Sunday, April 17, 2016

Parshas Metzora - The Inclusive Pariah

Parshas Metzora begins with the purification of the Metzora, the sufferer from the spiritual disease known as Tzaras. The Metzora's partner in the purification ritual is the Kohen and though the two men seem far apart, one a pariah who must shout his uncleanliness to the world, and the other, a priest who is obligated to maintain a high level of purity, the rituals have a similarity to them.

Like the Levi, the Metzora's hair is shaved off. Like the Kohen's ritual with blood, oil is placed on his ear, thumb and foot. The very ritual requires an encounter between the Kohen, who is required to maintain ritual purity, and the Metzora, who is the embodiment of ritual impurity, and the former subjects the latter to a ritual similar to that undergone by the original Kohanim.

The Kohen and the Metzora are both set apart from the community. Both are displaced from the conventional life of the community. The Kohen's role reserves him for a higher function. The Metzora has fallen through the cracks at the bottom. It's easy to see them as people who should never meet.

And yet it is the Kohen, who must maintain purity to serve G-d, who welcomes back the Metzora.

The rituals of the Kohen are not so different in some ways from that of the most disgraced and lowest individual among the Jewish people. Like the Metzora, the Kohen has to struggle to rise and atone. Holiness is a challenge for him as it was for the Metzora and as it is for any Jew. The purification ritual ends the Metzora's period of disgrace by honoring him with a meal offering with oil. It concludes with the Kohen anointing the Metzora with oil.

The Metzora has made the journey from uncleanliness to being the central figure in a divine service conducted by a Kohen. The Kohen is meant as a role model for the Metzora. And this would not be possible if the Kohen insisted on having nothing to do with the Metzora.

Just as the ritual is a lesson to the Metzora, that repentance can allow him to rise to being anointed by a priest of G-d, it is also a lesson to the Kohen that it is the role of Jewish leaders to reach out even to the most "unclean".

The Metzora is shown that in repentance he can have a shadow of the glory of the Kohen. While the Kohen is reminded that he may not be too different from the Metzora. Both rise in the service of G-d.

And both can fall.

The Metzora suffered his punishment for shattering the harmony of the community with his malicious behavior. The Kohen is called on to repair that harmony by returning him to it. Purification allows objects to be restored to homes, houses to be occupied and people to rejoin their communities.

Purification heals the fabric of the community.

The rule of Tumah Hutra Be'Tzibbur states that even when the entire congregation is impure, the Korban Pesach is still brought because "impurity is permitted in a congregation". When everyone is impure, it is more important to still maintain unity in the service of G-d. Under those conditions, even impurity becomes permissible.

Likewise even the Kohen Gadol is expected to bury a Met Mitzvah, an unknown corpse whom no else is available to bury. Though Kohanim have very strict requirements of purity, they are expected to transgress them when it comes to restoring a lost person to the community, even when he is no longer among the living.

The entire story of the Metzora would seem to be a narrative of exclusion. A pariah is driven out of the community. Forced to avoid people. Humiliated and disgraced. And yet the true lesson is the exact opposite of that. It is not a story of exclusion, but inclusion. It is the Metzora who attempted to exclude others from the community through slander. And it is the Kohen who restores him to it while showing him an example of inclusiveness and healing.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Parshas Tazria - Paradox of Faith

Parshas Tazria dedicates much of its time to a discussion of the Metzora, widely but inaccurately translated as leper, who suffers from Tzaras. One of the more peculiar laws of this spiritual affliction is that someone who has been quarantined as a Metzora is deemed to be getting worse if healthy flesh emerges, but pure if his entire body turns white.

A similar paradox is that of the Red Cow whose sprinkling purifies one who came in contact with a corpse, yet renders the sprinkler impure. This is considered a Hok, a law whose reasoning utterly eludes us, as it did King Shlomo, who reportedly aspired to understand it, but failed to do so.

Why does a man become 'impure' when he appears to be recovering and 'pure' when his whole body seems afflicted? Why does the act of rendering an impure man, pure, make a pure man, impure?

The nature of purity and impurity remains beyond our understanding. The paradox calls to mind a more familiar one, why do good people suffer while bad people prosper?

The old "Tzaddik ve'ra lo, ve'rasha ve'tov lo" (a righteous man suffers and a wicked man prospers) is every bit as difficult to understand as the Metzora or the Para Aduma, the Red Cow. And yet we think that we understand it better because we can grasp the subject matter. We may accept that we do not understand the spiritual mysteries of purity and impurity, but we assume that we do understand good and evil, and can judge the ways of G-d in this regard.

