A Nation of Slaves is Transformed
This week’s portion tells the story of the parting of the Red Sea, the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt, and includes the Song of Moses (and the shorter Song of Miriam). Grand events happen in this week’s Torah reading and it is, indeed, an awe- inspiring few chapters. But I have chosen to focus on one verse at the beginning of the portion.
“And Moses took Joseph’s bones with him because he had had the Children of Israel swear saying: G-d will remember you and you will bring out my bones from here with you.” (Exodus 13:19)
Just before Joseph’s death, he asked his brothers to swear that they would, indeed, disinter his remains at a later time, at a time when G-d would remember them and take them out of Egypt. (Genesis 50:25). At the time that Joseph instructs his brothers in this way, the enslavement of the Children of Israel had not yet begun, and yet Joseph speaks to them with a sense of ominous expectation, as if he senses that after his death, things will not go well with his people. But he promises them that G-d will remember them, will take them out of Egypt, and asks that they remember him at the same time.
Interestingly, the words used here for “remember” are a unique phrase: “Pakod Yifkod.” When G-d speaks to Moses and instructs him as to what he should say to the elders of Israel, He uses the very same words: “I have remembered you and all that is being done to you in Egypt.” (Exodus 3:16). And later on, after Moses repeats these words to the elders of Israel, they respond: “And the nation believed and they heard that G-d had remembered the Children of Israel.” (Exodus 4:31). Again, the word for “remember” used here is from the same root – Pakod!
Indeed, it was Joseph who instructed his brothers to look out for these words — if someone were to come and say these words in G-d’s name that would be a sign that redemption was on its way. And, indeed, Moses used these same words, and it was this set of words that enabled the Nation of Israel to believe that redemption was on its way.
It was Joseph, more than any of the other brothers that had a sense of history. He understood before the enslavement even began, that tough times were on their way. He understood that they would need to hold on to their tradition, that there would be a need for them to remember G-d’s promise to redeem them, to enable them to continue surviving as a nation. After all, the Torah had not yet been given, and there was not yet a set of laws and defined principles that the entire nation could unite behind. But, yet, they did remain united and as one nation, ready for the redemption when it came.
This, then, is the meaning of Joseph’s request to be remembered as well and to have his remains taken with them to the Land of Israel for burial. Joseph understood the unbroken chain of history that began with G-d’ s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a nation and that the Land of Israel would be their land. Together with that promise, however, came the promise of a period of slavery, for 400 years! But G-d promised Abraham that He would not forget His people, that He would redeem them from their enslavement. And it was this promise that Joseph remembers and reminds his brothers of, forcing them to swear always to remember it. But Joseph understood that redemption was not just about being freed from slavery. It was about returning to the Land. Joseph wanted to ensure that he would be a part of that, even after his death.
Indeed, we know that Joseph was buried in Shechem, on the plot of land purchased by Jacob centuries earlier. (Joshua 24:32). And, when the Government of Israel gave up the city of Shechem to the Arabs as part of the Oslo Accords, the agreement enabled Israel to retain control of Joseph’s Tomb. In the fall of 2000, though, when the Second Intifada (Terrorism War) began, the Arabs attacked the Jewish civilians and soldiers at the Tomb, killed one soldier, and forced the others to leave. Since then, Jews have not had free access to this Tomb.
Many centuries ago, our people held onto a promise that was made by G-d to His people and a promise that their forefathers had made to Joseph. The combination of those promises guaranteed that the Children of Israel would remember G-d, and His land, and be ready for redemption when it came. For the Jews living in Samaria today, this promise has particular meaning, for we believe that in holding on to our land, the land of Joseph, we are remaining faithful to G-d’s promises that will enable us to take part in the redemption – the beginnings of which we are actually experiencing today.
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Director, Israel Office