Torah portion inspires search for balance in life

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William Motchan

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

“And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had previously exacted an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will be sure to take notice of you and when this comes to be, you pledge to carry up my bones from here with you to the Holy Land.”  — Sefer Shemot 13:19

Each and every time I return to the study of Parashat Beshalach, I am struck by the image of a hassled, harried somewhat stressed-out Moshe Rabbeinu making final preparations for the Exodus of the entire Israelite Nation after hundreds of years of Egyptian servitude and bondage. And despite being deeply engaged in what surely must have been a monumental and herculean task, with a long list of last minute responsibilities, Moshe himself engages in the securing of the remains of the patriarch Yosef.

The obvious question is why? Why was it essential for Moses to pause from the important work of preparing the B’nai Yisrael at this critical and liminal moment in Jewish History to locate, secure and arrange for the transport of the mummified remains of a long deceased ancestor?

One possible explanation is alluded to in the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 13a-13b:  “All those years that the Israelites were in the desert, those two chests – one of the dead (the bones of Josef) and the other of the Shechinah (the Ark of the Covenant) – proceeded side by side, and passersby would ask: “What is the nature of those two chests?” They received the following reply: “One is of the dead (Joseph) and the other of the handiwork of the Divine Presence (the Tables of the Ten Commandments).” “But is it then, the way of the dead to proceed with the revelation of the Divine?” They were told, “This one (Joseph) fulfilled all that was recorded in the other (the Commandments) [and thus, it makes perfect sense for them to sojourn side-by-side].”

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This Talmudic passage underscores a deep truth that we all know well. The most profound lessons that we learn in our lifetimes are those that are at once profoundly transcendent as well as demonstrably attainable. The Ten Commandments were given to the world – amidst thunder and lightning – in a miraculously supernatural manner.  In sharp contrast, Joseph lived a Godly existence in “base” settings that were remarkably challenging; first as a lowly slave and then as a revered Viceroy of the Egyptian aristocracy. Moshe, our greatest of teachers, understood that the nascent Nation of Israel (and all of humanity!) was in need of both models – in the right proportion– to ensure that the way of life that the Almighty had intended could be actuated and effectuated.

May we who hear of these two remarkable chests, be inspired this week anew to quest for this balance in our own lives so that we, too, can live lives of transcendent holiness and earthly sanctity, Amen!

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, D.Div., is the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.