Seder Table by Dvo­ra Mor­ag, oil on can­vas, solo exhi­bi­tion His­to­ry of Silence”, exhi­bi­tion at Artist House Tel-Aviv, 2009

I’m leav­ing Egypt and tak­ing with me — Joseph’s mummy.

That’s what I’m going to say this year when we play the I’m leav­ing Egypt and bring­ing with me…” game that has become our Passover seder tra­di­tion. My guests have brought a wide range of items, includ­ing Bob­by Zimmerman’s orig­i­nal vinyls, eye­brow tweez­ers, dogs and chil­dren, and once, my brisket! 

No one has vol­un­teered to take Joseph’s mum­my yet. But this year it is imper­a­tive that some­one bring Joseph out of Egypt and into Israel.

When God takes you up from this land to the land He promised to Isaac and Jacob…you shall take up my bones from this place,” Joseph tells his fel­low Israelites as he nears death. Since Joseph was embalmed, I’m assum­ing his bones” were, in fact, a mummy.

Gen­er­a­tions lat­er, a dif­fer­ent Pharaoh oppress­es and enslaves the Israelites. They flee Egypt in the dead of night with no time to let the dough rise. Despite their haste, they remem­ber the promise their ances­tors made and raid the tomb of the long-dead Joseph. What was it like to schlepp his mum­my with them through the desert for the next forty years? What poor soul got that work detail? Did any­one ever unwrap the linen strips to peek at Joseph’s mum­mi­fied body? 

It’s only after I plough through the books of Exo­dus, Leviti­cus, Num­bers, Deuteron­o­my, and Joshua (which seems to take forty years), and I dis­cov­er the Israelites had kept their promise, And the bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shechem.”

Joseph was respon­si­ble for the Israelites’ descent into Egypt. Joshua was Moses’ gen­er­al and right-hand man who led them through the desert and into the Promised Land. He was respon­si­ble for their ascent, their aliyah, back to Israel. 

By remem­ber­ing their pre­de­ces­sors’ promise to Joseph, the Jews were invok­ing the spir­it of Passover — hon­or­ing our ances­tors, and bring­ing the past into the present.

Now the two men are long dead and buried. This reflects two of the main motifs through­out the Bible: seed and soil. God said Abraham’s seed would mul­ti­ply like the stars of heav­en, and He would give to Abraham’s descen­dants this land. Joseph, Abraham’s great-grand­son was buried in the soil God had promised to his seed. The land, the Israelite peo­ple, and their God were inex­tri­ca­bly linked.

Passover is a hol­i­day that is based on an ancient, col­lec­tive mem­o­ry. Each year, Jews world­wide read from the Hag­gadah which tells the sto­ry of the Israelites’ Exo­dus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. Joseph’s mum­my is a kind of metaphor for Passover itself. By remem­ber­ing their pre­de­ces­sors’ promise to Joseph, the Jews were invok­ing the spir­it of Passover — hon­or­ing our ances­tors, and bring­ing the past into the present.

At the very end of the Passover seder Abraham’s far-flung seed around the world will joy­ous­ly sing, as they have for thou­sands of years, a rous­ing ren­di­tion of the final words of the Hag­gadah: L’Shana Haba’ah B’ Yerusha­lay­im.” Next year, in Jerusalem. Even if we know we won’t be there, even if we don’t wish to be there, even if we are ambiva­lent about mod­ern day Israel, no mat­ter our polit­i­cal lean­ings, we recall the ances­tral hope to return next year to Israel’s soil. 

Joseph’s mum­my is emblem­at­ic of our ancient desire to leave Egypt — or Rus­sia, Ger­many, Iraq, or any­where — and return home, to a safe haven. Not to toil under oppres­sion, but to live. So this year, espe­cial­ly this year, I will bring Joseph and his dream — and the dreams of many today who are pre­vent­ed from going home — with me when I leave Egypt.

Angela Himsel’s writ­ing has appeared in The New York Times, the Jew­ish Week, the For­ward and else­where. Her mem­oir is list­ed in the 23 Best New Mem­oirs at bookau​thor​i​ty​.org. She is pas­sion­ate about her chil­dren, Israel, the Canaan­ites and chocolate.