When the Jewish people left Egyptian slavery forever, the Torah tells us that “Vayikach Moshe et atzmot Yosef imo” — “ Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him” (13:19). Our Rabbis (Sotah 13a) comment that all Israel was busy with the new-found wealth from the drowned Egyptians and Moshe busied himself with Yosef’s remains. What connection is there between Israel’s riches and Yosef’s mortal remains? Moreover, we are told that the bodies of all Yosef’s brothers were taken out of Egypt. Why, then, is only Yosef’s name singled out?

Yosef’s career was strikingly different from that of his brothers. Generally, they were always together — in warfare, in work, in traveling to Egypt, in Goshen — while Yosef spent many years alone. The brothers lived fairly stable lives, with few ups and downs in their fortunes. Yosef, in contrast, was the favored son of his father, then a slave and a convict, and finally a supreme ruler of a mighty kingdom. Despite the vicissitudes of his life, Yosef himself never changed. In his father’s house or in Potiphar’s, in prison or palace, Yosef staunchly maintained his identity and his ways of Torah observance.

Moshe saw his people leaving the land of oppression, the land of the Goshen-ghetto, the land of the bread of poverty and affliction. In all their troubles they never forgot who they were. Their names were Jewish names, their clothing was distinctive, their language — the Sacred Tongue. Now they were en-route to a new land —one where they would dwell in peace and tranquility. They were loaded heavily with gold and silver. Here was a new temptation, one Moshe feared they could not withstand properly.

He could hear the arguments: Judaism survived as a result of anti-Semitism; exclusion forced the Jews to seek within themselves and among themselves; poverty and ignorance of the world kept the Jews pious and forced them to concentrate on their own culture. He feared the erroneous argument that “Torah Judaism was viable in the closed society of Eastern Europe, but cannot survive in the free world of democracy, opportunity, and culture.”

Moshe had to demonstrate — not with words but with an example based on experience — that Torah and Yiddishkeit are not meant only for the small shtetl Jew of Europe, not only for poverty, not only under oppression and isolation, but equally for those blessed with material wealth, with recognition and honor. Yosef, he showed his people, was the same loyal devout Jew whether unjustly imprisoned or at the summit of power. Whether under the shadow of a saintly father or in a licentious Egyptian household, Yosef never compromised his standards and ideals.

Homiletically, the words “atzmot Yosef” which literally mean “the bones of Yosef,” can also be explained as the atzmiyot — the essence — of Yosef. Moshe showed the people Yosef’s true nature, what he represented and the model he had left for posterity.

Moshe did not attempt to discourage the people’s pursuit of wealth. He did not admonish them for being immersed in materialism. On the contrary, he wished them well in their endeavors but beseeched them to never let the essence of Yosef out of their minds. Hashem is not envious of His children and wishes them the very best of everything. He has just one request: that they not forget Him and His Torah.

My dear Chatan and Kallah, may your married life be blessed with an abundance of success. May you reach the heights of royalty. But at the same time may it be evident in your behavior that “Od Yosef chai, you are conducting your life in accordance with the essence and spirit of the righteous Yosef.

(הרב זלמן יצחק שי' פויזנער עם הוספות)