Saw You at Sinai
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Beshalach, describes the hasty departure of the Jews from Egypt. The Rabbis say “the salvation of Hashem is like the blink of an eye.” In other words it comes suddenly and quickly and not as a natural result of a lengthy process. Thus a defining feature of Geula (Redemption) is that it is instantaneous. One minute the Jews were abject slaves completely under the totalitarian domination of Pharaoh. With the advent of Makkat Bechorot (slaying of Egyptian first born) the situation changed immediately as the slave masters couldn’t push the Jews out of the land quickly enough. Indeed, the Egyptians actually wanted the Jews to leave that very night. However, Moshe refused, as he was now in control and could set the terms by which his people would depart. According to the Rabbis, the spiritual redemption of the Jews took place by night when they brought the Passover sacrifice and witnessed the complete collapse of the Egyptian political apparatus. Moshe did not want the Jews to slink out of Egypt like, “thieves in the night.” Rather, they would leave by day in an organized fashion, the triumphant “Hosts of Hashem,” in the sight of all. Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that the significance of Matzah is related to the haste of the redemption. Anything which is part of the natural order requires time. The leavening process needs time and for that reason is prohibited on Passover as it symbolizes the natural order. Matzah, however, is baked immediately before the dough has had time to rise and thus represents Divine providence which overpowers the natural order when Hashem determines it. We eat matzah and avoid chametz to proclaim that the freedom we achieved with the Exodus was not due to any natural historical development but only to the miraculous intervention of the Creator of the Universe.
In describing the Exodus from Egypt the Torah mentions that “Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him for he had forsworn the children of Israel saying, “Hashem will certainly remember you and you shall take my bones with you.” The question arises, why does the Torah include this piece of information as a central part of the narrative of the Exodus? Of course it is important for the Torah to emphasize the significance of fulfilling one’s oaths. Yosef’s oath was very unique. He did not obligate any particular person. Rather, he foreswore the entire Jewish people. When the brothers, whom he enjoined, accepted the responsibility, they did so on behalf of the Jewish Nation including future unborn generations. Between the time of Yosef’s death and the Exodus, every generation of Jews confirmed and accepted the obligation of the oath. It, thus, assumed the status of a national responsibility and it was the obligation of the leader to fulfill it. On that hectic night, with so much to do, Moshe put everything aside and personally saw to the securing of Yosef’s bones. Why is this action so central to the redemption from Egypt?
In my opinion it was not just a matter of fulfilling a national responsibility, however significant. G-d had told Moshe that when he took them out of Egypt, “they would serve Him on this Mountain.” In other words, the reason why G-d was taking them out of Egypt was because the Jews would accept the Torah on Mt. Sinai. However, the Jews did not just accept the Torah for themselves but for all future generations. This is the meaning of the Rabbinic dictum that the souls of all Jews who would ever be born were present at Sinai. Every Jew is obligated to keep the Torah because he is foresworn from Sinai. The ability of this people to assume a national responsibility which is binding on all future generations, is at the heart of why Hashem chose them to be His people and perpetuate His Torah. That is why it was so important for Moshe to personally assume responsibility to take the bones of Yosef on the journey to Canaan. This reminded everyone that Yosef was the instrument of Divine Providence in bringing the Jews down to Egypt. Their enslavement and ultimate redemption was all part of Hashem’s plan to create a special nation that would be “A light unto the nations” and the means by which mankind would eventually be redeemed. That could only happen if every generation of Jews would view themselves as bound by the oath taken at Sinai. Moshe set the example by assuming responsibility for the oath taken by Yosef’s brothers and passed down by every generation until the Exodus. May we always regard ourselves as sworn to keep the Torah from Sinai.