Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, being that Joseph had the Children of Israel swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them saying, “G-d will surely remember you and you will bring up my bones from here with you. (Exodus 13:19)
The Jews were about to leave Egypt and were busying themselves with borrowing gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors. While that was happening Moses was making arrangements to take out Joseph’s casket in order to honor an oath the Jews made to Joseph that whenever the time to leave Egypt would come, they would take Joseph’s bones with them.
The Talmud (Sotah 13a) praises Moses for doing this and applies the verse A wise person takes Mitzvot (Proverbs 10:7). At a time when the rest of the Jews were involved gold and silver, Moses concerned himself with fulfilling the oath. Praising Moses seems to be a condemnation on the rest of the nation, but this seems incomprehensible because they weren’t doing anything wrong. To the contrary, they were actualizing G-d’s promise to Abraham that ‘your descendants will be enslaved to a strange nation and will eventually leave with great wealth.’ The Jews were also involved in a Mitzvah (collecting gold and silver) because they were doing exactly as instructed. Why is Moses praised as being the wise person who takes Mitzvos; weren’t the rest of the Jews preparing for leaving “with great wealth?”
Throughout life we are confronted with various Mitzvah opportunities. Some seem exciting yet others appear to lack luster. Imagine a Jewish woman who has a family and is a successful lawyer. She might have the opportunity to defend someone who has been falsely accused and incarcerated; she defends her client pro bono. It’s an important Mitzvah and due to her good nature, she gravitated toward it—there’s nothing wrong with that. One Sunday she gets a call asking her to arrange meals for a community member who is sick—the sick person has a strained relationship with the lawyer and her family. The Sunday phone call sent two wonderful Mitzvot (i.e., opportunities) her way: (1) the Mitzvah of bestowing kindness to a fellow Jew and (2) the Mitzvah to improve one’s character traits. By concerning herself with the needs of someone she doesn’t like, the Mitzvah of doing kindness is more valuable because of how hard it was for her to do (the reward for a Mitzvah is directly proportional to the degree of exertion and difficulty in executing it). Doing this chessed (act of kindness) was a great challenge for her and in addition to whatever reward a person gets for being kind, there’s another, more personal reward—she has taken the first steps in not harboring a resentment. Some people live with toxic anger, but no one is doomed to that fate. It may be too much to ask a person to change the way they feel but anyone can do an act of kindness for someone else—even someone you dislike. The highly successful lawyer has never been intimidated to confront an opposing attorney but now, perhaps for the first time, she is finally confronting herself by dealing with emotions deeply embedded in her. No one will offer a toast in her honor at a ceremonial dinner, no article will be written about her humanitarian magnanimity, but in Jewish consciousness, she is a hero, a role model for us all, because she was prepared to do a Mitzvah when it was difficult for her.
Moses was called wise because he involved himself with the responsibility of fulfilling the oath to take Joseph’s bones out of Egypt while everyone else was involved with collecting gold and silver. When a difficult Mitzvah comes our way, we have an internal gauge guiding us, but the challenge is that we don’t like listening to it due to the demand it might be making.
Sometimes it means saying you’re sorry and other times it might be the uncomfortable job of telling someone that you don’t want to hear lashon hara (negative talk or gossip). It’s not easy but we know what we’re supposed to do. Every time you follow what you know is right, even when it’s difficult, you are coming one step closer to not be constrained by your life’s circumstances.
In Hebrew, Moses is called Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher. In this week’s Parsha, he has taught us to do a Mitzvah even when it’s difficult, involves personal sacrifice—and might come at a time when you would rather be doing something else. He’s our teacher, our job is to become his students.