Questioning faith in the parsha
KOSHI: HOW does the nature of Israel’s departure from Egypt frame their people’s/our future? WHAT are they carrying on their journey in fulfilling the promise to Joseph?…WHAT are WE?
REMEZ…Dialogue of the Centuries—Reclaiming Culture/Connection
v.17 …for God said: ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.’
RASHI… If now, when God took them by a circuitous route, they nonetheless said: “Let us appoint a [new] leader and return to Egypt,” [Numbers 14:4] had He taken them by the straight path, all the moreso…
RAMBAN… “when they see war”—For the Philistines would not let them cross peacefully, and they would “return to Egypt.” But by way of the Wilderness they will not see war until they reach the land promised them…By that time they will be far from Egypt, with no expectation that they would turn around on account of battling the Amalekites [17:8-13]…For they did not have to pass directly through Amelek’s territory, rather Amalek came out against them out of hatred for them, and if Israel turned back at that point, it would have done no good, for Amalek would have chased after them all the way. Moreover, they were very far from Egypt by then, and would never have found the short way back.
CHATAM SOFER… God did not lead them “Derech Eretz P’lishtim,” that is, through the cultural byway of the Philistines, which was similar to that of the Egyptians. God was concerned lest the Children of Israel regress into the errors of their Egyptian past, or be tempted by new cultural assimilations.
v.18-19 Now the Children of Israel went up armed out of the Land of Egypt, and Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who’d exacted an oath from the Children of Israel saying,’God will surely remember you, so shall you bring up my bones from here with you.’
RASHI… “chamushim” Had God taken them by the direct route, they would not have been so well armed…for one who heads into the desert must bring everything he needs. The whole purpose of this verse is to prepare our ear so you will not wonder [later when they fight with Amalek] where the weapons come from.
RAMBAN… “armed”—They went prepared for war, though some say it meant “defiantly,” thinking themselves redeemed, rather than like fleeing slaves.
IBN EZRA…Not only did all the Israelites still living in that generation go up out of Egypt, but they also brought up the most honored of them all, the one through whom they had gone down to Egypt…
RISKIN… From a narrative perspective, Joseph’s name evokes a jarring note at this moment of Israel’s freedom. After all, Joseph may well be the very antithesis of Moses. Joseph begins with the family of Israel, and moves outside it as he rises to great heights. Moses begins as a Prince of Egypt and moves into the family of Israel. Joseph gives all of his wisdom and energy to Egypt while Moses gives his all to the Israelites. So why bring up the remains at this point?
ETZ HAYIM… “Moses took with him the bones of Joseph.” While the others were busy packing their belongings in preparation for the journey, Moses was busy keeping a promise… [R’ HAROLD KUSHNER]
v.21 The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud by day, to guide them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give light
RASHI… The light of the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire would overlap, one with the other, so that before one would set, the other would rise.
TANCHUMA… What led Israel through the desert?…At the same time Israel was packing, Moses was searching for the bones of Joseph….But it was Serach ben Asher, who was still living in that generation, who told Moses that Joseph was buried in the River Nile. Moses then went and stood at the foot of the Nile and cried: ‘Joseph, Joseph, the time of our Redemption has come, but the Holy One is holding it back. If you will show yourself, I will carry you.. If not, I am free of the oath…’
Immediately, the casket of Joseph rose to the surface. Hence, when Israel went forth from Egypt, two aronot [arks] accompanied them for 40 years: the cask of the words of the Living Torah, and the cask of Joseph. And when the nations of the world would ask: What is the nature of these two casks? Israel would respond: The one buried in this ark[aron] fulfilled all that is written in this one.