Moses as He-Man and the Strength of our promises.
You can say a lot of things about our ancestor Moses. For instance, he had anger management issues (think killing the Egyptian taskmaster, smashing the Ten Commandments, or excessively striking rocks with his staff.) Perhaps he had trust issues (he is known as a reluctant prophet unwilling to trust God at the burning bush.) However, one thing you can never say about Moses is that he didn't keep a promise. Within the book of Exodus we hear of Moses running around Egypt making sure he gathered the bones of Joseph.
Before all of the Israelites would leave Egypt and slavery, before the Almighty would split the sea and the Israelites would walk about dry land on their way to Israel, before any of this: we read of Moses making sure he had packed the bones of Joseph. You see Joseph, as he was on his deathbed many years earlier, made the Jewish people promise him that they would carry his bones out of Egypt to be buried in Israel among his forefathers.
As do many Jews today, Joseph considered Israel his home even though he did not always live there and so he desired Eretz Israel to be his final resting place and he made everyone he knew, and he knew a lot of people,
promise to carry his bones up to the land of Israel. Now Fast forward to our torah portion today, years later, the Jewish people are about to leave Egypt and Moses makes sure to keep that promise.
Our scroll reads "Vayeekach Moshe Et Atzmot Yosef Emo Ki Hashbay-ya Heeshbee-ya et B'nei Israel." Moses took with him the bones of Joseph as was promised by the people Israel.
On behalf of the Jewish people, Moses kept his word.
The most creative and imaginary form of Jewish literature and sacred text is called Midrash. A midrashic text will often teach a lesson through fantasy or parable and within an ancient book of midrash know as D'varim Rabbi, there is a beautiful description of Moses keeping his word to Joseph.
The midrash describes that Moses was looking for Joseph's bones, running all around Egypt for three days and three nights. Everyone else was busy packing their bags and getting ready for freedom and he was looking in every dark corner for the bones of Joseph because the Jewish people made a promise. And after three days and three nights he was exhausted whereupon a special woman found him and informed him that she knew where the bones of Yosef could be found. This mysterious woman took him to the banks of the Nile River. She told Moses to look at the dark water of the Nile because that is where Yosef was buried. She told Moses that Pharaohs' advisors and magicians and political leaders buried Joseph's casket deep within the Nile River and attached 5,000 weights to keep him deep beneath the rivers surface. As long as Joseph's bones remained buried and hidden the Israelite people would not be able to keep their promise and therefore could never leave. Upon hearing this Moses became very distraught and started pacing back and forth at the rivers bank. He shouted "Yosef, Yosef! The Israelite people are all ready to march towards freedom, the Compassionate One has freed us from slavery but you are holding us up!" At that moment the casket of Yosef floated to the top of the river and Moses took Yosef's casket along with the 5,000 weights and flung it over his shoulder and marched out of Egypt, through the splitting of the sea, towards freedom.
This midrash, however unbelievable or fantastical we consider it to be, still imparts the lesson of how very important it is to stand by the oaths and promises that we make
The midrash constructs a situation whereby Pharaohs advisors bury Joseph so deep in the nile, with so many weights attached, because they knew how serious our ancestors were about the importance of a promise. Pharaoh's magicians and political advisors are deliberately shrewd and they think: Since the Israelites promised to bring the bones of Joseph from Egypt to Israel and since we know they always keep their word, so long as we can keep Josephs bones hidden not even their God will be able to send them away from Egypt.
The imagery of this midrash is vivid as Moshe walks around Egypt for three days and three nights, as everyone else is preparing for the greatest historical event of their lives, frantically packing their bags and gathering scraps of gold and silver, preparing for the greatest revolution against slavery that our world has ever witnessed...Moses is busy running around town looking for bones because he made a promise
In our lives today we all make promises....to our spouses, to our children, to our friends. Our tradition takes very seriously the power of our words. Every morning we recite Baruch She-amar V'Hiyah Ha'olam, Blessed is the one who spoke and the world came into being. We are to learn from this blessing that just as God created the world with words so too can we create or destroy worlds with our words. Simply by moving our lips, with the power of our words, with the power of our promises, we can make another's heart beat fast with joy or turn their face into tears.
This past summer Sarah, Adirah, and I went to visit my hometown of San Diego and were welcomed by the southern California wildfires. After being in San Diego for a few days we decided to make our way back to Oregon where the air was clear. Not too soon after we had left my parents were told to evacuate their home. When I spoke with my mother and father I remember asking them if they were packing their favorite pieces of art, their television, I even suggested they take my beloved stereo system I had kept in the garage since college. My father informed me they would only be packing one thing: their collection of photo albums tracing our family's life together. Each of us must contemplate what we would take with us if we were about to leave our homes, if we were leaving behind the world we knew...what would you take?
We take with us what is most important to us. When Moses was leaving the world he knew he made sure he took with him the honor of his word, it was his most prized possession and I bless us all that we may merit to have such wisdom.