by Rabbi Moshe Francis
" And Moshe
took the bones of Yosef with him."
The Midrash comments on this verse, "A wise man chooses
Mitzvos." Whereas all of Israel was involved [in gathering]
silver and gold, Moshe was involved with the bones of Yosef. In
other words, at the same time that the Jews were busy gathering
the spoils of Egypt, Moshe directed his energy and attention instead
to retrieving the bones of Yosef so that they could be taken for
eventual burial in Eretz Yisroel.
The Brisker Rav asks, why was Moshe praised because he chose a superior
activity-the rest of the Jews were also involved in a mitzvah "Please
speak in the ears of the nation and let them ask, etc. - G-d
had requested of the Jews to seek out spoils before leaving Egypt
so that Avraham Avinu should not say that G-d had fulfilled the
first part of the promise that he would subjugate the Jews but not
the latter part of the promise that they would leave Egypt with
great wealth. If both Moshe and the Jews were both doing mitzvos,
why is Moshe praised in contrast to everyone else?
The Brisker Rav proposes a novel concept- that gathering
the spoils in reality was not considered a mitzvah. Hashem had prefaced
his remarks to Moshe saying, "Please speak"
which implies a request as opposed to a commandment. We do not
find this language used in the Torah in connection with any commandment.
The Brisker Rav was not the first however to suggest such a concept.
The verse says with regard to the Akeidah, (when Hashem asked Avraham
to bind and sacrifice his son, Yitzchok) "Please
take your son." The Drashos HaRan writes
that had Avrohom not accede to G-d's wishes, he would not have been
punished because the word implies a request, rather than a commandment.
Why is it that in the instance of the Akeidah and the spoils of
Egypt Hashem made a request as opposed to issuing a commandment?
Perhaps the words of the Meshech Chochma can shed
some light on this question. The Meshech Chochma asks why men rather
than women are commanded to fulfill the mitzvah of "You
shall be fruitful and multiply."
One answer he offers is that since The ways of the Torah are
pleasant, the Torah did not command women to have children since
pregnancy and childbirth can endanger a woman's life. In a similar
vein, we can say Hashem would not 'command' Avraham to sacrifice
his son since the ways of the Torah are pleasant and the Torah never
requires a person to do something which is to his detriment, life
threatening or life depriving. Similarly, Hashem knew that the spoils
of Egypt could be spiritually harmful to the Jewish people. The
Talmud in Brachos 32A expounds on the first verse in Devarim on
the words " so said Moshe in front of G-d, 'Ribono shel
Olam, it is because of the silver and gold with which you endowed
the Jews until they said enough, that they produced the Golden Calf."
Since the spoils of Egypt involved spiritual pitfalls Hashem
did not command the Jews to collect them. Rather he requested
this of them to fulfill his promise to Avraham.