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.

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