So what pray tell does this expression have to do with Passover? In just a few days, the Jewish world over, pots of chicken soup will be simmering, with celery, carrots, parsnip, onions, various spices, and matzo balls in varying degrees of fluffiness. Master chefs and cooking apprentices alike will tell you that the key to a great broth is the quality of the bones that we use. And then, of course, we have to be sure to take the bones out of the soup. It's safer that way. No one wants anyone to swallow a bone at the Seder.
Soup aside, Passover is about our bones. And instead of pulling our bones out of our personal bowl of soup and casting them aside, the Passover story invites us to leave our bones right where they are, to think about our bones, bearing, carrying, elevating, loving, and bringing them with us on our individual and collective journey out of Egypt.
Torah teaches us that before his death, our patriarch Joseph, as he lay dying in Egypt, asked that when the Israelites were taken out of slavery, that his bones be carried out of Egypt with them. "And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph - et atzmot Yosef - [for Joseph] had exacted an oath from the children of Israel, saying 'God will be sure to take notice of you: then you shall carry up my bones - atzmotai - from here, with you." The word for bone is etzem, the plural of which is atzmot.
Another interpretation. V'ha'alitem et atzmotai - "Cause my bones to ascend from this place with you." Joseph asked that his bones literally be risen from the depths, v'ha'alitem et atzmotai, perhaps signaling an understanding that the Promised Land, whether Israel or some other locale, is somewhere better, somewhere higher, somewhere more hopeful. When we carry our bones with us, we journey toward a place that allows us to become more complete, more whole.
But this isn't the only text that makes mention of someone's bones. And a text from the Mishnah, that we read in the Haggadah teaches that our ancestors not only carried Joseph's bones; they carried their own. Rabban Gamliel instructs, "In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see themselves as if they went out from Egypt." Working with the Hebrew for themselves we find the word atzmo, the same root of the word as etzem, the word used for "bones." Thus, in each and every generation, a person is obligated to see the Exodus as if their bones went out of Egypt.
It's often easy to see ourselves superficially. We look in the mirror. It's a good hair day. We look okay to the outside world, like we have ourselves together, maybe a little bit tired. But yeah, we're ready and raring to go, just look at our Facebook page to see the side of ourselves that we want to put out there. Oh wait, that shirt and pair of pants don't really go, oh well, back to the closet, we can make this work. Typical day. Right?
But Passover is an invitation to go deeper. The Exodus is an internal, personal, delicate, spiritually intimate journey. Focusing on our bones can take us there. Bones invite us to look inside ourselves. Bones reflect the heart of the matter, the substance, the feelings, the depth of who we are. There is a world behind our eyes that only we can see, a voice in our head that only we can hear, a deep part of our emotional core known only to us. These hidden parts, the fugitive pieces from which we'd often rather run, right on down to our very bones, get to go out of Egypt too. We have to see and recognize the power of that truth.
The Haggadah continues by quoting a line from the book of Exodus, inviting us to personalize the experience of going out of Egypt. "And you shall explain to your child on that day, "It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt." It isn't just about our ancestors. I go free. We go free. We continue to go free. And while there is a distinct responsibility that we have in teaching our children, the next generation, about the Passover story, maybe sometimes we have to teach ourselves these very truths. Maybe sometimes we have to teach these truths to our own inner child, the very unresolved demons that rest deeply in our own souls.
Think about how we spend our lives rising above our greatest challenges, climbing beyond our greatest fears, surfacing from the depths of sorrow, owning those parts of ourselves that hurt. We live the Exodus each and every day. And we are not alone. We cannot bear or carry someone else's bones. But we can celebrate and grieve our own bones, all at the same time. We can hold ourselves tenderly, love ourselves, affirm, validate, appreciate ourselves and recognize, that in life's lowest Egypt-like moments of solitude and silence, we are not alone. We are human. We are Jewish. We are part of a special people that lives this journey time and time again. And God remains with us.
We can go free. And we do go free. Our text reminds us of our obligation to thank and to sing, to praise and to honor, to bless and to acclaim the One, God, who performed these miracles for our ancestors and for us. We, like our ancestors, exist in the journey from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, from enslavement to redemption. Seeing these facets of our own lives, seeing these elements in our people's history, we are left with no other words with which to approach God, but Hallelujah.
Maimonides' commentary takes our lesson a step further when he uses the word atah meaning "now." A person is to see their bones as if they went out "now" from bondage in Egypt. In Maimonides' rendering, God did not just redeem our ancestors, but it is critical that we recognize that God redeems us. God swore to give the Promised Land, literally, the land of Israel to our ancestors. But beyond the physical land, there is also the promise of the land - covenant, vision, dreams, love, peace, hope - these concepts can be ours too. Maimonides reminds us that we have to see the slavery in our own bones now, the slavery deep inside of ourselves. He uses the word v'nifdita, suggesting that we have to see ourselves as if the ransom prices on our own lives had been paid and redeemed. Freed from what enslaves us, we are allowed to wander in the wilderness of life with the hope of reaching a better place, a place of greater promise and opportunity.
So make no bones about it, Pesach is about our bones. Our might, our frame, our substance, our wholeness, our wholly incomplete developing imperfect growing being including our defenses, how we try to shield and protect ourselves, all the stuff that gets pushed down inside of us, and all that stuff that we're working on that very few people in our lives actually get to see. All of us, the good and beautiful, the things that we dislike and dread and the bones that we pick with ourselves, and every piece of marrow somewhere in-between, all of this, and all of us, gets to go out of Egypt, to be celebrated, to be loved, and to be redeemed.
Are we ready? Are we ready to carry our bones with us? Are we ready to stand beside others - without judgment - as they carry their own bones? This Pesach, let's take everything with us, the wholeness of our being in its desperate despairing affirming broken beauty, and let's go forth, one step at a time, toward freedom, toward redemption, toward something even better.
I am ready to go out of Egypt. Won't you join me? Hallelujah.
 Genesis 50:25. Etz Hayim Torah Commentary, p. 310.
 Exodus 13:18-19. Etz Hayim Torah commentary, p. 400.
 My own interpretation.
 Mishnah Pesachim 10:5.
 The Hebrew is worded in the masculine but our contemporary translation can be more sensitive and more inclusive.
 Exodus 13:8.
 Mishnah Pesachim 10:5.
 With an ayin.
 Mishnah Pesachim 10:5, Kehati Hebrew Edition, quoting Maimonides, p. 133. My own translation.
 Quoting Deuteronomy 5:15.