his son, Joseph, was alive and ruling over the whole of Egypt. Then Jacob and his entire family came down from Canaan to live in Egypt, and Joseph treated his father and brothers with love and generosity.
For seventeen years, Jacob lived with Joseph in great happiness. And when Jacob’s end was near, he blessed his sons and said, Soon I will be gathered to my fathers. Take me up from this strange place and bury me in the land of Canaan in the cave of Machpelah alongside Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Leah.
And Joseph replied, I will do as you ask.
Then Jacob breathed his last and was gathered to his people, and Joseph and his brothers took their father up to Canaan and buried him with his ancestors.
The family saga continues.
Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt where Joseph lived to see the third generation of his children’s children. And when he was one hundred and ten years old, Joseph said to his brothers, I am about to die. But God will surely remember you,
and take you out of this land to the land he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And Joseph made his brothers promise that when God redeemed the Hebrews
and returned them to the Promised Land, his bones would not be left behind.
On his deathbed, Joseph made his family swear, saying, God will surely remember you, and then you shall carry up my bones from here with you.
Then Joseph died and was placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Legend has it that Joseph’s bones lay in that coffin during more than four hundred years of Egyptian slavery, until the night of the Exodus. In their frantic dash to freedom, the Children of Israel hastily strapped on their sandals and stuffed provisions into sacks. But Moses (more loyal to the past than to possessions, and determined to honor the promise given to his ancestor centuries earlier) took precious time to search for Joseph’s coffin. After all, he reasoned, commitments to others aren’t cancelled by the grave. But how, after all these years, could Moses find where Joseph was buried?
Enter Serah bat Asher, who, it is said, came down from Canaan to Egypt with Jacob,
her grandfather. On the eve of the Exodus, Serah was an old, wise woman — a teller of stories, a keeper of memories. Immortal, a survivor, she alone had spanned the generations from Jacob to Joseph to Moses. She alone held the secret of where
Joseph’s bones were buried.
Moses, my master, she whispered. Joseph’s iron casket lies sunk in the depths of the Nile, hidden there by Egyptians wizards. And Moses stood at the river’s edge and called,
Joseph, Joseph, the hour of redemption has come. The waters belched and bubbled,
and when the coffin bobbed to the surface, we are told that Moses seized it, in joy,
and took the bones of Joseph with him.
During the forty years of wandering in the desert, the story continues.
It tells of the two arks that the Children of Israel carried with them. One ark contained the Ten Commandments — the words that teach us how to live — and the other contained Joseph’s bones — the remains of an ancestor long dead.
And for all the years it took our people to come back home,
the bones were carefully guarded and treated with respect.
Now before Moses died, he handed them to Joshua. And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the piece of land
that Jacob bought for one hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor,
father of Shechem. And this became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.
And there you have it.
The backstory to my book of personal family stories titled Joseph’s Bones.
A symbol of continuity, memory and promises kept.
A metaphor linking one generation to another.
at this Passover season,
I think of our children and grandchildren both near and far —
Kathy, Larry, Zachary and Seth,
Marsha and Shari,
Alexandra, Natalie, Mike, and the memory of our dear Shelly,
Tony, Patty and Olivia --
and ask only that wherever you go,
please take my stories,
like Joseph’s bones,
and carry them with you.
adapted from Joseph's Bones, copyright 2004 Ozzie Nogg