And yet in all of these areas, we are only seeing part of a cycle. And that cycle is only a part of G-d's plan.

The paradoxes of purity and impurity remind us that some of G-d's ways are inexplicable to us because we lack the perspective to understand them. This is no less true of human life, a subject on which we have no perspective, yet think we do, than of the Red Cow and the Metzora, on which we are willing to concede that we have no perspective.

Knowing what G-d wants from us is not the same thing as knowing what He wants to do and why. This is a mistake that we often risk making in our view of the world. We are ready to accept that purity and impurity is a mystical subject that we cannot grasp, but we are convinced that we know what our lives and the lives of our neighbors ought to be like. And yet our lack of perspective means that the larger world cannot help but be a paradox to us no matter how we might strive to understand it.

Life and death, suffering and joy, are as much paradoxes as the means of making the pure into the impure and the impure into the pure. We can never truly understand them. All we can do is accept them.

Tzaras mimics an illness, but it is not a disease. It is a spiritual affliction. It crosses from an area that we think we understand to an area that we do not. Likewise the Red Cow and its ashes come into play with death, a subject we think we know, but that we are quickly forced to confess is a mystery.

The paradox takes us from a subject that we think we know and then defies our understanding of it.

Faith begins with learning to accept the limitations of our understanding. The paradox is a sign post warning us that the road ahead requires faith. Disease and death often serve as such sign posts. Purity and impurity are tightly wrapped around the functions of life, from birth to illness to death. They remind us that though we experience the world and live in it, there is a limit to our understanding of it. We cannot truly understanding the meaning of our lives. We can only have faith that G-d's plan will help give meaning and dignity to our birth, our suffering and our joys, and our death.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Parshas Shemini - The Hour and the Generation

Parshas Shemini begins with the words Vayehi Beyom HaShemini. We learn that the opening Vayehi, And It Was, portends a mixture of tragedy and joy. As in Vayehi Yaakov, that saw Yaakov reunited and living with his son Yosef but in exile and as a prelude to slavery.

Shemini begins with the final dedication of the Mishkan, on the eight day after seven days of Moshe Rabbeinu performing the Avodah, bringing the Korbanot, Aaron steps into his role as Kohen Gadol, brings the Korbanot and as both brothers leave the Ohel Moed at the conclusions, they are privileged to see the Shekihna appear. A heavenly fire consumes the Korbanot. But Vayhei, though there is celebration there is also tragedy.

Two of Aaron's sons bring an alien fire and are killed by fire from heaven. Moshe tells Aaron that with this event the word of G-d, Bekrovai Ekodesh, has been fulfilled. Moshe warns his brother and the remaining sons not to leave, not to mourn and to eat of the Mincha. Aaron and his sons do all this and eat of the Mincha but the Seir brought for Rosh Chodesh, they burn entirely and Moshe demands an explanation.

Aaron's answer however is enigmatic, indicating that he had acted properly and seems to fully satisfy his brother. Yet is short on detail. The two most common explanations are that either the animal became posul or that only Kodshei Shaa like the Mincha were to be eaten, while Onenim, but not Kodshei Dorot. Yet this too leaves something out.

It's notable that the Pasuk appears to be engaging in a virtual pun, as Aaron and his two remaining sons, NaNotrim, are told to eat the Mincha, HaNotrot. Both Aaron's surviving sons and the Mincha seems to be described with the same term. But obviously it's not mere wordplay, there is a message and a point to it.

The Mincha that they are to eat is the remaining Mincha that had not been burnt, just as the two surviving sons, were the remaining sons who had not been burnt. Moshe describes the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, not as punishment but as glorification, much like a Korban. Like the Mincha, part had been burnt and part remained for Aaron. When Moshe warns them about leaving with the oil on them, as there is oil on the Mincha, the implication is that they too will die. This is what is done with a Korban that becomes Posul, to be burnt outside. So if they leave, they too will be burned outside and what has been a Mincha will become an entirely Posul Korban, which could altogether invalidate the entire Miluim.

