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Joseph’s bounty

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As the people were busying themselves gathering the spoils of the Egyptian cavalry who had drowned in the Sea of Reeds and washed ashore, Moses, we’re told, was busy with Joseph’s casket. Joseph had requested and received an oath by the Jewish people that they would take his body for burial in Israel when they were redeemed and led to the promised land. Moses thus was busy ensuring that this task was carried out. The words are, “Moshe took Joseph’s bones with him.”

It raises the question, why the juxtaposition of bounty collection alongside mention of Joseph’s bones being taken? We’re told that, in fact, the bodies of all Joseph’s brothers were taken out of Egypt. Why then is only Joseph’s name singled out and not the others?

The hidden answer lies in the word for “bones” which in Hebrew – “atzmot” – shares the same root as the word for “essence”.

Joseph was viceroy of Egypt, and had all the wealth of the world at his reach. In spite of this, he didn’t fall prey to the potential pitfalls that bountiful wealth can bring. Pitfalls that might lead to, among other things, insensitivity, impatience, self-indulgence, egocentrism, haughtiness, stinginess, and hedonism. Rather, Yosef rose above the physical, and retained the values he had grown up with in his father, Jacob’s, house, namely the spiritual truths of generosity, sensitivity, humility, and using material possessions for a higher, G-dly, purpose.

This is the reason the Torah places the mention of Joseph’s bones next to the wealth collection of the Israelites – to remind them that although they were pursuing wealth, it should lead to a holy purpose like it did in the case of Joseph.

It’s also the reason the word for “bones” shares a root with the word for “essence”. In maintaining his life as a Jew in the decadence of Egyptian society, and by withstanding the temptations of his environment and rather keeping strong to his Jewish values, Joseph demonstrated his essence. He was showing the inner strength of the soul to rise above. This is a lesson to all who face a challenging world at odds with the timeless true values of the Torah – the true values of a Jew. When the world claims that its prime focus is on a physical lifestyle and the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself, not to be used for a G-dly purpose, we must realise – bring out – our essence, and let our inner strength prevail to assert the proper, true, G-dly way.

Finally, this is the reason why Joseph is mentioned rather than his brothers in spite of the fact that they were also brought back for burial in Israel. It’s because Joseph demonstrates this all important ability to rise up to the challenges of the world. Even in Egypt and amidst all the wealth of the world, he didn’t lose sight of what the right values were.

  • Inspired by the teaching of Rabbi Zalman Yitchak Poziner.

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