Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah continues with the story of the Exodus from Egypt, recounting the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and the Jewish People’s entry into the wilderness. The Torah relates that Moshe took Yosef’s bones out of Egypt, in accord with the oath Yosef’s brothers swore to him. The Midrash comments (Shemos Rabbah 20:19):
The entire People of Israel were engaged in collecting silver and gold [from the homes of the Egyptians], while Moshe was involved with Yosef’s bones. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe: “You are a realization of [the proverb] ‘the wise of heart takes up mitzvos’ (Mishlei 10:8).”
This Midrash, the Maggid says, is puzzling. Why does Hashem praise Moshe by means of an implied criticism of the other Jews, noting that they went to collect booty while he went to tend to Yosef’s bones? Indeed, Hashem Himself had told the Jews to collect booty from the Egyptians. Also, if Hashem wished to praise Moshe, why did He do so in such an apparently modest fashion, quoting the proverb about taking up mitzvos? Couldn’t Hashem have offer a more glowing praise?
The Maggid explains as follows. Some people perform mitzvos for their own sake, while others perform mitzvos only out of fear of incurring Hashem’s wrath. Usually we cannot tell which category a person belongs to, but in some situations we can tell clearly. One such situation is the one in which a person has a choice between two mitzvos, one which confers a fringe benefit and one which does not. If the person chooses the mitzvah with the fringe benefit, this shows that he does not recognize the value of the mitzvos in themselves; when he performs mitzvos in the course of his daily life, he does so only because he feels he has to. On the other hand, if the person performs the mitzvah without the fringe benefit, this shows that he performs mitzvos entirely for their own sake, regardless of whether they yield him an overt gain. He understands that mitzvos generate profound positive effects, and he therefore cherishes them with all his heart. He chooses the mitzvah without the fringe benefit because he has little interest in material benefits; he is totally occupied with spiritual pursuits.  Moshe’s being was suffused with such loving devotion to mitzvos. Hashem deliberately called attention to this specific trait, for it testified strikingly to Moshe’s outstanding loftiness.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.