Aaron and his sons eat the Mincha and the Korbanot which are Kodshei Shaa. Even though the sons are regular Kohanim and Onenim. But they are Onenim over the deaths of Nadav and Avihu and Nadav and Avihu were themselves a Kodshei Shaa Korban, so to speak, a one time event. Both those deaths and the special status of Elazar and Yithamar were unique events, Shaa. By contrast the Seir of Rosh Chodesh was a Kodshei Dorot and as far as the Dorot were to be concerned, Kohanim Onenim could not consume Kodshim. The holiness of the hour had been gained at great cost, like the reunion of Yosef and Yaakov, a terrible price had been paid. But it was a temporary price. The achievement that had been gained however was one for generations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Parshas Shemini - Purity and Access

Parshas Shemini begins with the inauguration of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, and the death of Aharon's two sons for offering Aish Zar, an alien fire, which G-d had not commanded.

The obvious question is why did Aharon survive his role in the Golden Calf, which was idol worship, while his sons died for merely taking the initiative in making a change to the Divine service?

And why does G-d's response focus on "holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" and then shift to an extended list of kosher and non-kosher animals, described as unclean, and then purity and impurity, before finally returning to the death of his sons six chapters later?

Impurity and uncleanliness exist as part of the cycle of life. A non-kosher animal is only bad if you eat it. Impurity is only bad if it taints something pure which then goes on to taint something holy.

Impurity in a human being can be removed, in part through the procedures laid out in the Torah. It becomes a severe sin however when impurity taints holy objects in the House of G-d. Chanukah was a severe crisis because the Bait Hamikdash had been thoroughly desecrated. At the lowest points in Jewish history, Jews not only worshiped idols, but brought them into the Temple.

The Golden Calf could be destroyed. And after repentance, the Jews could return to G-d and even be honored by having G-d dwell among them in the Mishkan constructed with their own hands. Aharon could preside as the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, despite his role in it. Because G-d does forgive and cleanse human beings of their sin. If He did not, we could not exist.

The severest sin is one that prevents this from happening by tainting the holy with the impure. Perverting the religion of G-d is worse than idolatry because it does not give people any place to return to. Idol worships can return to G-d. But when the Temple is tainted or the religion is tainted, the process of returning becomes more difficult because there is 'nowhere' to return to.

Idolatry creates "alternatives" to G-d. Tainting the worship of G-d however obscures His presence.

Offering an "alien fire" seems like a minor offense, but it leads to innovating alien religious practices, hijacking the worship of G-d and replacing it with a manmade religion that culminates in idolatry. The offense of Aharon's sons seems minor, out of context, but we should view it in the context of the decline of the Jews into idolatry once in Israel. Purity is a mandate, but also a metaphor.

The worship of G-d must be what He commanded. When the highest figures in a religion pervert it, then ordinary people find themselves cut off from G-d. Aharon's sons made a mistake, but like Uzzah, the seemingly minor act revealed a more dangerous error in thinking about G-d.

The Kohanim, the priests, are holy because they follow the commands of G-d. Their exclusive role however allows them to pervert and exploit their position, as indeed would happen later on. Purity, both physical and intellectual, is demanded of the priesthood because their special position allows them to either bring the people to G-d or to cut off the people from the worship of G-d.

Above all else, the details of the service, like the Kosher status of animals or the purity of people, matters because G-d commanded it. Its core holiness is defined by the source of that holiness, G-d. It is G-d who defines what is pure and impure. When those who are meant to help the people transmit and understand the word of G-d, mangle it instead, they render it impure.

The culmination of G-d's instruction to Aharon after the death of his sons is, "that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes." (Vayikra 10:11) Service is the implementation of G-d's word. The fundamental role of those who serve G-d closest must be purity of service and teaching. Respect for G-d is not just an abstract idea, but an understanding. Touching the ark or bringing an alien fire shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what G-d is and disqualifies one to be in a position of religious authority.

Closeness to G-d requires greater purity because it is those who are close to Him who help define his presence for the people and help purify them. In this area, a taint that is hard to detect can be more severe than a grievous sin. A pig is deemed more un-Kosher than animals that lack any of the signs of the Kosher animal, because its hooves deceive one into thinking that it is a Kosher animal.

A Kohen who invents his own service is less obviously doing wrong than one who makes an idol. And yet this is also what makes it a worse sin. One does not see impurity. It is more subtle than the difference between Kosher and non-Kosher animals. And yet it is worse sin to desecrate the holy with impurity than to eat non-Kosher food.

It is the role of the Kohen and of religious leaders to mark these distinctions. When the Kohen corrupts the process, then he endangers the connection between G-d and the people.

