Did you ever find yourself in an exciting space and lose your footing? You meet your favorite professional athlete or actor, and you simply go numb and forget all the things you would have wanted to ask them. Or at a family simcha celebration, you are so caught up in the festivities that you forget to greet out of town guests, or your lines for the toast you were going to make. It happens all the time; but it didn’t happen to Moses by the Exodus. In Exodus 13:19 at the height and frenzy of the Exodus, as the Israelites gathered their belongings as well as Egyptian treasures, Moses levelheadedly chose to go elsewhere:
וַיִּקַּ֥ח מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־עַצְמ֥וֹת יוֹסֵ֖ף עִמּ֑וֹ כִּי֩ הַשְׁבֵּ֨עַ הִשְׁבִּ֜יעַ אֶת־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר פָּקֹ֨ד יִפְקֹ֤ד אֱלֹים֙ אֶתְכֶ֔ם וְהַעֲלִיתֶ֧ם אֶת־עַצְמֹתַ֛י מִזֶּ֖ה אִתְּכֶֽם׃
And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had exacted an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will be sure to take notice of you: then you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”
Even though Joseph exacted an oath from the entire people of Israel, it was Moses who maintained the clarity and collected the bones of Joseph from the Nile so he could be buried in Israel upon arrival there.
How did Moses keep his composure when everyone else was running in different directions scrambling for riches?
The Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz (1550 –1619), who was a rabbi and Torah commentator and who served as the Rabbi of Prague from 1604-1619, advanced an answer. He wrote that an insight may be gleaned from the underlined words above עִמּ֑וֹ - with him. This Hebrew word at first glance seems unnecessary. Of course, Moses took the bones with him. What would we think: that he would sell them at a local pawn shop or raffle them off in the desert? So why are the words included?
The Kli Yakar reminds us that there are limits to acquiring possessions. As it says in Pirkei Avot, the more possessions we acquire, the more worries we have. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to take all our possessions with us all the time. And when our time comes and we depart from this world, we do not take our possessions with us. However, the kindness we demonstrate and the good deeds we perform are spiritual in nature, and their benefits stay with us continuously in this world and beyond. Therefore, when so many others were acquiring riches, Moses wanted to make the most of the moment and chose to fulfill the promise made to Joseph. Moses was enriched by this act because he was able to take the spiritual benefits with him for the rest of his life and even beyond.
Nowadays we may not know where all the riches are that were acquired by the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, but we still remember vividly the kindness Moses extended by gathering the bones of Joseph. One could even go and visit the grave of Joseph in Shechem, Israel today. Let’s learn from our teacher Moses and aim to pursue acts of truth and goodness that will stay with us for eternity.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence
Jewish Federation in Southern New Jersey