Here we are starting off a new secular year, while we are reading in our Torah portion this week that the Israelites are leaving Egypt and beginning their journey to the promised land. The Torah portion we are reading this week is Beshallach (Exodus 13:17 - 17:16) and during my reading of it this year, I am particularly struck by the fact that the Israelites are bringing the bones of their ancestor Joseph with them as they leave slavery and move forward into a new life.
I am taking this new secular year as a prompt to leave behind an old habit that is a type of slavery for me – a way of being that is standing in the way of my feeling completely free. Perhaps you too are using this new secular year as a catalyst for transformation. If so, how might it benefit us to bring the bones of Joseph with us? The word for bones (atzmot) also has the meaning of essence. What is the essence of Joseph?
Joseph had the ability to transcend his circumstances. He rose from a place of lowliness (being thrown in the pit by his brothers) to being one of the rulers over Egypt, Mitzrayim, which means a place of narrowness or constriction. He accomplishes this by learning that he is not the ultimate source of truth, but instead that God is. Allowing himself to connect with God and have God’s wisdom move through him (as when he was interpreting dreams for Pharoah) was the source of his ascent to a higher level of being, on both inner and outer levels.
As we start this new year and move towards a new way of being/thinking/doing, may we remember to bring the essence of Joseph with us – calling on that ability to connect to what is real and true and good and allowing that to guide us as we move forward.
I am a Rabbinic Chaplain in the Jewish Renewal tradition who brings a light-filled and joyful Judaism to others who want to experience the beauty of Jewish spirituality.