When G-d mentions the death of Aharon's sons again, in Vayikra 16, it is at the beginning of the Yom Kippur service, the Day of Atonement. It is easier for people to atone and repent when they have role models and religious leaders to guide them. The ultimate purpose is closeness to G-d. And the Kohanim must remain pure in order to make G-d accessible to the people so that they may be cleansed.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Parshas Zachor - The Transactional Error

Zachor is the scriptural remembrance of Amalek's attack on the Jews after leaving Egypt which culminates with the Haftorah, the prophetic reading of King Shaul's war on Amalek, his disobedience before G-d and his rejection as king over Israel. It is read before Purim, which marks the third confrontation between Israel and Amalek.

This week it coincided with Parshas Vayikra, which lays out the laws of many of the sacrifices. Zachor's Haftorah also revolves around sacrifices, the captured animals from Amalek that Shaul decided to bring as sacrifices instead of destroying them as G-d had commanded.

Some wonder why Shaul was punished so harshly with the loss of his kingship for a seemingly light offense. He disobeyed the Divine commandment to destroy all the animals, but he quickly conceded that he was at fault. He sought no personal gain from the loot.

Why was G-d's rejection of him so total?

Shmuel's rebuke of Shaul contains what will become an ongoing theme in the prophetic rebukes of Israel. "Does G-d desire burnt offerings and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of G-d? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (Shmuel 1 15:22)

This theme will be repeated until the destruction of the Temple. Its message is that the Jewish relationship with G-d is not transactional. Sacrifices are not a means of appeasing G-d, but an acknowledgement of Him. The view of sacrifices as a transaction in which G-d does something for us and we do something for him corrupts the true relationship between G-d and man.

That corrupting idea was at the root of the downfall of the First Temple. It's a rebuke that recurs time and again. Most harshly in Yeshayah. " To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me."

People do not have a transactional relationship with G-d. Sacrifices are not payment that allow us to do anything we want. Shaul and the people had assumed that they could disobey what G-d told them because they were doing something that "benefited" Him. But as G-d had said, He does not need sacrifices. The sacrifices are a form of obedience. Disobeying G-d undoes the sacrifice.

The Kings of Israel, even when they served G-d, too often lapsed into a transactional relationship in which sacrifices were brought in corruption, e.g. "They lay themselves down beside every altar upon clothes taken in pledge" (Amos 2:8). This was the final outcome of the attitude shown in the aftermath of the war against Amalek. Shaul's action wasn't the worst expression of it, but it was the gateway to it.

By declaring a city Herem, G-d states that it a society is so evil that every aspect of it is meant to be destroyed. Shaul and the people however chose to try and offer these tainted items as sacrifices. They were behaving in much the same way that would lead to a form of corruption in which stolen money was used for sacrifices, in which oppression would reign until G-d would withdraw from the Temple.

As the Sayings of the Fathers declare, "Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you." (Pirkei Avot 1:3) Even though G-d wants us to do specific things and there are rewards, this is not a transactional relationship. Instead it is a personal relationship.

We are meant to serve G-d out of love or fear. Loving relationships are not transactional. You don't do something for someone you love because they are doing something for you. That's a business relationship. It's a commercial relationship. Not only did Shaul not understand what G-d wanted, but he did not even understand the nature of Israel's relationship with G-d.

This was the fundamental difference between Shaul and David. Both men made mistakes, but Shaul did not understand his relationship with G-d.

What connection does this have to Amalek and Zachor? We are meant to remember what Amalek did. But we should also remember why it happened. Amalek attacked after the Jews tested G-d asking, "Is G-d in our midst or not?" after lacking water. Then Amalek attacked. (Exodus 17)

The attitude was transactional. Either G-d gives us water or He isn't here. Either we're getting what we want from G-d or He is useless and probably not around. It's not an uncommon attitude. It states that our relationship with G-d is governed by the benefits that we get from it.

Likewise, it's easy to read the story of Purim as an absence of G-d. G-d is not mentioned once in Megilas Esther. The events can be viewed as transactional. Mordechai took in Esther. Esther was picked to be the queen. Mordechai told Esther about a plot against the king. Haman paid the king money to be able to kill the Jews. The king took the money. But then Esther revealed that she was Jewish. The king was reminded that Mordechai had saved his life first. And Haman was hanged.

