. I don’t know enough about ancient egyptian culture to know if she remained his “nanny” after he was weaned, but there’s no indication in the torah that she participated in his rearing.

  9. G, your questions are better than your answer.

    Story of my life:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s