As this week’s Torah reading describes the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, the
Torah tells us (13:19) that Moses made sure to take Joseph’s bones with them.
In reference to this deed of Moses, the Medrash (Shmos Rabboh, 20:19) says,
“All of Israel was busy gathering gold and silver. But Moses was busy with the
bones of Joseph, as it says, ‘And Moses took the bones of Joseph.’ God said to
Moses, ‘Upon you it is said [a verse from Proverbs (10:8)] ‘A wise man will collect
Mitzvos (good deeds).'” As the Jews were about to leave Egypt, they were
instructed to collect from the Egyptians all sorts of goods, as they wished, to
bring with them on their way to the Promised Land. While all the Jews were busy
filling up their trunks with gold and silver from the Egyptians, Moses was
preoccupied with a different sort of task. Moses was busy fulfilling Joseph’s
dying wish and seeing to it that his remains were brought with them to the Land
of Israel, so that he should merit a more respectable burial. In praise of the
priority Moses chose for himself, the Medrash tell us that this is the behavior of
a wise man. There was nothing wrong with what the rest of the nation was busy
with. But a wise man is a person who is focused on collecting Mitzvos. He has
his eye out for opportunities for collecting good deeds, more so than collecting
gold and silver.
One might wonder, why is this a matter of wisdom? Wouldn’t it be more
accurate to say, “A disciplined person collects Mitzvos,” or “A spiritual person
collects Mitzvos?” What aspect of collecting Mitzvos is attributed to being wise?
The Chofetz Chaim (in Shem Olam, part 2 chapter 3) illustrates the
concept expressed in the verse as follows: Any responsible person who runs a
business, makes sure to take notes of his investments, and keeps track of the
merchandise and deals from which he profited. If you look at the notes of a small
business owner, you can assume his deals and investments are of a modest
nature. Perhaps you can glean some tips on how to earn a few dollars; not much
more than that. On the other hand, if you got a peek at the notes of someone
who runs a large, successful business, you can comfortably assume he has some
information that has potential to earn a decent amount of money. If you got a
glimpse into the notes of the CEO of a national corporation, you can be certain
his notes contain valuable content regarding heavy financial profits. He’s not busy figuring out how to make an extra few hundred dollars.

How much more so lies in the notes of the Almighty Himself! If the Almighty, the Source of all
wisdom, wealth and greatness, advises in His notes (which is the Torah) that
procuring Mitzvos is a profitable pursuit, we know we must be talking about real,
big-time profits! A wise man is a person who appreciates the value of God’s
notes. If one is wise enough to realize that Mitzvos are considered to be means
of great profits by the standards of God, he will naturally be motivated to collect
as many of them as he possibly can. Moses with his wisdom made sure to pursue
the real profits. This is what prompted Moses to set Mitzvos as his priority.

Ruchama Shain tells about how she learned this lesson in her youth. Her
father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman, was scrupulous about the Mitzvah of
Hachnasas Orchim (hosting guests). He would always invite people to his house
who needed a nourishing meal. It was a family project. Rabbi Herman would
entertain the guests, while his wife and daughters would prepare the food. One
time, just as she was about to go out the door for an exciting excursion, Rabbi
Herman marched in with a guest. Ruchama’s father asked her to help out in the
kitchen, but she was terribly disappointed and began to cry. Her father took her
aside and gently explained to her, “We cornered the market! As disappointing
as it may be, nothing compares to the true profits of doing this great Mitzvah.”
It wasn’t easy, but eventually she grew to appreciate her father’s wisdom.

People pursue different things in life. Some people pursue money, while
some people pursue gains in other matters. People have different interests and
motivations. But one thing everyone likes is profitable deals. No one will turn
down an opportunity to make a fortune on a simple deal. Everyone likes cashing
in on big profits. This is what we ought to learn from Moses. Collecting free gold
and silver may be appealing, but there are even greater profits to be made out
there. When we are faced with an opportunity to do a Mitzvah, we should realize
we are being granted an opportunity to cash-in on major profits. Profits from
which we will reap everlasting proceeds in the World to Come.

Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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