But the whole purpose of faith is to see the Hand of G-d in what appears to be coincidental and even what appears to be transactional. "I got a good deal because I was smart." "I worked hard and took the right offer and made lots of money."

Leaving Egypt, the Jews had failed to see that. In Israel, Shaul was aware of G-d, but he viewed the relationship as a transactional one. G-d wants him to fight Amalek. So here are a whole bunch of sacrifices to honor G-d. In Persia, we were back to a transactional world in which G-d didn't even seem to exist. Returning to Israel meant lobbying the Persian monarchy. And Mordechai, by defying Haman, appeared to have not only ruined the best chance for the rebuilding of the Temple, but his defiance was leading to the extermination of the Jews.

And yet Mordechai was correct for he understood what Shaul did not, that the world was not governed purely by the transactional. That if the Temple were restored and sacrifices brought, they had to be clean. That pandering to Haman would prove to be a dead end. That you could not do good by evil means. That using Amalek to bring sacrifices to G-d was an insult to Him and a fundamental misunderstanding of our relationship with G-d.

G-d did not want Amalekite sacrifices. He did not want the Temple rebuilt through Haman.

By rejecting Haman, Mordechai atoned for the actions of his ancestor, Shaul. He showed his belief in a world that was not merely transactional, in a relationship with G-d that was truly meaningful by transcending the transactional.

The corruption of the relationship with G-d into a purely transactional, sacrifices in exchange for tolerating sin, had helped destroy the First Temple. Rebuilding a Second Temple required a rejection of that attitude, as embodied in Pirkei Avot and in Mordechai's defiance of Haman.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Parshas Tetzaveh - Faith and Exactness

Parshas Tetzaveh is notable mainly for the sheer mass of instructions for constructing the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, complete with exact measurements.

The modern man may reasonably ask, why G-d would care how many cubits each component of the building needs to be or why the amount of loops and threads must be specified.

Do the technical schematics of a building really matter to the Creator of the Universe? G-d had designed the entire universe from the quark to the cell, but did such exactitude here really matter?

The building of the Tabernacle was the climax of the redemption from Egypt. In some views, it was a recreation of the revelation at Mount Sinai. In others, it was atonement for the golden calf and the loss of faith that occurred when it appeared that Moshe had been gone for too many days and was believed to be dead. The count of the exact amount of days had been gotten wrong.

We see something similar discussed in the Gemara, Talmud, in Berachos. The Gemara wonders why Moshe tells Pharaoh, KeHatzot HaLaila, "About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die." (Shemos, Exodus 11:5)

Why, the Gemara asks, does Moshe say at "about midnight", KeHatzot, instead of "at midnight", BeHatzot? Could there be doubt about the time of midnight in heaven? And indeed the actual plague takes place BeHatzi, at midnight. G-d certainly knows the exact time of midnight.

But the Gemara answers, Moshe was concerned that Pharaoh's astrologers would miscalculate the time and, even while the country was filled with the dead, would shout that, "Moshe is a liar". "He predicted that the firstborn would die at exactly midnight and they died two minutes after midnight."

Such irrational behavior would seem absurd, but then so did Pharaoh's resistance through multiple plagues and the eventual pursuit of the Jews right into the water.

What happened after Moshe departed showed a similar problem with the Jews. The count had been gotten wrong and a minority made the golden calf and the rest did not resist this abomination.

The Haftarah, reading, for Parshas Tetzaveh, is appropriately enough the instructions to the Prophet Yechezkel, Ezekiel, for the construction of the third and final temple. The instructions are once again detailed right to the exact number of cubits.

It begins with the verse, "Thou, son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure accurately. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, make known unto them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof," (Yechezkel 43:10-11)

Measuring accurately is a form of atonement. The precise ceremonies of the tabernacle and temple, the sacrifices and the construction, matter in every exact detail. Does it matter to G-d? It matters to us.

The Egyptians could not be trusted with the exact measure of the time of the plague. The Jews had been trusted with the exact time of Moshe's return, but had nevertheless gotten it wrong. On a larger scale, the exact time did not matter. Whether G-d slew the firstborn of Egypt at 12.00 or 12.02 would not make a difference in heaven. But it made a difference in faith on earth to Jews and Egyptians.

Likewise the exact details of the Tabernacle and Temple mattered because by following the instructions and measuring accurately, the Jews showed a willingness to follow G-d's instructions in detail, abandoning their own egotistical creativity about the designs to follow a heavenly design.

