People love telling stories about their ancestors and their fidelity to Judaism.

“My grandfather was a rabbi back in Europe.”

“We never ate pork at home when I was a kid because Oma and Opa didn’t either.”

“My Bubby volunteered for“My gramps used to take me to shul every Yom Kippur the local chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society).”

“We grew up hearing about our great-grandparents’ self-sacrifice, how they’d save and slave all week just to buy the best for Shabbat.”

“My gramps used to take me to shul every Yom Kippur and was so happy that I did my bar mitzvah!”

And you know what? Those people are right to be proud of the memories. It’s important to honor the commitment of the past and use it as inspiration for the future. Even people not currently invested in religion are inspired by their ancestors, and often it is these stories of faith and fulfilment that serve as the signposts guiding the next generation on their journey back home.

The Jewish people had finally left Egypt. They’d spent over two centuries there; at times living high on the fat of the land, while other junctures had been full of slavery and hardship. But now it was time to go. They were heading off into the unknown, “and G‑d led them through the desert by the Reed Sea and the children of Israel went out armed from Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.”1

Talk about a non-sequitur! What do the bones of Joseph have to do with the previous verse?

But that’s the point. When confronted by a new reality and faced with unknown dangers they armed themselves with the bones of their ancestors and the memory of those who had shaped them.

The Hebrew word for bones, atzmot, also has connotations of atzmiut, essence—the essence of Joseph, the man who managed to keep the faith in spite all manner of temptations and dangers, and transform Egypt into a G‑dly country.

Wherever we wander, and noYou have the weapons to overcome matter which geographical location we currently call home, we know that some pieces of our past will never be left behind. Whether your ancestors hailed from the Eastern-European shtetl or cosmopolitan London, the bazaars of Morocco or even gold-rush era Melbourne, the reason that you are alive to practice your Judaism today is because of their courage and commitment to G‑d before you even arrived on the scene. No matter the spiritual dangers that confront you, you can feel confident with the knowledge that you have the weapons to overcome, because your grandparents fought the good fight in the old country, and your soul is imbued with the tools to continue that struggle.

We are all products of our past, and as you head off on your own journey, keep in mind that your future descendants are waiting for you complete your travels safely so that they, in turn, can set off through the desert, until we all eventually reach the Promised Land.