By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
December 29, 2001
Yosef lies on his deathbed and assembles his brothers for his final message. As leader of the family and the first of his brothers to die, he must instruct the family regarding his burial in Canaan and their ultimate salvation:
And Yosef said to his brothers: " I am dying, but G-d will surely remember you (PAKOD YIFKOD ET'CHEM), and He will bring you up from this land to the land which He swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov." And Yosef adjured (VAYASHBA') the children of Israel, saying, "G-d will surely remember you, and you will bring my bones up from here." And Yosef died at the age of one hundred ten years. And they embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt (Bereishit 50:24-26).
Throughout the years of slavery and oppression, Yosef's bones await removal.
(It is noteworthy that Yosef, ostensibly the most worldly of the brothers, is the one who pronounces the prophecy of redemption. This is a tribute to his ongoing spirituality during his eighty-year brilliant career as leader in the most materialistic culture in the world, Egypt.)
In this oath, Yosef provides his family with a kind of code: The savior of the Children of Israel will present a prophecy focused on the crucial expression, "G-d will surely remember you" (PAKOD YIFKOD ET'CHEM). This, of course, comes true when Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to announce that the salvation is at hand:
Go and gather the elders of Israel and say to them, "Hashem, G-d of your forefathers, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov has appeared to me, saying, 'I have surely remembered you (PAKOD PAKADTI ET'CHEM) and that which is done to you in Egypt'" (Shemot 3:16).
This "presentation of credentials" is accepted:
And the people believed, and they understood that Hashem had remembered (PAKAD) the Children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction; and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves (Shemot 4:31).
Moshe himself is the one to fulfill Yosef's wishes:
And Moshe took Yosef's bones with him, because he had repeatedly adjured (HASHBE'A HISHBI'A) the Children of Israel, saying, "G-d will surely remember you (PAKOD YIFKOD ET'CHEM), and you will bring up my bones from here with you (IT'CHEM)" (Shemot 13:19).
Moshe is the one to carry out the oath, says Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550), because Moshe is the leader of the generation to which falls the fulfillment of the oath,
"and the obligation of the generation is placed on its leader."
Yosef's bones are carried through the desert to the land of Israel, ultimately to be buried, after the conquest of the land, in Shechem (Yehoshua 24:32).
In analyzing Yosef's words, Rabbenu Bachya (ben Asher ben Hlava, 13th Century) notes that although Yosef said to his brothers: "I am dying, but G-d will surely remember you," in the oath Yosef adjured (VAYASHBA') the children of Israel, saying, "G-d will surely remember you, and you will bring my bones up from here."
This is because the nation, and not Yosef's immediate family alone, are charged with this responsibility.
A similar idea is implicit in Rashi's comment on Shemot 13:19:
He had repeatedly adjured (HASHBE'A HISHBI'A): He adjured them to adjure their
However, it should be noted that, according to Rashi, the oath is administered to Yosef's brothers, who are themselves obligated to administer it to their children, and so on. Rabbenu Bachya, on the other hand, sees the initial oath as administered to the nation of Israel. According to both Rashi and Rabbenu Bachya, Yosef's oath is self-perpetuating, to be fulfilled when the time would be right.
One question about Yosef's oath and its fulfillment remains. Yosef's original words were
"G-d will surely remember you(PAKOD YIFKOD ET'CHEM), and you will bring my bones up from here."
However, when Moshe carries out the oath, it is reiterated as follows:
"G-d will surely remember you (PAKOD YIFKOD ET'CHEM), and you will bring up my bones from here with you
Yet, the word IT'CHEM does not appear in the original oath!
Rashi, quoting from the Mechilta, says that IT'CHEM was in the oath Yosef administered to his brothers, leading to the teaching that the bones of all the brothers were also taken up from Egypt. Yosef was instructing them: bring up my bones - IT'CHEM - with yours. This is consistent with Rashi's approach that each generation received the oath from the previous one, but it began with the oath taken by Yosef's brothers: take my bones, together with your bones, up from Egypt.
However, according to Rabbenu Bachya, IT'CHEM cannot be understood this way, since the initial oath was given to the nation: The nation is to bring my bones up from Egypt. Then, what is the function of IT'CHEM?
Perhaps we can answer for Rabbenu Bachya: The nation knows that salvation will come eventually, but that knowledge does not necessarily lead to personalizing it. Let salvation come to the nation when it will come, they might say, but our generation will not see it. However, with the passing of the first generation after Yosef, it is possible that the people added the word IT'CHEM themselves! In doing so, they took the spirit of Yosef's original message - do not despair, because Hashem will remember us - and made it real for themselves. Not only will Hashem deliver the nation, but - despite all evidence to the contrary - we will be the generation to witness the deliverance. And every subsequent generation of the nation of Israel in Egypt repeated this with utter conviction.
It is not enough to know that we are the nation which will experience salvation. We must also know, and repeat to ourselves and our children, that we will be the generation to experience salvation.