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Home » Beshalach, Passover

Beshalach : Opt for the Mitzvah

Submitted by on January 19, 2005 – 8:25 pmNo Comment | 886 views

He Won A Different Kind of Race

It was a 200-meter race and the contestants gathered at the start line were anxiously anticipating the starting gun. Yossi had trained for months and was confident in his ability to win. At the crack of the gun Yossi was off and quickly established a comfortable lead. Rounding the first bend he glanced over his left shoulder and noticed a competitor stumble and fall to the ground.

His first instinct was to surge ahead and increase his lead but a second impulse got the better of him and Yossi turned back. As Yossi helped his competitor up, he noticed that his friend’s ankle was twisted. With an arm around his shoulder, Yossi helped his friend to the finish line.

The other contestants had long finished when the two friends slowly crossed the finish line. The crowd was on their feet cheering with abandon. They weren’t cheering the contestants who came in first but those who came in last. In forfeiting the race Yossi earned a different kind of win and to this crowd, Yossi was a true hero.

A Historic Night

At the moment of exodus Moses found himself in a similar position. When the plague of the first born struck Pharaoh sought out Moses and granted him permission to leave Egypt. Moses refused to leave in a hurry. The people would need time to pack and prepare.

Egyptians opened their storehouses and bestowed all kinds of gifts upon their former slaves. Jews spent the night racing to and fro, amassing wealth. One man did not join the frenzy, Moses. (1)

One hundred and thirty-seven years earlier Yosef had predicted the coming redemption. He had asked his people to swear that when the time came, they would gather his remains and carry them back to Israel for a proper burial. (2)

Jews, busy collecting gifts, all but forgot their sacred oath.opt for the mitvah - innerstream Moses remembered and set out in search of Yosef’s grave. (3) He visited the venerable Serach, daughter of Asher, one of the few people alive who could remember Yosef’s funeral. (4)

Arise and Let Us Go

She informed him that Yosef was buried in a metal casket, which had been dropped into the Nile. (5) She led him to the Nile and pointed out the very spot. Moses threw a stone (6) into the river at that spot and called out to Yosef’s remains.

“The night of which you prophesied has finally arrived. G-d has fulfilled his promise and your children are now redeemed. Except for our responsibility to you, we are all ready to leave. Please arise to the surface and we will commence our exodus.”

Wisdom and Choices

Commenting on this story the Midrash (3) declares that King Solomon spoke of Moses when he said, “The wise shall choose the Mitzvah.” (7) The night was filled with opportunity. The righteous alongside the wicked, the wise alongside the foolish and the leaders alongside the lay people were all out collecting Egyptian valuables. The only truly wise man was Moses. He forfeited the opportunity to amass physical wealth and went to fulfill a special, once-in-a-lifetime, Mitzvah. (8)

Moses’ reward was eternal. The wealth our ancestors collected that night has long been forgotten but the reward that Moses collected that night continues to be respected to this day.

Yaakov was honored that Yosef, the most powerful man in the Egypt, personally arranged his funeral. Yosef was rewarded in kind when Moses, the greatest Jew in history arranged his re-burial. Moses was also rewarded in kind when his funeral was arranged by G-d himself. (3)

Moses forfeited temporal wealth but gained eternal reward.

We Can Do It Too

We too are encouraged to emulate Moses’ choice. In life there are often choices to be made. An aging parent who requires attention can either be delivered to a professional facility or be lovingly looked after by his children. Clearly the latter choice demands more sacrifice but the wise person will choose the Mitzvah.

In our spiritual pursuit of Torah and Mitzvos there are always friends and acquaintances who know less then we do ourselves. We can utilize the precious time we have allotted for study to advance our own knowledge or devote it to helping those who know less. Clearly the latter choice will slow us down but the wise person chooses the Mitzvah.

A friend approaches us and asks if we can offer a loan. We have the money available only it has been earmarked for a family vacation. We have the choice to refuse or to help. Clearly the latter choice would foil the vacation plans but the wise person chooses the Mitzvah.

G-d Sweetens the Offer

Lest one think that his sacrifice will be rewarded only in the afterlife the Torah hastens to inform us that G-d made it up to Moses and rewarded him with tremendous wealth. When G-d instructed Moses to carve out two tablets from precious sapphire stone, many sapphire bits naturally came loose. G-d permitted Moses to keep those little bits, many, of which he later sold and thus grew fabulously wealthy. (9)

When we make a sacrifice to gain a mitzvah G-d rewards not only the Mitzvah but also the sacrifice. The rewards for the Mitzvah are eternal but the loss incurred by the sacrifice is also reimbursed. It is wrong to speculate on how the debt might be repaid but one thing is certain, G-d always pays his debts. (10)

Footnotes

  1. Exodus 12, 35. Our sages taught that the most impoverished Jew left Egypt with ninety camels loaded with gold and silver.
  2. Genesis, 50, 25 Exodus, 13, 19
  3. For more detail see Mechilta 13, 19 Shemos Rabbah Parshat Beshalach 20, 19 and Talmud Sotah p.13a
  4. When Moses came to Egypt with his promise of redemption the Jewish elders went to consult with Serach because “the secret of redemption was given to her.” They wanted to know if Moses was the true redeemer or if his effort would end in infamy, as had previous attempts to break out of Egypt. When she was told that Moses used the same words as Yosef did, “Remember, I shall remember,” she pronounced him the true redeemer. (Tosafos Sotah 13a)
  5. They did this for two reasons. (A) The Nile was their source of sustenance and they hoped that Yosef’s sacred presence would bring it blessing. (B) Knowing that Jews were bound by their oath to carry his remains to Israel Egyptians resolved to bury him in a manner they hoped was unsalvageable. In this way, they hoped to keep the Jewish people indefinitely enslaved in Egypt. (Sotah 13a and Devarim Rabbah Parshas Bracha.)
  6. For an alternate version see Rashi’s Commentary to Exodus 32, 4 (Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105 France)
  7. Ecclesiastics 10
  8. It is important to note that though this essay has presented the effort to collect Egyptian valuables as an effort to amass wealth, it was, in fact, a very spiritual endeavor of great importance. Yet Moses understood that the obligation to Yosef superceded the spiritual benefit of the collection. For more detail on the spiritual nature of the collection see Torah Ohr 44b (R. Schneeur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813) For more detail on Moshe’s choice see Chesam Sofer on Exodus 13, 19 (Rabbi Moshe Sofer Pressburg 1762-1838)
  9. Rashi’s Commentary to Exodus 34, 1
  10. See Likutei Sichos vol X p.166 (R. MM Schneerson Rebbe of Lubavitch 1902-1994)
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