This week's Torah portion opens with the words:
"And it was, when Pharaoh sent away the people, that G‑d did not lead them by way of the Land of the Philistines, for it was close. For G‑d said, 'Lest the people change their mind when they see war, and return to Egypt' So G‑d led the people around by way of the desert of the Sea of Reeds, and the Israelites went out from Egypt armed. Moses took Joseph's bones with him, for he had made the Israelites swear, saying, 'G‑d will certainly redeem you, so take my bones out of here with you.' (Ex. 13:17-19)

The word for "and it was" presaged trouble for the Jewish people from the fact that "Pharaoh sent away the people", that is, the Mixed Multitude.

The word for "and it was/vayehi", is understood by the Sages to presage trouble. (Megilla 10b) When the Torah uses the term "the people" instead of the more usual "the Israelites/Benei Yisrael", it is often understood to refer to the Mixed Multitude of gentiles that Moses converted and accompanied the Jews out of Egypt. These converts were moved to convert by the miracles they saw performed for the Jews rather than by sincere devotion to G‑d. Since their intentions were not pure, they proved repeatedly to be a source of trouble during the ensuing trek to the Land of Israel.

For it was because of them that "G‑d did not lead them…", i.e. the Jews, ["by way of the Land of the Philistines] for [this route] was close", and they would have entered the [Promised] Land immediately [had they taken it]. G‑d suspected that "the people (i.e. the Mixed Multitude) would change their mind and return to Egypt".

When Moses saw that they had to travel "by way of the desert of the Sea of Reeds", and they would have to cross the sea, "he took Joseph's bones with him" in order to use them to split the sea, similar to [the idea in] the verse, "the sea saw and fled". (Psalms 114:3)

According to the Midrash, it was Joseph's bones that the sea saw and "fled", i.e. retreated on either side, leaving a dry path for the Jews to use to cross. It was because Joseph fled when he was tempted by Potiphar's wife that the sea now fled before him. (Bereishit Rabbah 87:8)

Rabbi Shalom Sharabi notes that since this verse continues "for he had made the Israelites swear, saying, 'G‑d will certainly redeem you, so take my bones out of here with you'", we cannot say that Moses took Joseph's bones because he realized he would have to use them to split the sea, because the Jews were obligated to take his bones in any case. Rather, he says, the Arizal means that the reason Moses took Joseph's bones "with him", i.e. keeping them next to him, rather than putting someone else in charge of them, was for this reason.

The Arizal goes on to explain the Kabbalistic dynamics behind this change of plans in Part 2: Curly-Haired Philistines (click here)

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah, parashat Beshalach; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.