Deciding what to take and what not to take was always difficult. It is even harder now that airline security measures are much more stringent than ever before.
And if this is the case with normal travel, imagine how complicated it is if you are moving to another city or country.
Yet as Kohelet says (1:9), “There is nothing new under the sun”, and long before air travel our Israelite ancestors faced a similar problem when they left Egypt for the Promised Land.
We are not certain what possessions they had, but they must have brought something with them, as God had authorised them to ask the Egyptians for compensation for the years of enslavement (Ex. 3:21-22).
But what about the leader, Moses? What did he bring?
Material things do not appear to have been important to him. His concern was more spiritual than material. He brought the bones of Joseph, who had pleaded not to be left behind when the people returned home (Ex. 13:19).
But where exactly were Joseph’s remains? Here the Midrash comes to our aid. The Jewish sages believed that his coffin had been sunk in the Nile, but where?
Serach the daughter of Asher was able to help, and showed Moses where to look. He thereupon threw a pebble into the water and said, “Joseph, the time has come for Israel to leave their oppressors. Come up: don’t cause us any delay!” At once the coffin floated to the surface, and the Exodus could proceed (M’chilta B’shallach; Sh’mot Rabba 20:17).
The coffin now accompanied the Israelites throughout their years in the wilderness. It went side by side with the Ark of the Covenant because, say the rabbis, “He (Joseph) fulfilled what was in the Ark”.
Joseph dreamed dreams but had his feet on the ground. He suffered injustice but remained an optimist. He had vision but was able to turn ideas into reality. He was tempted to sin but had the moral courage to resist. He mixed with kings but could talk to ordinary human beings. He honoured his past but planned for the future.
Finding his body enabled Moses to demonstrate ideas and values to the people.