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"Dem Bones!"

02/05/2020 10:14:16 AM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

The Talmud teaches us that one who starts to perform a mitzvah (duty/obligation) has a greater responsibility to complete it than one who has begun to undertake to perform it in the first place.  Why is that?  We look to a verse from this week's parashah, Parashat BeShallach: "And Moshe brought up the bones of Yoseph with him, for he [Yoseph] had indeed caused the B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to swear saying, 'G-d will indeed remember you, and you will bring up my bones from this [place] with you.'" (Shemot 13:19)  You may ask why Yoseph did not instruct his brothers to immediately bury him in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) upon his death.  the fact is that he could not make such a request as he knew that Pharaoh would not have allowed it.  After they swore to fulfill Yoseph's request, his brothers, in turn, obligated their descendants to do so as well.  As we have already noted, the Torah tells us that only Moshe retrieved Yoseph's remains to fulfill his request.  However, it is indeed surprising to note that the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) says the following: "The bones of Yoseph, which the B'nei Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Sh'chem,...." (Yehoshua 24:32)

It is interesting to note that it is from this verse that the Talmud Bavli in Masekhet Sotah 13b teaches the importance of completing a mitzvah.  The Talmud Bavli explains that if one person begins a mitzvah and another person comes along and completes it, the latter will receive credit as if s/he performed the entire mitzvah him/herself.  Yes, it is true that Moshe alone was responsible both for removing Yoseph's remains from Eretz Mitzrayim (the Land of Egypt) and for watching over them during the 40-year sojourn through the wilderness until he passed away, but it was because B'nei Yisrael completed his mission by actually burying Yoseph's remains in Eretz Yisrael that they, and not Moshe, receive the credit for doing so.  What does this episode teach us?

We can all be inspired to complete an important task.  However, that inspiration is limited to those things we believe ourselves capable of doing.  When we begin to take action, a part of us often becomes discouraged due to whatever challenges of difficulties may arise as we proceed with our task.  In such a situation we can and should request from HaShem through heartfelt prayer for a moment of clarity that will give us the ability to carry on and complete the task at hand.  There is no doubt that the media pays more attention to the finish line of a marathon than it does to the starting line.  After all, anyone can begin a race, but what matters most is those who finish it.

Fri, July 3 2020 11 Tammuz 5780