Parshas Beshalach 5758
Words of Remembrance
Volume 4 Issue 18
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week's portion begins with the event that merits the title of the book
- Exodus. The Jews finally are chased from Egypt. Hastily, they gather
their meager possessions and with the gold and silver that the Egyptians
miraculously gave them they flee.
But one of them, their leader no less, does not take gold and silver. He
takes Joseph's bones. The Torah tells us why. Decades prior, Joseph
beseeched his children, "pakod yifkod - G-d will surely remember you and
you shall bring my bones up with you out of here" (Genesis 50:25).
Slavery can make one forget commitments - especially about old bones.
However, despite more than a century of servitude, Moshe kept the promise.
What baffles me is the wording of the request and its fulfillment. Why did
Yoseph juxtapose the words "pakod yifkod" (G-d shall remember) with the
petition to re-inter his bones? It is repeated in this week's portion.
"Moshe took the bones because Joseph said that pakod yifkod - G-d will
remember you and bring my bones up" (Exodus13: 19).
It is wonderful that Joseph assured redemption, but is that the reason
Moshe took the bones? Didn't he take the bones simply to fulfill a
commitment to Joseph? What does pakod yifkod have to do with it? Why is
it inserted in both the request and response?
Twelve years ago, our Yeshiva established an audio Torah tape library. I
looked in the Yellow Pages and found a company that sold tape labels. A
very knowledgeable representative took my call. Clearly Jewish, she had a
Brooklyn accent, and spiced her words with some Yiddish expressions. I
felt comfortable dealing with someone who I believed, knew about Jewish
institutions. I said I would call her back and asked for her name. She
answered proudly, "Esther." "Last name?" I inquired. After a brief
pause, I received an answer that surprised me. "Scatteregio."
" Scatteregio?" I repeated in amazement. Stepping where perhaps I should
not have, I explained my perplexity. "Actually," I offered, "I was
expecting Cohen or Goldberg." She paused, "you are right, I am Jewish and
my first husband was Goldman." Another pause. "But now I'm remarried, and
its "Scatteregio." She took a deep breath. "But I have a Jewish son,
Rick, and he really wants to observe. In fact, he wants me to allow him to
study in an Israeli Yeshiva."
I knew that this was not destined to be a telephone call only about tape.
For half an hour, I talked about the importance of Yeshiva, and how Rick
could be her link to her past and connection with her future. I never knew
what kind of impact my words made. I remember leaving my name and talking
about my namesake's influence on an Esther of yesteryear. I ended the
conversation with the words "Esther, es vet zain gut!" (Yiddish for it
will be well!)
Ten years later, during the intermediate days of Passover I took my
children to a local park. Many Jewish grandparents were there, watching
the next generations slide and swing. An older woman wearing pants and
smoking a cigarette was holding the hand of a young boy who was wearing a
large kipah and had thick payos (sidecurls). As one of my children offered
to play with the little boy, I nodded hello and smiled. With tremendous
pride, she began talking about her grandchildren. "Do you know my son
Reuvain? He was studying in a Far Rockaway yeshiva until now and just took
a job in the city." "Wonderful," I said, "but I don't know your son." She
told me about the struggles of making a living, and I had no choice but to
listen and smile. Instinctively I responded, "Es vet zain gut!" Things
will be fine. Her eyes locked on me. She stared in disbelief.
"Mordechai?" "Esther?" We just shook our heads in disbelief, and to my
amazement, she told me that Rick did go to Yeshiva, these were his
children, and they were truly her nachas (pride and joy).
I never will know if my words helped turn Rick into Reuvain, but I am sure
that the words, "es vet zain gut" assuring someone that things will be all
right, was a statement not easily forgotten.
When Yoseph made his children promise that they will take his bones with
them, he added an assurance. He promised them that G-d would surely
remember them. Even Hashem, appearing to Moshe said, "pakod pakadti," "I
have remembered" (Exodus 3:16). Yoseph, too, requested to be remembered.
Two hundred years of slavery can take an awful toll on people. It can make
them give up their pride, it can make them forget about family, it surely
it can cause them to forget about bones. But when requests are linked with
comforting words, they endure. Moshe took Yoseph's bones because they were
linked with words of reassurance that remained an anthem of the Jews in
exile, "G-d will remember you." And Moses remembered, too.
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