Faith is not some vague thing. It requires exact and specific commitments. Many people believe in G-d, but how many are willing to do something specific when asked. And yet it's specific commitments that show that faith is real and that it actually matters to a person.

The Egyptians feared G-d and did not love him and so they could not be given the exact time since they would seize on any excuse to deny G-d. The Jews had been given the exact time of Moshe's return, but they had also seized on an excuse about the time and a minority used the confusion to build the golden calf. The Tabernacle and Temple provided atonement by following exact instructions through faith out of love.

When you fear someone, you only obey when the object of the fear is right there. But when you can find an excuse to rationalize why you shouldn't be afraid, then you will do whatever you want. But when you love someone, then you are attentive to them. You listen to what they say and fulfill it. You get it right because you care.

Exactitude in the workplace is the difference between helping someone or saving a life and doing just enough to get by. It's the difference between caring and not caring.

Does G-d care how many cubits a component of the tabernacle is? Who knows. But He cares that we care. And that is what ultimately matters. Temples are meant to be embodiments of love and faith. By following exact instructions, instead of doing things casually enough to get by, the Jews atoned for their sins by showing that the will of G-d mattered to them, that they loved G-d and had faith in Him.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Parshas Besalach - The Bowing of the Moon

The Midrash famously comments on the splitting of the sea that the sea "saw" Arono Shel Yosef, the bones of Yosef and split in his merit. Is there any basis for such a reading in the Torah?

Right before the sea splits, some Jews famously scream at Moshe, "Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us out to die in the wilderness?" (Shemos 14:11). This can be read as poetic phrasing, but it could also be viewed as a taunt in response to Yosef's casket proceeding forward.

A casket being carried forward could have inspired the taunt of, "Were there no graves in Egypt".

We are told that Moshe personally took Yosef's bones with him. (Shemos 13:19). Did Moshe, who was then quite old personally dig up or carry the bones? Unlikely, among other things it would have made him tameh/impure. But it does suggest that the casket had a pride of place in the procession.

Certainly if the sea split in response to it, it was at the front.

But we know that Yosef's bones were not the only ones carried out of Egypt. The other brothers are also buried in Israel. Yet Yosef is the only one mentioned. Why did Moshe become personally involved with his remains and why are the remains of the other brothers not mentioned?

Moshe and Yosef had a good deal in common. Both spent time among Egyptian royalty, yet put their fellow Jews first. Both were exiles who were cut off from their families. Both named their sons after their isolation in exile. Both were chosen to save the Jewish people, one by leading them to Egypt, the other by leading them out of Egypt.

Yosef was the first slave, the first Jew to be enslaved in Egypt. Moshe was the last slave, the first Jew to gain his freedom.

Yosef passed on the message, Pakod, Yifkod, G-d will surely remember you, to the Jews and made them swear an oath to bring him up out of Egypt. (Bereishis 50:24-45) That's the same message that G-d directed Moshe to bring to the Jews. Pakod, Pokadti, I have surely remembered. (Shemos 3:16).

Moshe was fulfilling a promise that the Jews had made to Yosef. The last slave was freeing the first slave.

And yet, what does this have to do with the sea? Yosef had many merits, but why would the sea particularly split for him?

As a child, Yosef famously dreamed that the sun, the moon and the stars were bowing to him. His father rebuked him for it. "Am I to come with your mother and brothers to bow to you to the ground?" (Bereishis 37:10). Yosef's mother was dead so the dream indeed seemed impossible.

The moon, representing Rochel, had already faded from the sky.

Yosef's brothers did bow to him. So did Yaakov. His brothers bowed to him because he saved them from starvation. His father bowed to him for the promise that he made to take his father's remains back to Israel for burial. But his mother never bowed to him. And he had not done anything for her.

So how did the dream come true?

Rochel is known as the mother of exiles, the one who pleads for the return of the Jewish people to their land. Slavery in Egypt was the first exile. The original exile. And her son was the only one of the children of Yaakov to be exiled. For the Jews to return, the sea had to split.

What did Yosef do for the moon? The Jewish calendar is lunar. While Rosh Hashana, the new year, is when the new year begins, Nissan, the month of the Jewish departure from Egypt, is considered the first month.

Before the final plague, G-d tells Moshe, "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." (Shemos 12:2) Without Yosef, Nissan would not be the first month. And so the moon "bowed". The tides of the sea split it apart. And the Jews began the long journey home.