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In the beginning of our parsha (Beshalach), there are two consecutive verses that seem to have no connection with one another. One (Ex. 13:18) says, “And G-d led them around through the desert to the Reed Sea, as the children of Israel ascended armed from Egypt.” The next verse (Ex. 13:19) reads, “And Moshe took the bones of Yoseph with him, since [Yoseph had made his offspring swear] that they will take his bones with when they leave Egypt.” One of the commentaries (the Kli Yakar) explains the connection in two possible ways.

First, he suggests that since two arks accompanied the Jews on their way out of Egypt – one to contain the tablets of the Ten Commandments (after they would be given) and one for the bones of Yoseph – in this sense the Jews were “armed.” That is, even before the Torah was given, the Jews were protected and armed by the presence of Yoseph’s remains, since he kept the ten commandments even before the Torah was given. Thus, the two verses are connected because the Jews proceeded through the desert “armed” by the presence of Yoseph. The second explanation of the Kli Yakar has to do with the splitting of the Reed Sea. He suggests that Moshe was afraid that the sea would not split, and he therefore made sure to bring the remains of Yoseph, so that in his merit, the sea would part and allow the Jews to cross.

The problem with both of these explanations (especially on the “pshat” or simple level) is that neither one of them is hinted to by the literal level of the Scripture itself. Nowhere does it say that the “ark of the Shechina” would accompany the Jews through the desert. Nor do the verses tell us that the sea split because of the merit of Yoseph. So, on the literal level, we still don’t see that the two verses have any connection with one another. What we do know is that the remains of Yoseph are associated with the exodus (since Yoseph had his offspring swear that when they leave Egypt, they would take him with them), and that they are associated with the journey in the desert (since after crossing the sea, the Jews journeyed accompanied by Yoseph’s remains). So, we’re left with the question – what is the connection between these two matters? Moreover, since the Torah comes to teach us about life, what is the specific lesson that we can take with us from this?

To shed light upon the matter, it will be helpful to first understand why the Torah refers to the remains of Yoseph as “Yoseph’s bones.” At first glance, “bones” is not a polite way to refer to the remains of a tzaddik, especially one so great as Yoseph, who showed the Jews how to live prosperously and serve G-d even while outside the land of Israel. But in truth, atzamut means not only “bones,” but also “essence.” The “essence” and strength of a person is in his bones, and it was the essence and power of Yoseph that accompanied the Jews on their way out of Egypt and most importantly, through the desert.

When we look into where his name comes from, we see that Rachel called her son “Yoseph,” because “G-d gave me another, additional son.” Yoseph was an additional son. But if that were the entire meaning of Rachel’s words, she could simply have said, “G-d gave me another son.” The fact that she used the word “additional” means that G-d gave her another son who was different and unexpected. That is, he was different, and he also became her son. And that is the lesson of Yoseph’s bones – they were brought along with the Jewish people in order to give them the power to transform a Jew who happens to be ‘different’ into a Jew who is a ‘son.’ There are Jews who are different – who don’t act at all like Jews – and our task is to make them into ‘sons,’ who keep Torah and mitzvoth as a Jew was meant to do.

The exodus from Egypt gave the Jewish people the power to transform one who is Jewish, but “outside of the fold,” into one who is and acts like part of the Jewish people. The exodus served as preparation, because the whole world could see that the Jews were the “children of G-d,” about whom G-d said to the Egyptians, “Send my children out.” And since they, as the children of G-d, also took pains to take out Yoseph together with them, it meant that they took upon themselves his power as well – the power to transform a Jew from “other” into a “son.”

If the Jews had entered the land of Israel immediately, they wouldn’t have had the same need for the power of Yoseph. Their very entrance to Israel would have constituted the final redemption, and it would have been clear that all Jews serve G-d as sons. However, as a result of their transgressions, G-d took the Jews to Israel through the desert, where they wandered for forty years. The desert is not a hospitable place. It’s dry and thirsty, full of snakes and scorpions (spiritual tests), and lacking water (Torah). And if that is its physical nature, so it is spiritually as well – a place that presents dangers and tests, which means that a Jew can (G-d forbid) fall from his or her spiritual level. Something was needed to recover and integrate the Jews that succumbed to temptation in the desert, or for whatever reason, found themselves outside of the clouds of glory that accompanied and protected the Jews on their journey. Being outside the clouds meant existing separate and unprotected, without the shield and structure of Torah. However, it was the presence of Yoseph – the essence (bones) of Yoseph – that imparted the power to bring the wayward Jews back into the camp and transform them from being “acher” (different) to being a son. With the remains of Yoseph accompanying them, the Jews had the power to recover their lost and wayward sons and bring the back under the protective clouds of the Shechina, or G-d’s presence.

And that provides us with the connection between the two verses mentioned above. First (13:18), G-d took the Jews around the desert in a roundabout way, indirectly to Israel. Then, the next verse (13:19) reports that the Jews traveled with the remains – the essence of Yoseph. The connection is that since they were to travel in the desert – an inhospitable place – they needed the presence of Yoseph, to pick up the Jews who fell by the wayside and transform them from acher (other) into “son” – one of the family.

This deep understanding of Yoseph also provides us with the connection between the beginning and the end of our parsha. The Torah portion begins with the Jews leaving Egypt and ends with their war against Amalek – the perennial, archetypal enemy - who is always trying to find their weak spot and harm the Jews. While in the desert, Amalek (numerical value sufek, or doubt) attacked the Jews. However, they could only attack the Jews who were weak, who fell spiritually, and found themselves separated and outside of the “clouds of glory” (sphere of Torah influence and protection). For that reason, the war against Amalek was led by Yehoshua, and not by Moshe. Yehoshua was from the tribe of Ephraim, son of Yoseph, and that was the reason he had the power to fight against Amalek. Within him was the power of Yoseph, to transform one who is different, outside the Jewish world, into a true “son,” a Jew who operates within the fold and keeps Torah and mitzvoth, and therefore he was the one to stave off Amalek and defeat them.

And that provides us with the lesson of our parsha – Beshalach. There are those who would rather stay within the confines of the protective clouds of glory – learning Torah and praying and doing mitzvoth. They prefer not to have to deal with those who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have fallen by the wayside and have no connection with a Jewish lifestyle. One of the lessons of our Torah portion is that just as the Jews under Yehoshua left the protective power of the clouds and fought on behalf of the Jewish people, so everyone who is already connected has the power of Yoseph on his side, and not only can, but must get involved with other Jews who are acher – outside the framework of Judaism – and transform them into sons and daughters, within the confines and lifestyle of Torah and Judaism.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz’l, vol. 26, pp. 85-94 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the Old City of Jerusalem