Doing any good deed is commendable, but knowing how to prioritize and make the right choices requires wisdom.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Beshalach” (Exodus 13:17-17:16), and in it we read about the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea.
We are told that when the Jews left Egypt, they took the bones of many of their ancestors along with them. Indeed, Moses personally took upon himself the task of exhuming and transporting the bones of Joseph out of Egypt. Joseph made the people swear that they would bring his bones out of Egypt when they leave, and that promise was passed down from generation to generation right up until the very day of the Exodus. So, too, it was in order to give Joseph, and the others whose bones were exhumed, the honor of being buried in the Holy Land, something that many Jews the world over endeavor to arrange nowadays as well.
The sages praise Moses for tending to the bones of Joseph, calling it “the wise choice.” On the other hand, the rest of the Jews were busy collecting valuables from their Egyptian neighbors.
Why was Moses’ decision to tend to the bones of Joseph called “wise” while there is no such praise for the Jewish people who were emptying Egypt of its valuables? While it certainly appears more commendable and humane to tend to the bones of Joseph, gathering the wealth of Egypt was also a mitzvah (Divine commandment).
It is explained that the “wisdom” designation does not refer to the preference for the mitzvah of tending to the bones of Joseph over that of collecting the valuables. Both were important. Rather, it refers to the “wisdom” of knowing how to prioritize good deeds.
Yes – everyone was involved in doing the right thing, and that was praiseworthy. But when faced with diverse mitzvah opportunities, knowing how to prioritize them requires “wisdom.”
There are several explanations offered as to why Moses chose to engage in the mitzvah of tending to Joseph’s bones rather than joining the others in collecting valuables. One reason given is the concern that the people would be blinded by the opportunity for wealth and forget about their commitment to Joseph. Another is that it was more honorable and befitting for the current leader of the Jewish people to tend to the bones of a former leader of the Jewish People.
Whichever way you look at it, Moses’ decision was wise. Make no mistake, we do not fault the others for tending to the wealth – that was a mitzvah too. But the message here for us is that when faced with multiple opportunities to do good things, we have to think it out, maybe even pray for guidance, and prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Doing any mitzvah is commendable, but doing the right one is wise!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.
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