>Just over a week ago, I was in the cinema watching the George Clooney film ‘Up in the Air’. Without spoiling anything, the premise of the film is that Clooney’s character has a job which involves him flying all over America, and rarely, if ever, coming home. Alongside this day job, he also moonlights as a motivational speaker, giving talks entitled: “What’s in Your Backpack?” His speech is basically his philosophy on life, which says that we carry too many things in our metaphorical backpacks – people and things weigh us down.
As I watched the film, and especially as I listened to the motivational speech he delivered, I realised that I am one of those hoarders whose backpack would be filled with knick-knacks and trinkets. When I finally moved out of my parents’ home, there were cupboards and drawers filled with random items and memories from my childhood, teenage years, university and early adulthood. I was happy to discard many of these ‘things,’ but the items from my grandparents, pieces which connected me to my family, were too precious to lose.
George Clooney’s character would be unimpressed by my backpack, but I think he would also be a little disappointed in Moses’ backpack as well, as seen in this week’s Torah portion. Last week, after ten plagues, Pharaoh finally ordered the Israelites out of Egypt. They left in the middle of the night, and although they managed to take gold and silver from the Egyptians with them (Ex. 12:35-36), there was not even enough time for the dough of their bread to rise (Ex. 12:34).
Yet despite all of this rushing around, amidst the need for a speedy exit, Moses had time to gather the bones of Joseph to carry ‘in his backpack’ on the journey to Israel. In the middle of describing the journey, it says: ‘And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, because he had made the Children of Israel swear saying: Surely God will remember you, and you will carry up my bones with you from here.’ (Ex. 13:19).
The Exodus was not a flight with checked baggage and helpful airline staff to take care of your luggage; it was an escape from persecution, and the beginning of a forty year journey in the wilderness. One could argue it was a time for travelling light. But Moses remembers an oath made hundreds of years ago, and fulfils it, carrying the bones of Joseph to freedom and the Promised Land.
While George Clooney’s character may be accurate in stating that we carry too many items around with us, a completely empty backpack would be a truly terrible thing. Our memories of family and history are important, but we should also cherish those items which provide a link with the past: My saba’s pocket knife, a picture from a cousin who perished in the Holocaust and a pocket clock which belonged to a great-grandfather.
Moses reminds us that there are some things, some connections, which are so important that they must be protected and preserved even when it seems illogical to do so. The bones of Joseph were carried so that they could be transported for forty years and reburied at the end of the journey. Yet they also provided a link for the Israelites with generations past, they bestowed a connection upon ancestors who had lived in the Land of Israel, and they reminded the Israelites that God had remained faithful to them in the past and present.
We know what Moses had in his backpack and what the Israelites carried in theirs; I’ve even given you a glimpse of what is in mine. So one question remains: What’s in your backpack?