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.