When most people think about this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Beshalach, the focus is on the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. However, I would like to take a moment to focus on one verse in chapter 16. The verse states, “Moses took the bones (atzmot) of Joseph with him.” The Kotzker Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Morgensztern (1787-1859) plays on the word “atzmot” and says that Moses took not just the bones of Joseph, but his essence (atzmiut). And what was that? What was the essential quality of Joseph that Moses needed for his own journey? The Kotzker Rebbe says that Moses was well-equipped to provide spiritual direction for the people of Israel, but he was ill-prepared to manage their physical needs. Joseph, on the other hand, was “ha-mashbir,” the ultimate manager of physical resources.
You could say that Joseph was logistics genius, though he was less insightful into the feelings of people around him. For Moses to succeed in leading his people through the wilderness he would need to spend a lot more of his energy and insight on logistics: "What will the people eat?" "What will they drink?" "How far can they walk?" "Will they be safe?"
Parashat Beshalach may be called “Shirah” (song) but The Song at the Sea is just a fleeting (but seminal) moment. For the next 40 years there will be constant kvetching and fighting, often over mundane things like food, drink and safety. With the quail and the manna and the first battle with Amalek, Moses quickly gets tested for his physical leadership—if he is going to be the “faithful shepherd,” then he needs to protect his people.
This insight is worth considering. Often the key to success is not just in the religious content of our programming but in the logistical details of room set-up, catering and schedule. Many an inspired idea has failed because of poor planning, and many decent but not brilliant programs have succeeded beyond expectations when the environment is conducive. I am constantly inspired by this parsha when we plan our incredible programming at CSI.
The deeper lesson for us is to bring people together in a supportive environment and help them work together.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham