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Parashat Beshalah – The Power of Experiential Learning


Joseph, before he died, made the family pledge to bring his body back to their ancestral home when they would eventually return to the land of Israel.

In the beginning of this week’s Parasha, we find that it was none other than Moshe himself that fulfilled this oath, as the Torah states, “Moshe took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had firmly adjured the Children of Israel, saying, ‘G-d will surely remember you, and you shall bring my bones up from here with you.‘“

However, according to our tradition, Moshe initially didn’t know where Joseph was buried and so he searched out the eldest survivor of that generation, Serah the daughter of Asher, to see if she could remember the forgotten burial place of Joseph.

Now, we have to wonder why our sages would say that the greatest of all prophets had to turn to be aided by the memory of an old lady. Didn’t Moshe speak countless times with G-d?! Why didn’t he just ask Him?

There is, within this story, a fundamental principle of human knowledge, that some things we can only learn from our elders and cannot be acquired in any other way.

Moshe knew he could receive wisdom by turning to G-d, but Serah had stood in the presence of Joseph and sat at the feet of Jacob. These were experiences that Moshe never had, and only Serah could convey these experiences in a way that even direct communication with G-d could not and as such, he didn’t want to give up an opportunity to be inspired by her experiences.

I, myself, remember as a child being told by my father how his grandmother told him how she would attend the weekly sermons of the great sage, the Ben Ish Hai in Baghdad. The awe and respect for the great sage were palpable in every word spoken.

Indeed it was Moshe who declared at the very end of his life, ”Ask your parents and they will tell you, your elders and they will instruct you”

Because there is indeed no substitute for the power of personal experiences.

~Rabbi Shaul